When the news broke of Ster-Kinekor’s partnership with D-Box last month, I was quietly excited about the new offering. The two biggest questions I had, which I’m pretty sure many others were keen on finding out too, was how would it influence the overall movie experience and how it would stack up against Nu Metro’s already existing 4DX experience. With the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi last week Thursday, I took the opportunity to attend a screening of the film with the option of D-Box.
The first point to note when watching the film using the D-Box seats is the difference when booking your seats online. Users will select which movie they’d like to see on a specific date and time and will notice a new icon next to the film’s information, similar to that as indicated by the 3D and IMAX icons. Once you’ve selected a movie that has the D-Box icon indicated, you’ll notice a new option from the list of choices for club and rewards cards.
The seats are available at a slightly higher premium of R170 a seat. There are, however, only around 50 D-Box seats per theatre where they’ve already been installed and are positioned in the prime location within the theatre itself. This is further highlighted by the spotlights shining down on these seats before the movie starts, drawing somewhat unwanted attention to those that managed to scoop tickets for these spots. Judging by the murmurings and opinions among these ticketholders, the attention seems daunting and almost awkward. Still, it’s a good way for SK and the D-Box team to, literally, highlight their new seating options to the rest of the moviegoers who didn’t opt for the enhanced experience.
Sitting down in the new seats you’ll quickly realise a big distinction between it and the conventional upholstered seating. The leather-trimmed seats didn’t only look more premium, it had a feel of it too. The only missing aspect is the capability to select some sort of recline as the seats are fairly upright, which isn’t my preferred position. That said, given the vibration and movement of the seats, I can imagine that it may be a slight safety risk experiencing this while in a more reclined state. The seats also all have a 3-level intensity setting on the dial on the right armrest, allowing users to select how vigorous they’d prefer.
When the film started with its iconic crawl text, I had almost forgotten about the D-Box capabilities, more fascinated by what was to unfold onscreen than beneath my seat. The sudden jolt into action caused quite a stir among the crowd as we were all taken aback by the first intense vibration. This caused quite a few laughs, as well as a few annoyed facial expressions for those turning around to find out what all the fuss was about. Needless to say, our heart rates had spiked at this stage as we anticipated more of the same to follow.
The opening sequence of camera panning and flight action is the ultimate precursor for what’s to come. The seats titled, turned, and shook some life into us during an intense opening battle scene. For the most part, it was all very engaging, except for that brief moment. After a few minutes, I was comfortable with what and when to expect most of the vibrations and movements, allowing me to focus on the finer details of the film.
In my opinion, there are two main aspects to the experience the D-Box seats provide. The first aspect is being able to engage more during action sequences, throwing you into battle as you fly, rumble, hit and kick your way through each such scene. My judgement of this was slightly mixed, with some points in the film benefitting from the additional engagement, while others felt a lot more forced and over-the-top to make it truly enjoyable. It was during these moments when I felt further from the film than if I were to watch it on the more conventional seating. The second aspect I found was that the film was a lot more intriguing as it provided far more involvement. During the more intense situations, where there’s no action taking place, the careful vibrations of the seats heightened this sense of dread and anxiety, and sometimes triumph. Many of these scenes were demarcating by means of super slo-mo, but it didn’t always have to be. I found this a lot more compelling than shaking my way through a more vivid fight scene.
When you compare your experience to the 4DX, you don’t get all the additional lights, wind and water thrown at your from all angles, nor do you feel as if you’re riding a rollercoaster for an extended period of time. Instead, there are a lot more well-timed vibrations and movements to make it a lot more engaging, without worrying if your cooldrink will end up on your lap with your next sip just as the action commences. And believe me, I know all about cooldrink mishaps while watching a film.
Overall, I enjoyed watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi on the newly installed D-Box seating. Minus one or two gripes as to the frequency of the motions and intensity of the vibrations, the film was somewhat more engaging as a whole. The few moments that threw me off took me out of the movie completely, having to reengage from where I had left off once the vibrations died down a little. It is worth noting the film’s runtime of over two hours and thirty minutes, which means you’ll be in for quite a long ride. And it feels like it too after all is said and done. I appreciated quite a lot throughout the film, but I’m not sure my body was designed to withstand so many vibrations. A more respectable 90-minute action film would do a lot better I feel.
If you’re already one that isn’t quite fond of 3D, you may not find this any better. At this stage, the mechanisms are more a gimmick than real-world reflection. That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find any open space battles in the real world today. At R170 per ticket, it isn’t the most affordable way to experience a film, but it is worth writing home about. I’m saddened that we may not see the D-Box experience alongside the IMAX screen, most likely due to the different vendors and strict agreements in place to bring these systems to our shores. Whether I’d go watch many films in D-Box remains to be seen. It doesn’t help its cause that my regular half-price vouchers don’t apply here. It was definitely worth the first try, and I’d recommend that more viewers try it for themselves at least once.
The next step: bring on virtual reality with motion seats.