It’s amazing what a discount can make a person do. There have been numerous times in my life when I decided to do or get something just because it was cheap. In college, I got free tickets to see Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was probably the only reason I saw that terrible film. There are famously numerous Steam sales where we purchase games for such low prices and then never play them, relegating them forever to the deadly backlog. Sales are powerful creatures. So while I was on vacation, relaxing by the beach, I learned August 27 was National Cinema Day and that all tickets would be $4. Given that I had basically seen everything in theaters at the time, there was only one movie that I could have seen and it was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up. I decided to see Gran Turismo. But this wouldn’t just be any screening of Gran Turismo. This would be a 4DX screening, which would deliver an in-depth cinematic experience that I had never gone to before.
For those uninitiated, a 4DX screening features seats that move to the action on screen, environmental effects like wind, fog, water, lightning, and even smells! Normally a 4DX screening would be $21, so a $4 ticket was an absolute steal in my eye. So I figured that if I was going to see a movie with wild motion effects in the seats, Gran Turismo would be a logical choice. The film is about driving fast cars on professional courses, so the motion effects would be pretty solid I figured. Plus the wind effect would be in full swing from cars going several hundred miles per hour, and God help me if there was rain during one of those races! Never mind the fact that the movie ultimately was just a fairly decent sports movie with some cynical and blatant advertising for PlayStation and a solid David Harbour performance, I just wanted to feel the sensation of a 4DX movie. I would go from gamer to racer, just like the movie promised!
So when I got to the theater with my girlfriend, we saw the absolute swarm of people crowding for concessions. Theaters made an absolute killing on National Cinema Day not because they got audiences into the seats, but because of all of the concessions they sold. Once we got our tickets scanned, we were each given a pair of 3D glasses since. Apparently, the movie was in 3D. Except it wasn’t really. After a few minutes, I took off my glasses just to see what it was like without the glasses on and there was no difference. I learned afterward that it was a 2D screening, so it just makes me wonder why everyone got a pair of glasses. It was funny though watching everyone wear 3D glasses and the person next to me saying that the 3D in the racing scenes was excellent.
The crowd in general was really perplexing. They weren’t rude, loud, or annoying like I would expect from a massively packed theater, but the Placebo Effect the glasses gave them was entertaining in places. But then the audience was clapping and applauded at some of the strangest moments. It makes sense for them to clap at the film’s climax, but then they also clap at any minor moment that the protagonist Jann Mardenborough had any kind of success. I obviously can’t say without getting into spoilers, but for a movie as boilerplate and textbook as Gran Turismo, it shouldn’t be hard to predict or figure out what was going to happen. I will say that there is a scene midway through the movie that was necessary for the plot to even proceed that the audience wildly applauded and cheered for, which to me was the equivalent of clapping when a pilot lands a place.
Truthfully, I couldn’t care less about the other people in the theater. They could cheer, cry, boo, or fall asleep, all I cared about were the seats and being thrust around like I was in a mosh pit. I did get what I wanted, though. I was violently thrown around but with absolutely no rhyme or reason to the point where I had little idea what was actually happening. It was just wild movement for the sake of wild movement. At times it synced to the cars as they were driving, but at other times it was just when the camera was panning across the race track. It wasn’t simulating me being at the wheel of the car, it was just using the technology because it could.
As for the wind effects, those were blasted at me every time there was a zoom-in on any of the mechanical portions of the car. Those moments were lightning fast, lasting no more than a second, so I only had a nanosecond to register before I would just be blasted with wind in a random place. Sometimes it would be my neck. Sometimes it was my legs. There was no consistent pattern to it and the blast of winds were so forceful that they always startled me.
Then we had the rain. Oh boy, the rain. It seems like in every movie about racing, there has to be at least one scene where the main character is racing in the rain, and Gran Turismo is no exception. The scene in question is near the end of the movie and when I saw the deluge of water coming down on screen, I was prepared for it. I was ready to get sopping wet, or at the very least get some mist sprayed over me. As the scene progressed, no water was coming down on me. I was puzzled since my girlfriend told me that when she went to a 4DX screening of It: Chapter 2, she was soaked by the end of it. But as I looked from the top row at the screen, I could see a pathetic drip of water coming from the ceiling down onto two seats a few rows in front of me. It was honestly pretty hilarious, made even more so because of how annoyed the guy who was sitting there was at the water gently dropping on his head.
So for most of the two hours I spent in Gran Turismo, I found myself swinging between smirking at how poorly the 4DX effects were implemented and regretting ever setting foot in a 4DX theater. That was mostly due to the contracted end-of-the-second-act-twist where Jann would reach his lowest point. Again, without going into spoilers, the event itself was violent and traumatic for him, but it became violent and traumatic for me, too, since that was the moment when the seats would shake and throw me around the most. The shaking was so violent that it was at that point where my back started to hurt from all of the shoving around. And because the movie just had to flashback to this moment numerous times for the remainder of act three, each flashback was also accompanied by the same violent shakes from the first time I saw it. Needless to say, when the credits began to roll and my girlfriend was surprised to learn that all of this was based on a true story — like the title literally says — I was ready to go.
I didn’t fully hate my time seeing Gran Turismo in 4DX, but I’m pretty sure that’s only because I was indifferent to Gran Turismo in general. I think that the experience could work with the right film and I’d be interested to try it again, but a movie needs to be designed from the ground up for a 4DX experience instead of being forced into that setting. Much like how James Cameron conceived Avatar with 3D in mind or how IMAX was essential to the development of any modern Christopher Nolan movie, I’d want to see 4DX implemented from the conceptual phase of a film’s development.
Gran Turismo is not that movie. Using the tech for a racing movie is smart, but when it’s as haphazard as it was here, it just takes you out of the film more than enhances it. When I got shoved in my seat, I just thought about why I was being shoved due to what was happening on screen. When the flash of car parts appeared in front of me, I braced myself for a surprise gust of air. When it rained, I became more interested in how the effect was being used in the theater than how it was affecting the character onscreen, which is a problem. Never mind the worthless 3D or how the rigorous shoving only served to make me sore, I was distracted by the 4DX experience more than enamored by it. For $4, it was a valuable experiment, but much like how I only saw Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice because it was free, I don’t think I’ll ever engage with it again now that I know what it’s capable of.