LOS ANGELES — As the giant spaceship crashes into the mysterious planet, the seats inside the movie theater heave back and forth and rumble like an earthquake.
"Back ticklers" in the seats thump as an astronaut dodges fireballs and rolls on the ground. A strobe light flashes, and huge fans expel gusts of air reeking of smoke and gunpowder.
In the latest bid to lure moviegoers back to the multiplex, where 3-D is the new norm for hits such as The Avengers and Men in Black 3, technology and entertainment companies are pushing a new system known as 4-D.
At the leading edge of the technology is South Korean conglomerate CJ Group, which operates Asia's largest theater chain. The 4-D experience already is wowing fans in South Korea, Thailand and Mexico, where CJ Group has 29 specialty theaters.
Now CJ Group is close to finalizing a deal with a nationwide U.S. chain to install nearly 200 4-D theaters in the next five years, with the first to open this year in Los Angeles, New York and several other major cities.
CJ Group executives say its 4-D venues draw sellout crowds from Seoul to Mexico City, and they predict that U.S. audiences are ready to shell out an extra $8 for the new movie experience.
"Theaters need to find new ways to bring people back to the multiplex and away from their couches, and this is one way of doing that," said Theodore Kim, chief operating officer for the Los Angeles lab of CJ 4DPlex, operator of the specialty theaters.
They aren't the only people working in the fourth dimension, and they'll have plenty of company if their 4-D system gains traction.
D-Box Technologies of Canada launched a limited number of moving movie theater seats in North America in 2009 with Fast & Furious, and it now has about 100 locations in the United States, though none is close to Kentucky. The theme park attractions Shrek 4-D and Transformers: The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood and Soarin' Over California at Disney California Adventure Park use similar technology.
CJ Group insists it isn't building theme park rides and claims its theaters offer a much richer movie experience. In addition to the moving seats, it installs tiny nozzles that spray water, mist, bubbles, air and odors from a collection of 1,000 scents.
It costs about $2 million to design and outfit a 4-D theater, with exhibitors covering half the costs. CJ Group says circuits quickly recoup their investment because the theaters are so popular.