Archive for August, 2011

Adding more thrills to the thrill ride

An exhibition model of the D-Box seat on display in the lobby of the Premiere Renaissance Theatre - an easy way to sample the experience beforehand.

Movie theatres have always been in direct competition to other forms of entertainment. The early threat of radio luring patrons away from the silver screen gave way in the fifties to the allure of television, and later still, home video, cable TV, satellite, DVDs, Netflix, etc. Through all of this was the rise of new movie technologies, some being pure gimmicks, while others were true improvements to the art form. The mainstays have included sound, color, widescreen, and improvements therein, such as Technicolor, THX, IMAX, and the like. On the gimmick side are such landmarks as Smell-o-Vision.

For new millennium audiences, the leading drivers have been digital projection (which is here to stay) and 3-D, a gimmick that has been around since the fifties and has been going in and out of vogue since then. Many people still have trouble wrapping their hands (and eyes) around 3-D, the glasses, and the additional cost. A case in point: neither my wife or two kids enjoy the process and would prefer the conventional 2-D experience. Having seen my share of incredibly bad 3-D over the years, I can easily say that–if done well–I enjoy the effect.

This brings us to D-Box, the latest trick to be added to the theatrical arsenal. The technology itself has been around for decades and is usually found in major theme park thrill rides: a seat that moves in all directions in sync with the movie visuals, thus suggesting that the viewer is actually experiencing what is on the screen. It seems only logical that it would find it’s way into traditional film exhibition, but it’s entry has been slow, no doubt due to the investment involved in setting up the equipment in a theatre. To date, Houston has two movie houses with D-Box– the Santikos Silverado Theatre on 249 (in Tomball) and the new Premiere Renaissance Theatre at Greenspoint Mall.

Like 3-D, it has some obstacles to overcome. Some people just don’t like to be tossed around, or the nausea that sometimes can be an unpleasant side effect to those with sensitive constitutions. There is also the cost. At the Renaissance, the D-Box experience adds another ten dollars to the normal cost of a ticket. At present, it is only in one screen there, taking up two rows of seats in the middle of the auditorium. If a family of four goes there and pays normal price plus the additional ten times four… Well, you can do the math.

So the bottom line… Is it worth it? For the right person who enjoys adding dynamics to their movie going, I would say yes. I recently tried it out for a showing of Conan the Barbarian, a film that includes lots of action, extreme gratuitous violence, and an abundance of opportunities to shake the seat. I found the experience to be a true enhancement to the film, with by whole body surging, tilting, and vibrating to every loud explosion on the screen. I dug it. Worth another ten smackers? Maybe, depending on the film.

What is worth noting is that as our technology continues to improve, these enhancements eventually end up in the tried and true model of theatrical exhibition, by playing to our key senses of sight, sound and touch. As to smell, we all saw what happened with Smell-o-Vision, didn’t we?


Cinema Houston celebrates a vibrant century of movie theatres and moviegoing in Texas’s largest city. This weblog is a companion to the Book, Cinema Houston: From Nickelodeon to Megaplex (University of Texas Press, 2007), and website, www.CinemaHouston.net.

David Welling is a writer and artist who lives in Houston with his wife and two children. His lifelong interest in movies (and the places that show them) led to the writing of Cinema Houston, which included fifteen years of research, and its subsequent website.