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7D Experience, Pier 39, San Francisco

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7D Experience Ride


Since the earliest days of cinema, movies have fallen into roughly two categories: 'drama' in which a story is told and the screen stands in for the 'stage' of the play or bindings of a book. And the 'ride'; a visceral sensation-based thrill, closer to the roller coaster in which the idea of seeing the film is to experience a dangerous event vicarously. George Miles provided the narrative ride-fantasies of films like "A Trip to the Moon" while the Lumiere Brothers provided documentary thrill rides like "A Train Pulling Into a Station".

In the early 1960s, Morton Helig developed "Sensorama". The Sensorama was a machine that is one of the earliest known examples of immersive, multi-sensory (now known as multimodal) technology. Morton Heilig saw theater as an activity that could encompass all the senses drawing the viewer into the onscreen activity. He called it “Experience Theater”. The Sensorama in being able to display stereoscopic 3-D images in a wide-angle view, provide body tilting, supply stereo sound, and also had tracks for wind and aromas to be triggered during the film anticipated many of the ride films of today.

In 1989 I remember going to Disneyland to see the then brand new "Star Tours" exhibit. Using hydraulic seats that synchronized the movement of the auditorium bleachers with the motion of the onscreen "Star Wars" based 'ride' film, this type of ride/movie was new for its day as outside of commercial flight simulators, on which the technology was based, this type of themed ride/movie had not been seen & felt by many people at all.

TrioTech of Montreal, Canada and Alter of San Francisco today offer the 7D Experience at PIER 39 in San Francisco which is a 7D an interactive simulation ride featuring synchronized motion, projected 3D graphics and real time environmental special effects. As you ride and watch the 3D movie, feel wind in your hair, you battle enemies with your laser blaster and compete against fellow riders for the highest score. Its a combination of ride, movie and videogame.

The Zombie game/movie offers a 'Walking Dead' type scenario. The 3D movie opens with a helicopter shot flying over a ravine at night, lightening and thunder crashing. Cut to the inside of a cop car as you adjust the radio, when (of course) a Zombie jumps onto the hood of the car. The car steers off the road, down a hill into a cemetery where more zombies appear. After blasting these, you end up on a road having to shoot them off other cars, from bridges, and in rivers. Its great fun.

In addition to the 3D visual effects, riders will be immersed in an environment with wind machines, strobe lights, rapid motions seats, and personal laser blasters, where everyone interacts with the ride and competes for the highest score. I found myself getting extremely caught up in the action at times, especially during the moments where the vehicle I was in suddenly "drove off a broken bridge" 300 feet into a ravine. Some part of my brain set aside to respond to such events kicked in to warn me things were indeed quite bad. If anything the action is over all to quickly, with the audience wanting more. 20% more of the ride might help placate the sense that the whole thing is over before it starts, but I suppose the economics of the ride are balanced against the need for steady throughput of clientele. Its the old fairground adage: Roll up, roll up, and keep 'em moving!

Cinema returns to its origins with such experiences; right back to the beginnings of the days of the Lumiere brothers, even the Ringling Brotheres, Milies and (later) Helig.

Sensorama indeed!