Film: * 1/2
Experience: * * *
Along with a cinema-full of other critics, I was hurled around, sprayed with water, and pelted with blasts of cool-air to accompany the Sony Pictures / Marvel Studios co-production Venom on a rainy morning last week. This physical experience, known as 4DX and newly introduced at (one assumes) significant expense to select Australian cinemas, and with a standard adult ticket price of $30, was for the most part good fun. Essentially, your seat rocks a lot to accompany significant action on the screen; it also sprays air-blasts (which are very effective accompanying bullets being shot at anyone on screen) either just brushing your ears or your ankles, and, when it rains or at other wet times, sprays water at you from hoses positioned in the seat in front of you. This last feature, uniquely, can be individually de-selected by a button on your arm-rest, but there’s no reason to turn it off: it’s one of the best bits.
The movement motion ascribed to your chair seeks to enhance your experience in one of two ways. The primary one is to try and “put you in the action” in action sequences; thus, when Tom Hardy, as Eddie Brock, a jovial San Francisco investigative reporter, rides a motor cycle under a truck, your seat simulates the angle of the bike and the jolt when it hits the road. Likewise, should Eddie run, jump and land, your seat will seem to propel you forward, lurch back, and then jostle with a thud. It’s very basic, mirror-the-action stuff, but effective in a roller-coasterish way.
Secondarily, but more intriguingly, occasionally your seat will echo a camera move (rather than the movements of the lead character or vehicle). Thus you’ll feel a director’s pan, tilt or dolly. While at first this seems just silly, it actually proves quite exciting when emphasising, for example, a move designed to peek around a door, over a counter, or otherwise to reveal hidden information. Your body, through your chair, is taking the same little physical risk as the camera move is tricking your brain into feeling. To watch, say, Crimes and Misdemeanours or Pickpocket this way could be quite the treat.
The air effect is super-effective. The guy next to me leant forward and felt around his ankles after they were strafed with bullets (air). I understood his vibe; it really feels like stuff’s happening down there. Likewise, when bullets whizz by your ear, it’s highly believable and a little freaky in the best way. And the water effects are terrific, especially, say, when a character or vehicle plows into a body of water, although watching, say, Blade Runner, Noah or Titanic might be deeply uncomfortable for everyone.
The audience I was with – and it must be said, we were an invited group to a first-feel and pretty primed – seemed to generally have a blast. The first few times the effects occur there was a lot of laughter, and occasionally throughout the film a particularly cleverly-conceived move or effect paid off with a giggle or a holler.
As for the film: it’s awful. Standard origin-story stuff: dude going about his business, which includes holding truth to power, gets infected with a thing, which first makes him ill; then he realizes he has new abilities; he plays with them; then he uses them to go after the Big Bad, and they have a Big Fight. Tom Hardy makes the film sit-throughable, but only just, and only because he plays what comedy there is for all it’s worth. “Venom” itself is a particularly ugly special effect and not in a good way; he / she / it is simply unpleasant to look at. The 4DX experience actually highlighted how lame the film’s non-action scenes were; whenever the chair stopped moving, the air stopped blowing and the water stopped spraying, you realised you were experiencing nothing at all.