The Goofiest Technological Gimmicks in Movie History

When Iron Man 3 premieres in Japan this Friday (yes, a week before us, whatever), audiences there will have the opportunity to see the film — which is already being presented in 3D and IMAX — in “4DX.” And what the hell is 4DX, you may ask, with understandable hesitancy. Take it away, Wired: “This ‘fourth dimension’ experience will offer wind, fog, tilting seats, and odor effects.” Yep, you can’t just watch a movie anymore; you have to be knocked around and inundated with weather and smells. 4DX is already in use in China, South Korea, Thailand, Russia, Mexico, Israel, and across South America, and if you’re jealous of this nonsense, fear not — according to The Hollywood Reporter, the technology’s creators are “reported to be moving ahead with plans to bring 4DX to the U.S. this year, with a view to equipping 200 theaters over the coming five years.” Since the whole concept sounds like noisy, bothersome rubbish designed primarily to tack on even more ticket surcharges, here’s hoping 4DX is about as successful as these earlier, equally silly cinematic technical advances.

smellovision

Glorious Smell-O-Vision!

Super-producer Mike Todd concocted the idea of a synchronized “smell track” shortly before his untimely death in 1958, but his son Mike Todd Jr. wasn’t going to let the idea go to waste. The 1960 film The Scent of Mystery was created specifically to showcase “Glorious Smell-O-Vision!”; the murder mystery, starring Denholm Elliott and Peter Lorre, featured aromatic clues within the 50-plus scents (including lemon, peppermint, incense, peaches, roses, coffee, brandy, perfume, and pipe tobacco) delivered to the filmgoer via a plastic tube on their seat. As you can imagine, that kind of thing takes time to put together — and while audiences were breathlessly waiting, a rival technology, AromaRama, was trotted out for the Chinese documentary Behind the Great Wall. (This lower-tech method merely pumped the smells out through the theater’s air conditioning.)

When The Scent of Mystery was finally released (only in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles), reactions were mixed; synchronization issues were widely reported, and Time magazine reported, “most customers will probably agree that the smell they liked best was the one they got during the intermission: fresh air.” The inimitable John Waters took a stab at smelly moviemaking himself with his 1981 comedy Polyester, but his “Odorama” technology was merely a scratch-and-sniff card, distributed to audiences who were cued to smell each of ten odors during the film. (More recently, the family films Rugrats Go Wild and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World also used scratch-and-sniff.)