UltraStar Cinemas Puts the Motion in Motion Pictures

As the screen flashes images of the runaway train in The Polar Express, my theater seat dips, sways and lunges in sync with the action on screen. A car chase from Terminator: Salvation provides similar movements, although in a more jolting fashion to the lumbar region.

No, papa hasn't been dipping into Miley Cyrus' salvia again.

UltraStar Cinemas in Anaheim unveiled Monday 26
D-Box seats that shake, rattle and roll.

Like soundtracks that provide the musical accompaniment to movies, motion tracks developed by special artists who work closely with filmmakers provide slight theater-seat movements to what's happening on screen.

A Canadian company that first developed simulator seats for home theaters created UltraStar's D-Box seats, which set the small San Diego-based cinema chain back $130,000 (installation included). The plush red recliners take up two rows of Theater No. 10 at UltraStar Anaheim. Visitors can try one out for free at a lobby kiosk. They will be available for entire screenings of Tron: Legacy (in 3-D!) starting Friday.

This clip describes D-Box better than I can:

Disney's Anaheim theme parks across the street from GardenWalk for years have
featured attractions that rely on vibrating seats to enhance the guest viewing
experience. Specifically, there's been Star Tours at Disneyland
and Honey, I Shrunk the Once Profitable
Movie Franchise at California Adventure.

With D-Box, UltraStar “is bringing the motion to motion pictures,” Damon Rubio, the company's executive vice president of operations, told gathered reporters and VIPs on Monday. “This is not an amusement ride,” he said before the demo. “It's much more subtle. It's about bringing the viewer into the film.”

Three settings on the chair control how much the viewer wants to be brought into the action. For instance, I personally found during the Terminator: Salvation segment that the highest setting was so jarring it was taking me out of the film. The lowest setting was too subtle. Medium was just right. 

Moving movie chairs have been tried before as more of a gimmick, but UltraStar believes it is the future of moviegoing. Before Anaheim, the chain that also has theaters in Arizona,
Riverside, San Diego County and San Bernardino County rolled out its first D-Box seats in Surprise, Ariz. Surprise! Audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

Because D-Box seats cost extra to occupy and must be reserved online or at the box office, there is not yet a demand that would warrant an entire theater being filled with them, explained Rubio, who does predict that demand will appear someday. For now, the “upcharge” on top of the normal ticket price is $8 per D-Box seat. Meanwhile, 3-D movies at UltraStar Anaheim have $3 upcharges so, yes, if you see the 3-D Tron: Legacy in a D-Box seat, that's $11 added onto your regular ticket price. None dare not call it a cheap date.

Rubio swore UltraStar is not out to make a quick buck, that the upcharges cover royalties for the motion track and 3-D technologies. The company that this past summer took over the GardenWalk theater space
previously occupied by Newport Beach-based Cinema Fusion is banking on the latest technological advances in film to turn around “a little under-performing theater.” The
goal, Rubio said, is to make UltraStar Anaheim “the premiere movie theater in
Orange County.”

It already boasts high-back reclining chairs, the latest 3-D projection technology and all-digital theaters that guarantee pictures are crisp at each viewing. A former IMAX theater is being remodeled into a large-screen auditorium with a new sound system and 65-foot screen. “Star Class” theaters, which are reserved for those 21 and older, feature call buttons for servers who can fetch pizza, hummus, flavored popcorns and panini sandwiches. You can wash them down with specialty coffees, Italian sodas, beer and wine. (Don't forget to tip.) The nearby café, which serves those items plus desserts, faces a floor-to-ceiling picture window that looks directly into the skyline Disney fills nightly with fireworks. Special events are also presented in that space.

Of course, even with all it has going for it, UltraStar knows it won't become the county's destination theater if it doesn't get butts in the seats. Special pricing, community events and screenings aimed at young parents hope to bring more newbies into the theater tucked in the back of GardenWalk. Once you find it, you can decide if you want to pony up more for a chair that will at least have you leaving a movie with a nice massage.

UltraStar Cinemas is on the third level of The Shops at Anaheim GardenWalk, 321 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim.

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