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The future of moviegoing

High-tech hand-dryers, tiny cheeseburgers, shaking seats and spying cameras—all possibly coming to a theater near you

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The future of moviegoing?
Robert Ullman

The annual movie-theater-industry trade convention ShoWest (at Paris and Bally’s) has downsized a bit this year, but it was nevertheless full of everything from cutting-edge projector light bulbs to really ugly carpeting, all competing for the attention of movie-theater owners and operators. Here are four things I spotted that average moviegoers might look forward to in the future.

• As a person with a small bladder, I find myself getting up to use the bathroom during all but the shortest movies, and I’m always annoyed when a theater has only time-consuming air dryers and not paper towels in its bathrooms. Now Dyson comes to the rescue with the Airblade, a super-sleek new dryer that works by “scraping water from hands like a windshield wiper,” or so says the sign at the booth. “It’s gonna chop your hands right off,” laughs the attendant as I cautiously wet one hand in the provided sink and then dip it into the device. A concentrated blast of air hits my hand, a little disconcerting but not life-threatening. I slowly move my hand upward as instructed. It comes away dry (within about 12 seconds, according to the promo materials). Amazing.

• We don’t have fast-food chain White Castle here in the West, but pretty much everyone is familiar with it thanks to stoner-movie classic Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Now you can enjoy the restaurant’s mini-cheeseburgers at the movies—or at least that’s what the company hopes, as they promote two-packs of burgers as hot new concession-stand items. The snack-size sandwiches are ideal for the movies, and taste pretty good even reheated from frozen.

• Older moviegoers may remember the Sensurround gimmick that used deep bass sounds to simulate the rumbling of the earth in the 1974 movie Earthquake. A reimagining of sorts is coming from Canadian company D-Box. Their Motion Code system features specially designed theater seats that actually shake, move and rumble in response to events onscreen. The technology debuts in two theaters this week with Fast & Furious, and at the D-Box booth I’m able to experience it while watching the F&F trailer. The motion is indeed impressively synced to the onscreen action, and feels a little like a milder version of a simulator ride. But after three minutes I’ve had enough; the D-Box representative explains that the effect only occurs during about a third of the movie, but even half an hour of that, spread over 90 minutes, would probably be enough to give me a headache.

• Theater-hoppers, beware: The folks at iCount are touting a new camera system that uses facial-recognition software to determine how many people are in an auditorium, and whether that number lines up with the number of tickets sold. I ask the iCount representative what happens if it doesn’t: Do employees come in and check tickets? No, he says. They just know that some shenanigans are going on, and can watch out for future offenses. This seems like a relatively pointless use for a sophisticated piece of equipment, although the iCount brochure does tout other, less exciting applications. For now, it’s probably safe to assume your sneakiness won’t be recorded.

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