Last month, in my quest to watch Dune in every single format available, I went for a RealD 3D viewing in a 4DX equipped theater. I thought I’d share my experiences of this unusual format and how it augments the movie with various practical effects.
The most obvious feature of 4DX is the motion seats. These are slightly higher than normal seats and have a footrest that moves with the chair, rather than your feet being on the floor. The seat can be made to rumble, pitch forward/backward, and roll to the left/right. While these can be used to copy the action of the scene, they are most useful for flying scenes. Luckily Dune has the ‘thopters and as their wings start beating the seat rumbles, before settling into a low hum. The seats pitch back during take-off, forward for a dive and roll to the sides to match the craft movements.
The seats also contain a series of points in the chair back can be pushed into your back, which when they are all triggered feels like you are being pushed back into the seat for when ‘thopters are accelerating. The points can be triggered individually too, so when Liet Kynes is stabbed in the back the sensation is perfectly timed. This feature is also used to pummel you as the Sardaukar knock Duncan down for the final time.
One final feature of the chair is contained in the headrest, a nozzle that shoots a gust of air past your ear, simulating an object whizzing past your head. This was used to good effect when Gurney throws a knife into the table next to Paul.
Wind, Rain, and Lightning
Concealed wind machines can produce a breeze within the theater; however, this is a cool breeze and so was not used for scenes in the heat of Arrakis. Water can be sprayed in a light mist into your face (this is the one feature that can be turned off via a button on your armrest), and areas of the ceiling light up, reacting to light sources within the movie.
All these effects were combined during the scene where the Bene Gesserit leave Caladan. Seats rumble as the ships takes off, wind and rain blow into your face, and the flash of light as the ship leaves the atmosphere extends onto the ceiling.
The theater has two smoke machines, one on either side of the screen. These tend to be used in battle scenes, or when something is burning, but they were also turned on for the Giedi Prime scene with the Baron in his steam bath. This added some nice atmosphere, without impeding the view of the screen.
Perhaps the weakest of the effects is the use of a scent machine to disperse odors. There are a limited number of smells it can produce (sadly no cinnamon for the Spice) and these can’t be synchronized to the film very well as the time it takes to reach your seat can vary. The only smell I recall was a slightly unpleasant burning smell used in the attack on Arrakeen—although back when I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens in this format, there was also a pine scent used.
4DX also supports bubbles, often used for snow effects, but Dune did not make use of that feature.
I’m not a fan of 3D films, I find them a little gimmicky, and 4DX movies even more so. The wind, rain, smoke, and lightning often only serve to remind you that you are in a theater, pulling you out of the movie rather than immersing you deeper into the story. That being said, I did have a big smile on my face during the ‘thopter flying scenes and being “stabbed” in the back was oddly engaging. The rumbling seat was used well with the beat of the thumpers and for the approach of a sandworm. Salusa Secundus felt appropriately damp from the water spray too.
Overall, it was a fun experience, but I’m glad it wasn’t my first viewing of the movie and I’m in no rush to see it again in that format—still I look forward to seeing Dune: Part Two in 4DX is a few years’ time!