It begins with the usual darkened theatre, and images of people scurrying onto a raft to race down a white-water river. But as the raft plunges headfirst into a wave, your chair shoots back so fast and far that you almost get tossed out of it, and a burst of water from your armrest sprays you in the face. Everyone in the audience screams with glee.
Every other movie these days seems to be jumping on the 3-D bandwagon. Um, ho-hum. Because even as the pros, cons and kinks of that technology are being debated, one new movie experience is pushing the trend into yet another dimension - promising an immersive future where your seat actually jitters when a hero soars over an explosion and you can smell the pine in that scene in the woods.
The first steps towards this bold new cinema start with 4D Ontario, a new film-based ride at Toronto's Ontario Place that has people lining up around the corner for their chance to be shaken, stirred and, yes, soaked in 4-D.
Okay, so this experience (created by Toronto-based company SimEx-Iwerks) isn't exactly James Cameron territory. A 3-D movie with sensory effects, it takes you on a trip through all that the province of Ontario has to offer, sending you over Niagara Falls and racing through the streets of Toronto. The words cheesy thrill ride come to mind.
Cheesy, in particular.
4D Ontario is essentially a piece of tourism marketing. It debuted at Ontario's pavilion at the Vancouver Games, and a "special edition" entertained media at the G20 summit in Toronto. It's now sitting alongside the southern edge of Ontario Place, the park's first new attraction in two years.
Seeing grown-ups get freaked out by stuff like this always makes me laugh
Still, even if the onscreen action shoots from random scene to random scene without any narrative, can't you just see Hollywood executives salivating over how they can bring this to the multiplex? And did I mention this 4-D experience has smell-o-vision? That's right, you read that correctly - smell-o-vision!
While it was fun to watch Woody and the gang in 3-D in Toy Story 3, no other movie that I'm aware of will blast you in the face with water, dump snow on you and envelop you in fog - with varying degrees of excitement.
As fireworks exploded over the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, our seats popped up and down, eliciting surprised howls from all of us in the theatre. As a small plane cruised through a river valley, fans blasted us with air - kinda neat, but as far as cool 4-D effects go, pretty weak. During a tobogganing scene, snow blew out from near the screen, although it only reached to the second row. This, to me at least, was a problem. I wanted to get hit by some snow back in the fourth row, but I got none.
All was forgiven, though, when the movie cut to a scene meant to mimic the experience of hurtling down the Behemoth, a huge roller coaster at Canada's Wonderland. The seats shot back, and the view was so real the woman next to me, who had brought her children to the theatre, clutched her seat's handles with white-knuckled terror and leaned back so hard and fast into her seat that I thought she was going to fall over.
Seeing grown-ups get freaked out by stuff like this always makes me laugh, don't ask me why.
Of course, I had a little moment of freak-out myself when the movie saw us shooting over the edge of Niagara Falls. Thankfully, the fog that emerged from the front of the stage, accompanied by bubbles wafting through the air, had a calming effect. Bubbles always do. I mean, really, how terrified can you be by anything when there are bubbles in the air?
My favourite part of the ride occurred during a brief scene of the Santa Claus parade in Toronto. I swore I was just imagining the smell of gingerbread wafting through the air. But no, the smell was perfectly real.
There is also a scent that supposedly gets shot into the theatre during a few scenes of mountain biking and horseback riding through a forest, although I didn't catch a whiff of it. Maybe my nasal passages were clogged by all the water that was being sprayed in my face.
Mind you, it wouldn't surprise me if moviegoers get a nose-full of the Batmobile's new-car scent in the next instalment of the Batman franchise.
It's impossible to resist the bouncy fun of a film like this, especially in a roomful of kids. As they scream with glee every time their seats shoot forward or back or side to side, as their smiles test the capacity of their facial muscles at the sight of snow in a movie theatre, it's hard for their joy not to be contagious.
Adults may walk out of most movies with trenchant things to say about editing or cinematography or mise-en-scène, but kids are truly alive to the wonders of 4-D.
"There's water!" one tyke yelled at his mom on the way out of the theatre. There sure is buddy, there sure is.