A select group of media were invited to the Queensway Cineplex Odeon Cinemas in Etobicoke where we were given a 15-minute introduction to D-BOX's new Motion Code theatre seats. These seats debut later this month to the public with the opening of the latest Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
Inside the theatre, one row from the top, was a row of Ferrari-red chairs that were unmistakably different from a typical movie theatre seat. I call them chairs, because that's really what they are. The seat bottoms don't flip up, you are separated from your neighbour by at least two inches (lovebirds, you may want to pass) and you get your own armrests on both sides. They're quite comfy when you sit down, but the first thing you notice is that the seat height is much higher than a normal theatre seat. I'm 5'8" and when I sat with my back flat against the back of the chair, I was only just able to keep my feet flat on the floor. The extra height is presumably needed to accommodate the motion technology, but shorter audience members will find it annoying. But don't worry – they still have that most-important-of-all-movie-seat-features: the gigantic cup holder.
Our 15 minute test-run was the opening set of sequences for the recent release Fast and Furious. If you haven't seen it, allow me to spoil it for you: it features a high-speed car chase involving tons of stunts and a big gasoline tanker which explodes into a fiery inferno as it tumbles toward the hero and his girlfriend. Needless to say, it made for a perfect demonstration of the Motion Code chair.
When you first hear about the D-BOX Motion Code system, it sounds a lot like those 3D rides you find at places like Canada's Wonderland, where you sit in a big chair that bucks and shakes like a bronco trying to dislodge you from its back. While that might work in the context of a 15 minute thrill ride, D-BOX realized that if you're going to sit through a 3 hour movie, you need a more sophisticated approach.
Now I realize that the word 'sophisticated' doesn't sound like something you want in a Vin Diesel movie, so let me explain before you dismiss the idea entirely.
The D-BOX system uses electro-mechanical actuators placed at the four corners of the chair's bottom. Think of these as small pistons. They travel about 1.5" up and down and can operate independently or in unison to create a amazingly wide variety of motion effects. They can tilt the chair up to 15 degrees in any direction and they can do it so slowly you're not even aware that it's happening, or they can do it in an instant, giving the viewer a powerful – but not whiplash-like – jolt. Best of all, the system is completely silent.
Each seat has its own set of controls that lets viewers tailor the intensity of the motion to suit their tastes. You get three levels: minimum, medium and maximum plus an 'off' setting in case you just aren't enjoying the ride. But let me tell you, you're going to want to pump it to the max and that's where you'll keep it. Because these chairs really deliver.
Throughout that opening chase scene, every rev of a car's engine, every swerve of the tanker truck and even the move of the camera itself as it flies up and over a steep drop in the highway was matched with a corresponding shake, shudder, shimmy or vibration in the chair. Comparing these seats to theme-park thrill rides is like comparing BMWs to bumper cars.
The subtlety that can be achieved with the Motion Code technology is remarkable and it's a testament to the talent of the people tasked with turning the on-screen action into matching moves. D-BOX calls them 'motion artists'. The term is fitting, since these people decide on frame-frame basis, exactly what you will feel during the course of a movie.
In some cases, like a swerve of car – where the camera is positioned for the driver's point of view – the motion is obvious. Your chair moves in the same direction as the car. But what happens during a foot chase, involving two or more people? Who's on-screen motion gets reflected in the seat? This is where artistic choices come into play, and I was very conscious (and appreciative) of the way these less obvious scenes were interpreted.
When we were told prior to the demo that action movies like Fast and Furious would have a different feel from less heart-pounding flick like Harry Potter, it wasn't clear how that difference would express itself. But now, having felt what the D-BOX chairs can do, I'm confident that every movie will have its own motion-personality in much the same way that it has a unique audio fingerprint through its soundtrack.
All of this technology isn't cheap to produce so as you might expect, getting a seat with Motion Code won't be included in the price of a regular movie admission. The Ferrari seats will come at $7 premium over and above the normal ticket. Ouch.
Another challenge will be actually getting one of these seats. At first, demand will be high and seating severely limited. The Queensway theatre we went to only had one row (about 20) of Motion Code seats. To book one, you can use an online ordering system, or before showtime at the box office.
Guy Marcoux, D-BOX's Director of Marketing, was coy when I asked how soon we could expect to see additional Motion Code seats show up in other theatres. He told me that much would depend on how this initial installation performed. He was able to confirm two things for me: Only theatres equipped with digital projection systems are compatible with D-BOX's technology (so that rules out a lot of smaller theatres) and that Cineplex Odeon would be the first chain to have the opportunity to make these seats available on a wider basis.
With home theatre technology improving every year and with prices dropping just as fast, there's no question that the movie industry needs to find ways to get people back into the theatres. I don't know if Motion Code seating is going to be the 'killer app' that helps turn the tide, but it's first innovation in a long time to fundamentally change the movie-going experience and you owe to yourself to give it a try.