With the Olympics and Euro 2012 championships set to dominate people’s summer, how is the traditional cinema supposed to survive?
Cineworld, the UK’s largest cinema operator, are launching 4D trail runs to entice movie-fans away from this summer’s extravagant sports spectacle.
The cinema chain opened a new seven-screen cinema in Leigh, Greater Manchester, late last year and now they are giving 4D seats a trial run.
The seats generate ‘three types of movements and intelligent vibrations: pitch, roll and heave’ according to equipment manufacturers Info Centre.
Anthony Bloom, Cineworld chairman, said: "We have made a sound start to the new financial year and while the forthcoming European football championship and London Olympics present further challenges, there is a strong line up of films to support the rest of the year."
Whenever something significant happens on the screen, the new seats shake and vibrate accordingly in an attempt to transform cinema-going into ‘an unmatched and realistic immersive experience’.
Audiences can use a level control to adjust motion and vibration intensity, just as they change the volume of their sound systems at home.
It raises the question just what do audiences want from their cinema-going experiences nowadays. The D-Box announcement is a surprising one, since the news coincided with a report last Tuesday, which detailed that a record 47 3D films were released last year, but the format’s box office receipts fell and diminished the total share of ticket sales by 4%; the initial upsurge in 3D’s popularity was as short-lived as it was in the 1950s.
Many opted for the cheaper, 2D equivalents instead, while British films gained their biggest box-office share in a decade as the modestly budgeted The King’s Speech and The Inbetweeners took the UK’s box office’s second and third top slots.
David Petty, Cornerhouse’s AV Technician, says he has ‘no particular issue’ with Cineworld’s decision, but doubts that it would last longer than the ‘Sensurround’ gimmick from the mid-1970s, in which extended-range bass was added to cinemas to complement the visual dynamism of disaster movies like Earthquake.
He has never sat in the D-Box seats, but he suggests they can be likened to the vibrating controllers used for video games. Mr Petty said: “It works for games as they operate on a very direct level. But I doubt it’ll always be integral for films.”
He also commented on the 3D trend, and how he felt that approach was rarely integral for the films’ narratives: “I saw Toy Story 3 in 3D and it was neither a bonus nor a detriment. It was just kind of there, I’m not sure the 3D was really warranted.”
Doubting that cinemas can successfully counteract against declining attendance rates, Mr Petty cited The Artist as a film without a gimmick. It is instead a risky project with a potential liability, and yet it was still embraced. As a modern-day black-and-white and silent film, it should be the opposite of immersive, but audiences found its very artificiality to be enthralling.
Andrew Moor, Reader in Cinema History at Manchester Metropolitan University, says that people have always been trying to go beyond the perceived limitations of 2D cinema. Synchronised sound and efficient colour systems also tried to immerse their audiences by creating potent replications of reality.
“What these two developments ushered in was the era of the Technicolor musical - about as far away from realism as you could imagine,” Dr Moor said.
These two perspectives suggest that 3D and 4D gimmicks won’t drag audiences back to film exhibitors for very long.
Cineworld may likely have even more success if they sooner expand their upmarket concept The Screening Rooms. The latter, recently tested in Cheltenham, is a cinema that has a concierge greeting you, has exceptionally comfortable seats and a swanky bar.
The idea of 3D may endure for theme park rides, sport, and reality TV shows, but it can’t be too contentious to say that the most popular cinemas will be the ones that cater for people who want to see a film as a film.
“There are other, more imaginative, immersive and theatrical 4D events going on,” Dr Moor added.
“What's great about events like Secret Cinema is that they create a sense of participation and make the night out seem unique,” Dr Moor said, referring to the London-based events company that has spoken of organising screenings in Manchester, as well as overseas.
“The last few moments of a film have been harmonised with silent performances in the auditorium. What moments like these do is remind us that the images we've involved ourselves with on screen are other-wordly, intangible, and ghostly.”