Johannesburg - Cinema operator Nu Metro is banking on the success of 4DX in the era of Netflix and smart televisions, as movie ticket sales dip worldwide. It has opened 6 4DX theatres in the last two years, making South Africa one of the biggest outlets of the technology in the world.
And the novelty of 4DX could put bums on seats as movie theatres strive to innovate to stay relevant.
Nu Metro celebrated the second anniversary of 4DX in South Africa in December with the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, exactly two years after the record-breaking Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduced the technology to South Africans.
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4DX originated in South Korea in 2009, but it quickly caught on around the world.
It is a multisensory experience, that features moving seats, wind, water, scents and lighting — which are synchronised with the action on-screen.
When the camera tilts, the seats often tilt with it.
When Poe Dameron flies through space in hot pursuit of the First Order, you as moviegoer experience the rush with him. And when he crashes, your chair jolts with him.
Motion simulates all the flying action sequences in the space battles between the Rebellion and the First Order, from cruising to barrel-rolling in the sky.
Air shots, fog and wind are implemented for lasers, cannon blasters, and aerial mayhem on the screen. And naturally everything happens in 3D.
The new format is a rush. A leisurely and relaxing night at the movies it is certainly not. Movie theatres are hoping that this adrenaline rush will push movie goers back to theatres.
And at a cost of R175 - significantly more than a normal movie ticket - it does not come cheap.
But that has not deterred especially younger movie goers, who have been flocking to theatres over the last two years to experience the novelty, Nu Metro said.
While Nu Metro could not supply exact figures, its communication team points to the large scale investment the entertainer has done in the 4DX technology since the launch two years back. For the cinematic chain the investment has delivered the results they needed to boost revenue.
Worldwide 4DX is also doing extremely well with a good percentage of the big blockbuster movies’ revenue coming from the technology.
Nu Metro has been the only cinema chain in South Africa to introduce 4DX to moviegoers. The first 4DX cinema opened at Nu Metro V&A Waterfront in December 2015, with The Force Awakens as the first movie screened.
South Africa also has one of the “highest densities of 4DX theatres in the world”, Nu Metro points out.
The National Film Video Foundation (NFVF), reported in the first half of 2017 that SA’s total box office receipts in the first half of 2017 were R568.1m, down 3% compared to the same period in 2016.
But it was the new-format films that bucked the trend. Of the 106 films released in SA in that period, 23 were released in 3D, 4DX and IMAX formats.
This was 18 more than in 2016. The NFVF said in their half year report for 2017 the films' earnings accounted for 65% of the box office revenues, up from 54% in the year-earlier period.
Nu Metro was extremely pleased with ‘s 4DX performance in South African theatres, so much that the cinematic chain decided to expand their offering.
Several of the 4DX experiences were sold out during those first two weeks in 2015. Other movies released in 4DX’s success convinced Nu Metro to open the 6 theatres in only two years.
Also Nu Metro’s decision to throw its weight behind 4DX required significant investment as movie theatres needed to be rebuilt, fitted with Servo motors under the seats, and revamped with special fans and water squirters. Personnel working on the theatres also had to be trained in South Korea for three months to qualify as a 4DX installer.
“We had to install a complete new steel floor structure to be able to handle the 0.3G-force the unit moves with; as well as water, air and scent lines,” said Johan van Staden, Nu Metro Cinemas’ Head of Technical.
He said the complete system used 24 computers -1 in each of the 21 seat pods-, a motion PC, a monitor PC and a screen server.
“The ‘force’ utilises Servo motors and transducers, and not hydraulics, making the movement much smoother and more active,” he said. “South Africa is in for a total new way of watching movies.”
And 4DX is not simply cinematic complexes adding their own effects. Filmmakers, together with the 4DX technicians carefully plot each special effect to extract the exact emotion a certain scene wants to relay. Effects are then digitally coded into the movie and synchronised.
The next offering for 4DX is Jumanji:Welcome to the Jungle, with audiences already experiencing a preview on Boxing Day this week. Star Wars will still be on offer till the end of the year, when Jumanji takes its place.
Find 4DX at Nu Metro V&A Waterfront (Cape Town), The Pavilion (Durban), Menlyn Park (Pretoria), Hyde Park Corner (Johannesburg), Emperors Palace (Johannesburg) and the recently opened Cornubia Mall (Umhlanga/Mount Edgecombe).