June 17--Imagine you're in a theater watching the newest action movie. During a suspenseful part in a dark, wet jungle, you breathe in the smells of grass and soil. A misty wetness sprinkles your face and arms. Something that feels like tall grass brushes against your bare legs.
Suddenly, an enemy leaps into the scene from out of nowhere and lands heavily alongside the lead character on the screen -- and your seat shakes as the ground trembles. As the enemy shoves the lead character out of the way, something pokes you in the arm.
Owners of the Plaza Cinema 14 movie theater on Fifth Street in Oxnard will test these and other effects -- and audiences' reaction to them -- as they install a special effects system that resembles theme park rides to help them stand out from an expanding pool of competitors.
"This type of technology is definitely coming now because we have to find more ways to offer value and technology to make the experience different from what you can get on your laptop or in your home." said Neil Pearlmutter, vice president of the Santa Rosa Entertainment Group in Santa Rosa, which owns the Oxnard theater. It also owns a theater in Camarillo and has 11 total locations in California.
The Cinemark USA, Inc.'s Century RiverPark 16 and XD theater at The Collection at RiverPark in Oxnard, and new features -- alcohol, restaurants and food delivered to your seat from other local theaters -- also present competition, Pearlmutter added.
Installation of the multi-sensory 4D Motion EFX system, made by Torrance special-effects company MediaMation Inc., is underway in one theater at the Plaza Cinema and scheduled to debut June 27. The movie is not yet determined but will be an upcoming new release, Pearlmutter said.
Construction crews are retrofitting the room with special seats and inserting a network of pumps, tubes and piping developed by MediaMation into the floors, walls, seats and ceilings to bring the system to life.
Air-based pneumatic pumps will move the seats forward, backward and side to side at key times in the movies. Tubes in the seats will scent the air with the smell of burning rubber, or maybe strawberries. Equipment in the walls and ceilings will create rain, snow, fog and mimic lightening. Tubes in the seats will do the poking and tickling.
All of it is controlled by a software program that tells the system what to do and when.
"It's in order to immerse the audience into this really fabulous experience," said Alison Jamele, who co-owns MediaMation with her husband, Dan Jamele. "It will enhance the movie and won't take away from what the director and producer have done."
The 23-year-old company, which got its start creating light and sound for water fountain shows, has been installing simpler versions of its 4D Motion EFX system for rides in theme parks and movies at aquariums and museums. Examples include the San Diego Air and Space Museum; Legoland Discovery Centers in Toronto, Chicago and other locations; and Ripley's Believe It or Not! museums.
About five years ago, Jamele said, the company decided theater-based movies were "a natural progression" and began selling the system to theater chains outside the U.S. The 15-theater Mexico chain Cinemax uses the system in one screen at each theater and has just doubled installations, she added. A cinema chain in Colombia just booked installations for four more theaters, Jamele said.
But in the United States -- not so much, said Heather Blair, a sales executive at MediaMation. Santa Rosa Entertainment Group is the company's first cinema installation in the country, she said. It will be a test to see how audiences here respond, she added.
Pearlmutter said the resistance probably has to do with the installation costs. In typical deals, Blair said, the cinema owner pays $6,000 per seat for the theater retrofit, new seats and the system that controls everything. There is also a small charge for each new movie. Movie studios pay for MediaMation programmers to design the effects and the timing, Blair added. MediaMation does not take a piece of the ticket price.
As the Oxnard theater is a test run, there is a different arrangement, with more of the cost covered by MediaMation, the two businesses said.
"The cost of being able to retrofit an auditorium adds a substantial upcharge," Pearlmutter said. The theater will lose 70 seats to make space for the new, larger seats, he added.
Tickets for movies shown in that room will cost probably $8 more than the $10 general admission tickets.
Oxnard resident Randy Sandford said she would pay that for the right movie -- a funny action movie.
"I think it's a blast," Sandford said while at the theater Monday for foreign film day. "RiverPark is a big draw, so to have something positive (here) would be a plus for the area."
Ellen Coleman, also of Oxnard, shook her head at the idea of the upcharge and being misted, scented, rattled around, poked and tickled.
"I just want to watch a movie. I'm old-school," Coleman said.
(c)2014 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)
Visit Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) at www.vcstar.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services