What is 4D and 5D cinema?

Jonathan Tustain
Yahoo UK Movies Features
11 March 2012

We heard this week that UK audiences are starting to tire of the 3D film experience. But maybe an extra dimension or two could lure them back to cinemas?

The next logical step in Hollywood is 4D and (gulp) 5D films – but what does this actually mean?

[Related feature: Is this the end for 3D films?]
[Related feature: What are the most annoying cinema habits?]

A 4D film combines physical, tactile experiences with 3D presentation. Water cannons, leg ticklers and back pokers are just a few of the devices to have soaked, tickled and prodded audiences in the name of entertainment.

The term ‘4D film’ is relatively new but adding physical effects to films is almost as old as the first ‘talkie’.
In 1929, a New York cinema sprayed perfume into the auditorium during the musical ‘The Broadway Melody’. Audiences watching the 1959 horror film ‘The Tingler’ were zapped by simulated electric shocks during key moments of the film. The film’s producer, William Castle, gained notoriety for his elaborate gimmicks such as planting fake screamers and inflatable skeletons into the cinema.



Like 3D, the 4D novelty soon wore off and the water sprinklers and bubble generators were confined to theme parks throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Despite 3D film-based simulation rides combining high degrees of seat movement, themed stages and even actors, the terms ‘4D’ and ‘5D’ were not coined until the end of the millennium.
In 1999, the UK’s first official 4D attraction opened at Thorpe Park. ‘Pirates 4D’ led to a flurry of ‘beyond 3D’ experiences. In 2010, Madame Tussauds converted the 70 metre circumference of the London Planetarium dome into a multi-screen, back punching, water spraying cinema for ‘Marvel Super Heroes 4D’.

In 2011, Merlin Entertainment constructed a 4D cinema to celebrate the reopening of the Blackpool Tower. The ‘Blackpool Tower Eye’ packs smoke, scent, floor vibrations, water, snow and even confetti effects into a sensory overloaded five minute film. Alton Towers will soon be opening ‘Ice Age: The 4-D Experience’ ahead of the July release for ‘Ice Age 4: Continental Drift’.



Outside the theme park gates, regular cinemas are considering the deployment of subtle physical effects to differentiate their product. Cineworld patrons will be able to ‘feel’ their films through vibrations and movements by opting to pay for a D-BOX seat ticket. The UK’s largest cinema chain are rolling out D-BOX seats across part of its network, hoping customers will believe the frame by frame encoded motion justifies the £4.50 premium.

Korean chain CJ 4DPlex is adding physical effects to regular films. Wind, fog, strobe lights and smells have already enhanced films like ‘Avatar’ and ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ leading to some complaints of nausea induced by the water and scent effects.

[Related link: Shop for 3D TVs online ]


So what is 5D? The ‘London Eye 4D Experience’ producers Centre Screen define a 5D film as one that the audience can interact with.

‘Vengeance’, at the London Dungeon, is described as the ‘UK’s first 5D laser ride which combines 3D film with 4D special effects and the fifth dimension of rider interactivity in a rapid fire laser shoot out’.
Opening in 2015, Paramount Park in Murcia, Spain, will feature a 5D ride called ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’. Guests will be able to interact and score points using remotes as they ride through 3D projected fantasy scenes.

As for the future of these formats, physical effect enhanced films are believed to be immune to any downturn in mainstream 3D popularity. Ross Margri, Managing Director of Sarner, visitor attraction and theme park specialists, said he believes 4D cinemas will continue to evolve as 3D films continue to decline.

Meanwhile, 4D attraction designers Kraftwerk say realistic simulation will improve and new physical experiences, including g-force, will be simulated in the future. Super high resolution projections and new visualising technologies such as holography are expected to blur the boundary between reality and fantasy.

One 4D film is set to redefine the meaning ‘climatic ending’. Hong Kong film producer Stephen Shiu will commence production of the world’s first 4D adult movie by the end of the year. ‘4D Sex and Zen: Slayer of a Thousand from the Mysterious East’ will be screened in auditoriums installed with vibrating seats - the mind boggles!

And what about 4D and 5D experiences at home? A report commissioned by Plusnet suggests entertainment systems will create life-like sounds, images and experiences; enveloping people in 4D experiences in their homes by 2027.

However, it is unlikely that 4D televisions, complete with mini smoke machines and water jets, will hit stores. If they did, any episode of Eastenders featuring Dot Branning would cause havoc with the household smoke alarm!

What film would you most like to watch in 4D?


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