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SMELLING CINEMA: WHAT’S NEXT AND WHAT WAS BEFORE!
by Arun Gopinath
The idea for this article sprung up after reading another one which said all about how the latest version of Spy Kids was going to pioneer a new kind of ‘viewing’ experience: smelling the movie. Don’t know what that is supposed to mean. Here is a short tutorial.

When you walk into theaters to watch the Spy Kids you will be handed over the 3-D glasses (depending on whether the theater is 3-D enabled or not) and also an ’Aroma card’ with a definite number of aromas trapped under numbered scratch surfaces. During the movie, numbers will flash on screen and the viewer is expected to
  Dolby Digital
scratch the corresponding number on the card which would release the appropriate aroma. Well, whether the smell will be really aromatic is another question altogether. But, the fact that has by now stumped a lot of people is the kind of things film makers are willing to do to give the audiences a complete ‘viewing’ experience. Well, it is not a viewing experience in the exact sense of the word. In this case, it would be an olfactory experience.

God knows, in years to come, film makers would attempt to cover all our senses within the confines of theaters. We already have vision covered with various versions of 3-D, 2-D and even i-max being available. Our auditory senses are also well treated with cutting edge technology cutting into your earlobes at every theater. Now, we have our olfaction accounted for. That leaves only taste and touch to be covered. Well, how can one taste a movie? By handing out appropriate eatables at various points in the film – wonder how a vampire movie will taste! And, what about touch? Well, that is a bit touchy!

But hearing about the smell of movies also takes us back down memory lane when cinema viewing and exhibiting were fairly uncomplicated things which required no paraphernalia, except a pair of good eyes and ears, sometimes patience and a good sense of humor. The smells were confined to the unwashed washrooms. Then came the revolution when film makers began to blame the poor quality of theaters as one reason why their films did not do well. Well, right or not, this did bring a sea of change in the way we watched films.

One can still remember the jarring noises that were made by speakers in local theaters every time a bomb burst, especially in Vijaykanth films. Well, all that slowly began to fade out as by the mid 90s, almost every theater in town had a big logo along their masthead which said ‘Dolby’ or ‘DTS’. Well, no one knew the exact meaning of this at that time, the only thing we knew was that such a theater wouldn’t make you frown every time there was an extra-loud sound effect. Actually, reaching the theater early to catch up with the rather pompous logos of these sound systems enhanced the overall excitement of movie going. One also remembers another variant, the Ultra Stereo which attempted a competitive entry into theaters somewhere close to the late 90s, that one too had a rather interesting theatrical logo. Well, it could not edge out Dolby; perhaps the very name ‘Dolby’ had a more majestic phonetic quality than ‘Ultra’.

By the time, the 3-D revolution had also been introduced, not established like it is nowadays with almost every movie coming out of Hollywood having a 3-D version, only rom-coms are spared. We also had i-max.

But, the next real viewing experience revolution came through digital and satellite projection. No more 70mm and 35 mm stories; it was all being done through satellite and we could see the difference. Nowadays, every other theater carries this ‘QUBE’ technology. The one thing that has not changed perhaps is the childish excitement that comes from entering the theater early enough to catch up with the ‘QUBE’ logo flashing on screen. Now, we also have got the UFO technology making its presence felt.

Then we have theaters competing with each other to give the more exciting viewing experience. While Satyam introduced RDX which promised DVD like clarity on screen, Abhirami went the luxury way offering fully reclining seats and massage chairs within theaters (perhaps that is one way of covering ‘touch’) and then we had Sangam which went all out to publicize its newly acquired German import projector.

We all did expect picture and sound quality to get better and better with each passing year. But, this Spy Kid idea of bringing smell into the movie experience is something that will have to wait for a verdict. Only one thing that can be said at the moment is; no amount of technology, be it 3-D, i-max, RDX or aroma cards can make a poor movie feel good. Technology feels or smells good only within the first 5 minutes of a movie; then it is the age old basics of story and screenplay that take over. Well, let’s wish the Spy Kids and their ‘aromatic’ experiment all the best. The Spy Kids might just be worth a ‘sniff’.
Tags : Spy Kids, Dolby Digital
 
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