The Weekly Moviegoer - Watching Terminator with Motion Seats
by Christopher Campbell
June 10, 2009
As much as I enjoyed Terminator Salvation for what it is, I left the movie theater thinking I'd never have reason to watch it again. But I was wrong. Last week, while visiting my grandmother in Arizona, I felt compelled to revisit the relatively disappointing yet sufficiently entertaining sequel when I drove out to the Ultrastar Cinemas Surprise Pointe 14 movie theater in Surprise, AZ, for a first-hand trial of the new D-Box motion seats. I previously wrote about these fun auditorium furnishings a couple months ago in a column about cinema gimmicks, but I just had to experience the seats for myself. And how was the experience?
Even if it wasn't my job to report and comment on the theater industry and moviegoing trends it would have been hard for me to pass up this rare chance - only four theaters offer the D-Box Motion Code experience for Terminator Salvation (in addition to the Surprise Ultrastar location, they include the Mann Chinese 6 in Hollywood, CA, the theatres at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN, and the Galaxy Highland 10 in Austin, TX). However, D-Box does allow moviegoers to try the seats out in the lobby (of the Surprise location, at least). You can sit in a motion seat and watch the Terminator Salvation trailer. The vibrations and movement you feel during the explosions, machine gun noise and even the film score are pretty much the same as you get in the actual theater. You just get about two more hours worth with the $18 admission price (D-Box seats cost $8 more than regular seats).
So is the experience worth the money? Honestly, when the movie was over, I couldn't quite decide if it added to or subtracted from my enjoyment of Terminator Salvation (here's where the haters comment with "they couldn't make the film any worse anyway"). At times I found the seats to be a little distracting, but that could have been due to my having already seen the film. I also found it a little extraneous to have the seats vibrate with certain sound effects, such as machine gun rattling, and I really could do without the seats shaking in time with the percussion of the Terminator theme. That said, I wish everyone could experience motion seats during the much-lauded "single-shot" first-person POV helicopter crash. The chase sequence with the Terminator motorcycles was pretty fun, too.
All in all I believe the D-Box seats are completely appropriate for and complimentary to a mindless action film like Terminator Salvation, because it is the kind of film already praised by critics for being like a "roller coaster ride." But there is good reason that amusement park rides don't last very long, and it isn't just because of the cost. The thrill of a roller coaster ride would begin to wear thin the longer it went, and likewise the motion seats lose a lot of their innovative and thrilling appeal in the nearly two-hour running time of a feature film. Also, in that length of time the vibrations are likely to make you overheated, akin to what you'd feel after 115 minutes in a massage chair. Recently people were questioning whether moviegoers could
tolerate enjoy a three-hour 3D movie, as James Cameron's Avatar is expected to be. Similarly, I have to think most audiences would only enjoy motion seats for a limited amount of time.
A few days after my D-Box experience, I took a trip up to the Grand Canyon, and my visit included a stop at the National Geographic Visitors Center, where I watched the IMAX film Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets. At only 35 minutes, this natural and historical documentary would be the more perfect film to see with motion seats, especially because it's one of those IMAX movies that features a good deal of first-person POV footage. The D-Box seats would be a great accompaniment to sequences where it already feels like you're soaring through the air above the canyon or whitewater rafting along the Colorado River. And in 3D (which it is sometimes shown), it could be one of the greatest gimmicky moviegoing experiences there is. But that sounds a lot more like a theme park attraction than a true moviegoing experience, doesn't it?