Please turn your phones ON: how technology has revamped the cinema experience

Films and technology go together like nothing else on earth. But while hi-tech gizmos like 3D are a big reason to keep going to the cinema, you may be surprised to learn that many futuristic film features have been around for over a century. Our guest blogger Phil Edwards from LiveForFilms.com investigates…

While the effects for the summer blockbusters become more and more complex it is strange to think that the way we watch films has barely changed since the dawn of cinema. We may now have sound and colour, flat screen TVs, tablets, smartphones and Netflix so we can have something of the multiplex experience wherever we are, but a trip to the cinema is still one of the main joys of watching a film.

That’s not the only thing about cinema that has barely changed: filmmakers themselves are using brand new hi-tech to develop ideas that have been around since the earliest days of film.

3D, Tinglers, 4D and Beyond!
Take 3D, for example – wanting to see a blockbuster in 3D can make the difference between deciding to watch a film at the cinema or waiting to catch it at home. To date, James Cameron’s Avatar has made nearly $3 billion from cinema tickets alone, which just goes to show the power of good 3D.

But 3D films are nothing new. The technique began way back in the 1890s when William Friese-Green filed a patent for the process. After that, 3D films built in popularity until reaching their heyday in the 1950s – but then 3D seemed to disappear. It was only with the advent of IMAX and digital cameras that 3D began to live once more, with the resurgence beginning in 2003.

The next big thing
Another technological benefit the cinema holds over the living room is its picture quality. Peter Jackson used 3D while shooting The Hobbit, but he also shot it at twice the usual frame rate. This Higher Frame Rate (HFR) of 48 frames per second was to make the film seem more real, yet it seemed to have mixed results. The picture quality was so good that it almost felt as though you were on the film set itself meaning some of the magic of the film was lost.

HFR has yet to really catch on in Hollywood and I feel it has to be used in the right type of film. When that perfect match is made it herald a major jump not seen since we went from black and white to colour. But just as there weren’t any TVs that could handle colour back in the early 20th Century, there aren’t many now that can handle HFR films. For that, you’ll have to head to the cinema.

You’ll need to go to the cinema to experience 3D sound, too. Your average surround sound system can’t quite match up to the Dolby Atmos system, which uses up to 64 speakers placed around the cinema to create an immersive soundscape. It may be a long way from having a pianist or orchestra playing along with the moving pictures, but it is all to get the same result: to make the audience lose themselves in the film.

Then there are immersive systems such as D-Box, which syncs the film with a mechanized platform or seat. When movement occurs on screen, the seat is also moved to make the experience even more realistic.

It could be argued that the concept for the D-Box began with American producer and director, William Castle back in the 1950s. For screenings of his 1959 horror film, The Tingler, Castle introduced the Percepto! Experience. This simply involved placing buzzers (surplus airplane wing de-icing motors) on the underside of some seats in the auditorium. During the climax of the film, the Tingler escapes into a cinema. On screen the film appears to break, before Vincent Price cries out a warning that the creature was escaped into the very cinema that the audience is sitting in. The projectionist would then activate the buzzers and scare the audience witless.

Castle used various other gimmicks – skeletons flying around the cinema, actors paid to scream and faint during the film being a couple of the more obvious ones, paving the way for 4D films where smells, rain, fog and more have been introduced to the cinematic experience. You don’t tend to get that at home.

Looking Back To Go Forward
The methods may have changed, but the basic idea of making the viewer part of the film remains. It seems that looking at the past has always been the way forward when it comes to using modern technology to enhance and improve our time spent in a movie theatre.

Without those pioneers of film where would we be today? And what strange idea from yesteryear will be the next big thing in cinema?

 

What do you think of 3D films? Are you happy to pay more to see a film in 3D or do you think it’s a pointless gimmick? Let us know – drop us a comment below.

For more on how technology is changing the world of film, tune in to LBC Radio this Saturday at 8.30pm when the O2 Gurus will be talking about the latest in movie tech.

You can also find us on O2 Guru TV or visit an O2 Guru in store.

Image source: Direitos Urbanos on Flickr under Creative Commons