MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
By now you’ve probably had the chance to see the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s groundbreaking Batman trilogy. Hopefully you found it to be a satisfying ending to the spectacular series, rather than an overblown disappointment. If you’re looking for another take on the film itself, this isn’t the place, as there are already several opinion pieces doing the rounds on What Culture as well as our lovely full review.
Instead, this is a specific review of the Dark Knight Rises D-Box – a relatively new form of viewing experience which is gradually being implemented into Cineworld multiplexes around the country. Sitting in a unique motion controlled seat, the viewer is subjected to a series of synchronised movements and motion effects which aim to match what’s happening on-screen. In theory, the idea is to create a more immersive viewing experience, where the viewer literally feels every moment of the action.
Like many others, I had intended to see The Dark Knight Rises on the IMAX format, having already been blown away by The Dark Knight on the massive screen. It was imperative to see the finale of the series as intended by Christopher Nolan, and to be completely swept up in Wally Pfister’s stunning cinematography. Sadly, you’d have had more luck actually becoming Batman than managing to break through the server issues and engaged phone lines of the IMAX box-office on the first few days of advance booking.
Faced with the dilemma of waiting for weeks to see the film, or seeing it on its opening day, I decided to let go of my lofty plans to see the film on IMAX and just book regular tickets. Even this proved to be difficult however, as upon booking the tickets I was greeted with a message telling me that incredibly high demand had caused the booking system for regular seating to go kaput, leaving but one available option for the selected screening time, D-Box seating.
Deciding to take a punt, I booked my D-Box tickets and awaited the release day with excitement. As a non-believer in the other unsavory gimmick of modern cinema, 3D, the idea of being shaken around in a vibrating seat for 3 buttock-clenching hours wasn’t exactly appealing. Still, nothing could prevent me from being hyped for The Dark Knight Rises, and I entered the cinema with my compadres, under a giddy mix of excitement and apprehension.
The first thing you notice when sitting down in the imposing reserved seats, is that they’re exceedingly comfortable. Before they actually get going (there’s no movement until the film actually begins) plonking yourself into a D-Box seat is perhaps a little bit comfier that regular cinema seating. The seats also come complete with the same drinks holders as the regular seats, and a decent amount of leg room. Under the right arm rest is a control pad for adjusting the D-Box motion with a choice of four levels of intensity from high to low – or if you prefer, the option to turn it off completely.
Thanks to the airplane hijacking sequence which opens the film, it wasn’t long before we experienced D-Box in full swing. At first, the way the D-Box gently mimicked the movements of the airborne planes provoked a few giggles from the row, but it did effectively emulate bumpy turbulence – so much so that you’d probably best avoid D-Box if you’re prone to airsickness. When the action kicks in during this sequence, D-Box bombards you with a series of jerky bumps and rat-a-tat-tat vibrations for gunfire. These effects are certainly fun to experience at first, but they can also be distracting.
Thankfully, the D-Box motion is mostly used only in these action heavy sequences, and it doesn’t interfere with quiet moments of drama or scenes particularly heavy in dialogue. This is sometimes problematic, as you’ll completely forget about the motion until it suddenly kicks in again, often causing a few embarrassing moments throughout the film where everyone in the D-Box section jumped out of their skin for no apparent reason.
I found myself often fluctuating between finding the D-Box complimentary to the on-screen action, or incredibly obtrusive. When Batman’s doing his thang and pummeling a baddie (or as is often the case here, being pummeled) the harsh vibrations can be overly excessive. The movement is never uncomfortably violent (there’s nothing here which equals the vomit inducing motion of a theme park simulator) but rather than immersing you deeper into the film, it can also take you out of it.
Surprisingly, D-Box is at its most effective not when bombarding you with motion during action heavy scenes, but when echoing smaller details within the film – such as leaning from left to right with the Batpod as it speeds through the streets, or pitching with the camera during Nolan’s sweeping areal shots. During these more successful moments of D-Box trickery, you’ll actually get a sense of of riding through the streets of Gotham yourself – if only fleetingly.
So would I decide to view a film with D-Box again after The Dark Knight Rises ? While I was impressed at the way it complimented certain sequences, the fact of the matter is that any decent film should be able to engage with an audience without any additional gimmickry, and The Dark Knight Rises is certainly no exception. When you add to that the fact that D-Box comes with a hefty upgrade fee (around £4-5) over standard seating, it’s hard to see any real pros to outweigh the cons.
Without the dreaded darkened image and silly plastic glasses of 3D, D-Box certainly doesn’t risk compromising the vision of the filmmaker – a problem especially prevalent with shoddily retrofitted films. There’s also undeniably a feeling of awe and spectacle when swooping along with The Bat or feeling the rumbling aftershock of an exploding football stadium. However, in the hands of a director like Christopher Nolan, you already get total immersion without the need for any additional bells and whistles.
The Dark Knight Rises D-Box is playing in selected Cineworld Cinemas now.