Ever wonder what happens in a 4D movie theater during a scene of a sexual nature? It’s awkward.
You can go to the movies, or you can be part of the movie. I know that sounds like a marketing slogan, and it should, as it’s exactly what companies producing 4D movies aim for when you choose to see a film with their enhancements. It’s an evolution of what Director William Castle did with The Tingler in 1959, when theaters employed his Percepto gimmick that was meant to allow members of the audience to physically feel what the characters on-screen were experiencing, via vibrating seats. Adding an extra layer to the cinematic experience has proven successful in modern times with 3D and IMAX, paving the way for five-sense-appealing 4D. It’s hugely popular in Asia and Latin America, and as it expands into U.S. markets, audiences are gravitating toward this latest movie-watching gimmick — that is worth the ticket surcharge. There’s one thing, though, that 4D movie marketers won’t tell you before you purchase a ticket: sex scenes, or those featuring sexual situations, can be awkward.
The 4D Movie Experience
It’s time to do away with popcorn at the movies. Well, at least at a 4D movie, because it’s not an ideal snack choice when the seats move — a lot! I learned this the hard way when I was pelted with kernels during Star Trek Beyond. It was forgivable since I was having a fantastic time flying through space in my motion-capable seat. While watching The Legend of Tarzan, water made my popcorn soggy during the many rain-filled scenes. At Wonder Woman, my Red Vines package fell to the floor more than once when the seat pitched, requiring me to lean down and pick it up (not an easy feat when your seat is moving). Perhaps no snack is a good snack during a 4D movie. That’s okay, because the thrills and fun are enough to keep the munchies at bay with, depending on the exhibiting theater, pitching, heaving and rolling seats, water, wind, lightning, blasts of air behind your head or on your legs, scents, warm air blowing on the back of your neck, smoke or even bubble effects.
Attending a 4D movie means accepting that you’re going to be put into the action, no matter what that entails. The companies behind 4D movies, such as CJ 4DPLEX, who take what Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Fox and others distribute, prefer particular genres for their effects capabilities. You’re not going to find a 4D version of the latest historical drama, but you’ll be able to attend a sci-fi, fantasy, action, adventure or animated film, a musical or a movie with a soundtrack you could groove to. If the movie features space flight, “the seat will simulate the rumbling motions with heavily textured vibrations for the engines during takeoff,” according to CJ 4DPLEX’s creative editing team at i-Studio. The seats can also “mimic zero gravity with smooth and gliding motions.”
With hand-to-hand combat, there will be a “lot of sharp, quick motions and impactful vibrations” and potentially air shots for the “swinging or the hit.” You’ll also get jabbed in the back, in a similar fashion to a Thai massage, so it could relieve some tension.
What about romantic scenes or sexual situations? “We tend to not add effects for those moments, just like we would not add anything to a dramatic scene or an emotionally wrought moment. Our goal is to add to the story, not distract or take away,” i-Studio said. That may be true for some movies that are given the 4D treatment, but not all. Which has me convinced there are 4D editors out there with a naughty sense of humor.
Let’s Talk About Sex
The key to a successful movie is suspension of disbelief, wherein the audience member willingly accepts the unbelievable, or sacrifices realism and logic in order to enjoy the world that filmmakers create. For the genres 4D movies focus on, it’s imperative. Taking flight with the Star Trek crew did feel realistic, and when explosions occur on-screen, you’ll feel them course through your body. If a character jumps, you feel like you’ve been lifted off the ground too. Even with the simple gesture of a character looking down or up, you do the same. As i-Studio notes, “We don’t want to interrupt the storytelling. We want the effects to supplement and to complement.” That goal is reached, and in scenes of a sexual nature, it can be downright unsettling because it’s unexpected.
The Legend of Tarzan was my first 4D movie experience, and it just happens to have a sex scene. I was with two male friends, and we’d been having a great time, with lots of laughter and commentary on the multitude of effects synched up perfectly to the action on-screen. Our reactions quickly changed when the seats began rolling back and forth, gently swaying with the movement of Tarzan and Jane when they embraced and took to the bed in missionary position. We looked at each another with an expression I can’t exactly describe. One of us broke out in giggles. This immersive cinematic experience suddenly became more awkward than sex ed as all our seats moved in simulated orgy fashion with the on-screen couple’s steamy rendezvous. We admitted afterward that we were all fearful water was going to come down for the scene’s climax (sometimes, maturity takes a backseat to a funny joke — I won’t apologize for it).
The scene was short, but long enough for us to realize the film’s 4D editor clearly wanted to have a little fun with the audience. It left a lasting impression and provoked me to discover if this happens in every 4D movie featuring sexual situations.
It surely could, but I’ve found that most 4D-enhanced movies don’t have sex scenes. The closest I got to The Legend of Tarzan’s epic moment was in The Mummy when Ahmanet is atop Nick Morton’s chest and the seat slowly moved up and down. And I was sorely disappointed in Wonder Woman because when the superheroine encounters love-interest Steve Trevor at the bathing pools, she clearly looks down at his private parts. My seat did not follow her gaze, although it had in a previous scene when she looked over a cliff.
If a 4D movie does feature a scene of a sexual nature, it must then be up to the editor to decide what, if any, effect will be used. For a truly immersive cinematic experience, it does make sense to rock ’n’ roll along with the characters, regardless of how inappropriate it may feel. I can’t help imagining the possibilities if the next Fifty Shades installment were in 4D. It’s not one of the go-to genres, but maybe there’s a hidden market 4D producers haven’t tapped yet (obviously, 4D editors aren’t the only ones with a perverse sense of humor).
The next time you’re heading to the cinema, consider taking the 4D movie experience for a spin, even if there may be a sex scene. After all, once in a while we need an uncomfortable moment — and good joke material.