The D-Box Experience During 'Terminator Salvation'


D-Box Demo reception, by Chris Holland on Flickr

Editor's Note: The following report is from Aaron Zern and James Curry, who went to one of the first screenings of Terminator Salvation in Austin and sat in the new D-Box seats, the ones that Chris Holland tried out. I was interested to hear how the seats felt during a whole feature film, and thought I'd share their discoveries. (Thanks, guys!)

D-Box seats are billed as "The next Dimension of your cinematic experience. Taking you literally inside the movie" and the promotional material explains that "Using advanced proprietary robotics and commercial-grade motion technology, D-BOX Motion Code immerses theatregoers into the heart of the action. The experience is nothing short of stunning." Rhetoric so dramatic that it would lead you to opine that D-Box represents an advance akin to that between going to see a moving picture, and going to see one of those fabulous new talking pictures with sound. Common sense, on the other hand, would lend itself to suggesting that a gyrating seat in a darkened theater is more likely a leap between going to see a moving picture and going to see a moving picture while being made to feel slightly queasy.

At Galaxy Highland, we were ushered into the theater a little ahead of those with regular tickets and invited to take our seats in the D-Box section, 22 seats spanning two rows about halfway up from the screen.

Hiding my concern over the lack of safety belts and crash helmets, I listened to the brief operating instructions given to the D-Box customers. A small control panel is provided on one arm of the chair with two buttons: one to increase and one to decrease the intensity of the D-Box experience. A colorful bar gives a visible indicator of the current setting -- from completely disabled to the full-on VR assault. I cranked mine to 11 and steeled myself for the experience.

My experience with D-Box went through three distinct phases. As the movie began, I found myself far more focused upon what my chair was doing than the action happening onscreen. This distraction would no doubt go away if I found myself watching further movies in these seats; the novelty factor was simply too much and captured my attention for a good 15 or 20 minutes at the start of the film.

Rather than provide constant motion throughout the movie, the developers have wisely restricted the effect to fast action scenes or those places where the effect can really give the physical impression of the environment shown. It's not perfect. Quick cut action scenes felt disoriented and random, as though stuck in a gimp bumper car. However, as I became accustomed to the seat, I started to follow the movie and did find myself genuinely impressed by some of the effects. Helicopter rides matched the tilt of the vehicle and the rotation of the blades and gunfire echoed and shook around me. Then, as the film drew on, something unexpected happened.

I forgot I was in the chair.

Perhaps on some level the experience made the film more immersive, but consciously, I realized that I'd been following the movie and hadn't thought about the D-Box technology for some time. I may have well been watching from any other seat in the theater.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the D-Box product, aside from the fact that it costs nearly $20 for a ticket. Certainly it's worth trying once, if ultimately uninspiring. I can't help but think that motion seating would be better deployed in an IMAX cinema that's already equipped with a larger-than-life screen and 3-D technology, as opposed to your typical every-town movie house where a sideways look of the eye will take you out of the film and reveal the popcorn-gorged teenager texting his friends a few seats over.

Photo credit: "D-Box Demo reception" by Chris Holland. Used with permission.