Move with the action at Muvico

Move with the action at Muvico

Posted by Sean Stangland on Tue, 04/26/2011 - 15:44

More and more movies are virtual thrill rides, and the Muvico 18 in Rosemont is taking that idea to the next level.

Beginning Friday, guests at Muvico can see "Fast Five" in a theater equipped with D-BOX motion seats, which buck, pitch, tilt and vibrate in concert with the on-screen action and soundtrack. When Vin Diesel swerves through traffic, your seat will swerve with him. When a car flies off a cliff, the movements will simulate the sensation of floating through the air.

I was invited to a demonstration of this technology today at Muvico, the first theater in Illinois to feature D-BOX. The experience was both more intense and more subtle than I had imagined. The seats themselves look very similar to a standard theater seat -- you still get a cup-holder, and you don't have to put on a seat belt -- but underneath the seat are three actuators that, according to D-BOX VP of Marketing Guy Marcoux, can replicate up to 2 Gs of acceleration while elevating up to an inch and a half.

The movements follow the camera and/or the main action. In the clip from 2009's "Fast and Furious" I saw today, I felt acceleration as Diesel moved his car into position behind a semi. Then, the seat swerved horizontally as Michelle Rodriguez jumped from the car. Later, when the semi slammed on the brakes, I could feel the friction of the road as the seat pitched forward. A shot that sailed over a steep hill provided the feeling of floating. When the semi's cab exploded, the seat rumbled. The range of sensations was very surprising considering that only the seat, not the entire room, was moving.

Watching a film in this manner has the potential to be uncomfortably overwhelming, and the reel I saw suggests that D-BOX's designers are well aware of this. When the camera cut away to a long establishing shot of the semi and Diesel's pursuing car, the movements stopped, giving us a breather. Another shot of the semi coming straight at the camera slowly amped up the vibrations as it approached. If the movements get too intense for you, you can use a control panel on the right armrest to set the effects at medium or low levels, or turn them off completely. And of course the motion base stays still in scenes that don't require it; I don't think you'll be bouncing in your chair as Paul Walker walks across a garage. (Marcoux says "Fast Five" will feature motion effects for about half of its running time.)

The short clips I saw were highly entertaining. Is it gimmicky? Well, of course it is, but what isn't gimmicky in this age of 3D, IMAX, ETX and XD? The presentation I saw showed that D-BOX could add oomph to the appropriate titles, and the D-BOX lineup is mostly appropriate. 2009's "Fast and Furious" was the first release in D-BOX, and in two years the company has expanded to 66 theaters globally with titles like "TRON: Legacy," "The Green Hornet," "I Am Number Four" and "Hanna." Future titles include "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" and "Super 8."

Now here's the rub: Seeing a movie in D-BOX will cost you an extra $8. So a Friday night show of "Fast Five" goes for $18 a ticket. A D-BOX seat for a 3D movie like "Pirates 4" would cost $21.50. Sensing my skepticism, Marcoux told me that a company survey of "TRON: Legacy" D-BOX customers showed that 92 percent of respondents felt they got their money's worth.

Ticket prices that high are a risky proposition, and that's probably why Muvico only has 36 D-BOX seats (three rows' worth) to start with. Those 36 seats are sold as assigned seats, and the rest of the auditorium will be general admission at standard prices. If you're not sure if you want to shell out the dough, there are two demo seats in the Muvico lobby that move in sync with the "Fast Five" trailer.

"Fast Five," packed with car chases and explosions, seems like the perfect kind of movie for D-BOX's Illinois debut. Is it worth $18 to turn a virtual thrill ride into a real one? I'll most likely find out this weekend. (In the interest of full disclosure: Yes, I will have to pay for "Fast Five" in D-BOX, regardless of the event I attended today. I pay for 99 percent of the movies I see.)

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