A year after James Cameron’s 1991 classic was given the 3D treatment, the most successful sequel of all time is ready for yet another dimension. I know what you’re thinking. The 4th dimension is time and all films exist in time, so what’s new? Well in addition to your big four dimensions, we get to experience their lesser-known cousins: moving seats, water jets, wind, strobe lighting and smellevision.
We goblins have prior experience with four dimensions, not only due to our existence in space-time, but having seen Mad Max: Fury Road and Batman v Superman with the moving seats. Since Mad Max is essentially one long car chase it’s the perfect film for it, and I left thinking that it was the future of immersive cinema.
When it came to Batman v Superman we chose the format in the vain hope that the constant intrusions of moving furniture would keep us awake. Unfortunately it’s not Beauty and the Beast, and nothing short of a general anaesthetic could make it watchable. Even if it did increase the comedy value of the extended 20 minute sequence where Batman bludgeons Superman with a sink, while inducing a state of nausea that usually waits until the post-film trip to Bella Italia.
It now appears that it may have just been blind luck that our first experience with the format worked so well. Because T2-3DX felt like watching Terminator 2 on a plane where the person behind you is intent on practising amateur chiropody through your seat.
The purpose of any new advance in film technology should be to increase your immersion in what’s happening. But 4DX, through wanting to give you plenty of gimmickry for your cash, goes for a theme park fun house approach which results in the effects being used even when they’re entirely unnecessary or actually hamper your enjoyment of the scene.
The seats jiggle, tilt and vibrate along to whatever the most exciting thing is in that scene, even if it’s just someone using a computer or random camera movements. It has its moments, however, as your seat almost terminates the digestion of your lunch during the car chases; and during the minigun scene I reached a level of bliss usually reserved for those sitting on their washing machine.
Similarly the wind works well at certain points, like when John rides along on his moped. But at other points its gratuitous use in dialogue scenes actually drowns out the words. This isn’t helped by the bewildering lack of surround sound – an upgrade which really would make the experience more immersive.
The other elements of this multi-sensory experience are more miss than hit. The smellevision machines are apparently only capable of releasing one weird, generic synthetic odour. Smell can be one of the most powerful ways of setting a scene or invoking a memory, but I’ve had stronger smell associations with films after sitting near someone wearing strong perfume or eating gherkins. Seriously, the smell of jumbo hot dogs will forever remind me of The Ring.
The strobe lighting only serves to give the impression of someone illegally taking photographs and the puffs of air on either side of my head were just baffling. They seemed to accompany shooting, but a cold puff of air is less like being in close proximity to a discharging firearm and more like a trip to the ear doctor.
The sum of all these elaborate effects is to take you out of the film by periodically reminding you they’re there. The people in charge would do well to consider where the director themselves might actually have chosen to use the effects. They’re fun for the novelty value but, like the Terminator franchise, they have no future.
Thankfully Terminator 2 is indestructible, and remains as brilliant in 4DX as it was in 3D, 2D, terrestrial TV at 1am and grainy VHS tapes. It’s a rare example of a perfect film, from the action and stuntwork, to the expert pacing that makes its 2.5hrs feel like 90 minutes, its superb performances, breathtaking special effects, thoughtful story and tearjerking emotional drama. And if adding a new gimmick every year gives me an excuse to see it, then bring on 5D, 6D, the virtual reality experience and the brain implant!