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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
YouTube/Picture Box Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill.
Future Focus

VR backpacks and real-life rainfall: Here's what the cinema of the future will look like

Plus the Dublin cinema already on board.

The way we live is changing fast. Every fortnight in our new Future Focus series, supported by Volkswagen, we’ll look at how one aspect of everyday life could change in the coming years. This week: public transport.

THERE’S A WELL-KNOWN anecdote about one of the earliest films to ever be shown. Called L’Arrivée D’Un Train En Gare De La Ciotat (Arrival Of A Train At La Ciotat), it featured, well… a train.

Members of the audience in 1896 are said to have screamed and fled when the train approached the camera, supposedly believing that it was coming out of the screen directly toward them.

Whether it’s true or just an urban legend, doesn’t really matter, of course. It highlights the importance of cinema and film in showing new perspectives of the world, and it also makes us scoff at times gone by.

Obviously, cinema audiences have moved on quite a bit since 1876. But even at that, the visceral reactions to cinema that form parts of cinematic history – the mass panic, fainting, and vomiting from audiences at The Exorcist, the emotional punch packed by Schindler’s List – have been few and far between in recent years, largely because we’ve kind of seen it all before.

the exorcist YouTube / Best Movie Clips One of the many 'scary priest' scenes from The Exorcist (1973). YouTube / Best Movie Clips / Best Movie Clips

The end is nigh

With Netflix profits on the rise and numbers of cinema-goers going down, could we soon see the end of cinema date nights, overpriced but delicious popcorn and requesting “middle row, toward the back please” as we buy our tickets?

Thanks to 4K TVs, home cinema systems, improvements in the user experience and the ever-increasing range of choices easily available, it’s now pretty standard to sit back and have a cinematic experience right from your own sitting room.

Streaming services, popular as they already are, will likely grow even further in the coming years, pushing cinemas out of their share of the market in bringing new titles to audiences.

Take Netflix, for example. The company plans to spend up to €6.5 billion on content this year alone.

Even Scorsese is on board

It’s not just the numbers, because the quality of Netflix-original content is improving too:

Martin Scorsese’s next film The Irishman will reunite Al Pacino and Robert de Niro – and it’ll be produced and distributed via Netflix.

So how can cinemas avoid being pushed out of the market entirely? Well, it’s not a lost cause yet.

Even with streaming services on board, film production and filmmaking will likely continue in the same way it always has except with drones and other tech advancements to make shooting and editing easier.

As for how filmed are screened, there are plenty of new technological innovations that’ll hopefully help to keep cinemas in the black.

Dublin’s new water-shooting cinema screens

With the new 4DX screen coming to Cineworld in Dublin’s Parnell Street on April 26, perhaps the same immersive cinema experience that made audiences fear a train could crash into them might be rekindled.

Except this time, it’d be fear of the Hulk, as the first film screening in Dublin to use the technology will be Avengers: Infinity War.

21731501_1772228612818187_8144682160335673023_o Facebook / 4DX Global A 4DX screening of It in 2017. Don't worry, the clown doesn't come as standard. Facebook / 4DX Global / 4DX Global

The 4DX screen, first launched by South Korean company CJ 4DPLEX in 2008, matches your seat movement to the movement on the screen. It can also shoot jets of water, can release fog, scents and bubbles, and can mimic weather events like wind and lightning so that you truly have a 4-D cinema-going experience.

It’s already been launched in 50 countries around the world, and the numbers are growing.

“We can’t wait to see customers’ reactions,” Cineworld’s general manager Rich Barnes said of the launch.

“There’s nothing else like it in cinemas. Cineworld audiences in the UK have loved it so far.”

If the thought of sitting in your cinema seat while the 4DX screen shoots water at you doesn’t quite thrill you just yet, just wait until ScreenX makes its way to Irish shores.

Set to be showcased for the first time at CinemaCon in Las Vegas this week, the ScreenX 4DX combination uses multi-projection technology so that images are projected not only on the screen on front of you, but also on the walls on either side, for ‘270 degree’ vision.

With 3D not having had the revolutionary impact many assumed it would, it’s understandable that anything 4D related could be seen as a gimmick. However supporters of the technology would disagree, framing 3D and 4D as long-term solutions, not one-offs.

Interestingly, the CEO behind the 4DX technology, Byung-Hean Choi, cited the problems cinema has faced in recent years when announcing the company’s CinemaCon showcase.

“With box-office challenges, the rise of home entertainment options and new streaming services causing enormous strain on the movie industry, innovation is more important than ever, which is why it is at the core of everything we do,” he said.

Fully immersive video games

Dreamscape Immersive, meanwhile, is taking a different tack on the immersive cinema-going experience.

The company’s first production, Alien Zoo, straddles the line between film and video game, and recently finished an initial trial in LA.

Its features go beyond what we would currently consider as either film or gaming tech, making Alien Zoo more of an interactive film than a simple one-player or two-player game.

27504143_1773916905973304_3994469918422645023_o Facebook / Dreamscape Immersive Part of the Alien Zoo 'landscape'. Facebook / Dreamscape Immersive / Dreamscape Immersive

The user wears a laptop backpack, sensor-equipped gloves, and a VR headset to enter a 4D virtual world: a space zoo which houses creatures from all over the galaxy.

Players stand on a seemingly levitating platform on their tour, during which their avatars can interact with the “world” around them and with other avatars. Like 4DX, players will also feel physical effects like weather conditions. You don’t get much more immersive than that.

Unfortunately for gamers wanting to give the technology a go from their couch, this isn’t the type of 4D experience that will be able to be replicated at home – at least not yet.

The Alien Zoo trial took place in a specially-constructed VR facility on the top floor of an LA shopping mall. However, there are plans for the trial to be expanded to other locations in California as well as one in Dubai, and with backing from people like Steven Spielberg, it’s no amateur production.

With so many changes in how we consume film and other media, cinemas simply can’t survive as just plain old picture houses.

The transformation ahead could go the way of 4DX screens and immersive games, or maybe cinemas will just return to their low-tech roots, as with the recently reopened 1920s-style Stella Theatre in Rathmines, Dublin.

Whatever the movie screen of the future looks like, it’s clear that the event of going to the cinema has to become bigger, bolder and more exciting to prove its worth.

More Future Focus: Flying taxis and Ireland’s own ‘supersonic’ train – the future of public transport>

More Future Focus: Bye-bye pizza guy, no more spice bag shame: The future of getting a takeaway>

Gráinne Loughran
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