Film-Philosophy Conference, Film-Philosophy Conference 2012

4D cinema and 'immersive' spectatorship

Liz Roberts


This paper draws on literatures of cinema spectatorship and film realisms to analyse the claims to greater realism underpinning cinematic technologies like 4D, illustrated by marketing statements like 'becoming part of the movie' and 'live the action'. It focuses specifically on the re-introduction of 4D cinema in the form of enhanced-motion chairs, to consider the extent to which third (adding protruding stereoscopic depth) and fourth dimensions (smell, moving and vibrating chairs, water sprays, air jets, etc.) add to cinematic immersion or break down the 'fourth wall' of the illusion of a simulated reality. By considering the way embodied, multi-sensory dimensions are emphasised in 4D cinema, aspects of film theory are problematised. Discourses that surround two predominant types of spectatorship, themselves informing the way film realism has been conceptualised, are troubled: the classical disembodied spectator's 'absorption into an emphatic narrative' (Gunning, 1989) and phenomenology's embodied spectator's 'pre-semantic, somatic' (Voss, 2011) experience of a 'film-body'. The paper begins with an overview of previous 4D experiments at the cinema before introducing the D-Box, an enhanced-motion chair, looking at the ways the chair is marketed and received by film critics and fans. Following this, a discussion of film realism and theories of spectatorship provides critical reflection, and identifies problems with existing theories for understanding 4D spectatorship. In the final section, the usefulness of Presence, a term used for measuring reality-effect in Virtual-Reality environments, is assessed as a method for 4D movie research. Concluding comments are drawn from this to re-evaluate what is meant by film realism and to establish how film theory will need to be revised to encompass technologies like 3D and 4D.

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About the Presenter

Liz Roberts
University of Exeter
United Kingdom