The Romesh Ranganathan column: watching Spider-Man in 4DX

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Romesh recalls his summer trip to see Spider-Man.

I recently took my two older sons to watch Spider-Man: Far From Home. I am not going to go into detail about what I thought of the film, save for the fact that Tom Holland is incredible in that role, and he’s such a good Peter Parker he’s almost made me forget about Tobey Maguire walking down the street with a side parting. I looked for screenings that fitted in with the increasing demands of my boys’ social calendar and found the only viable time was at a Screen X showing. When I told my boys, they became hugely excited, despite having little or no idea of what that meant.

The kids and I had watched the previous Spider-Man film in a 4DX screen, which includes a moving seat, water jets and nausea. After the initial adjustment to the rollercoaster-style movement, I actually felt like that was a pretty great way to watch the film. It’s particularly suited to following Spidey through the streets of NY, and I was almost willing him to face The Vulture near the river so we could get some water action. My children came out exhilarated.

Screen X is a different proposition. It is pitched as immersive cinema; the theatre has three screens: the regular one and then one on each side wall. When I discovered this, I immediately became anxious. Did this mean I was going to have to turn my head to follow the action? That sounds a lot like effort to me, and that’s not the reason I go to the cinema. I was promised by the various ads on the way in that this was going to be a cinema experience like no other, which always strikes me as an odd boast. Being repeatedly punched in the face while having a dog vomit on you is a cinema experience like no other, but I wouldn’t charge an extra five quid for it.

The reality of it was that the three screens are not on all the time. I have no idea if this is just because Spider-Man wasn’t shot for Screen X (the idea that Marvel might try different angles so that Peter Parker spins a web onto the side wall of Crawley Cineworld seems unlikely), or if I was watching the final iteration of it, but I have to say I found it a little underwhelming. The final ‘experience’ was basically that every now and again, the side screens would activate and the image would spill over onto the side walls. I can’t say that I felt immersed, but I was so into the film I only noticed that the screens were going on and off very late on, which I suppose is preferable to going “Here come the screens!”

None of this matters, of course. I am a cynical old prick, and many’s the time I’ve thought something was awful, only to look down at my kids and see them crying with joy at how much fun they’re having (I embellish, but you get my point). For this reason, I waited to grumble until I had harvested their opinions. They raved about the film, and how great Mysterio was, and how cool Tom Holland is. “What did you think of Screen X?” I asked. “What?” said my son. Then he remembered his previous excitement. “Oh yeah, I didn’t really notice.”

So while we are huge fans of 4DX, Screen X is not for us sadly. I’m not paying extra money and not having my kids cry with joy…

Romesh Ranganathan’s latest book, Straight Outta Crawley, is available now. He writes a column every month in Film Stories magazine.

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