Monday, April 1, 2013

Riske Business: G.I. Joe: Retaliation in a D-Box MFX Seat

I’ve wanted to write a column about D-Box MFX seats since I sat in one during a screening of Dredd last fall. I thought the experience was odd. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. It definitely was not worth the upcharge (about the same as the price for an IMAX ticket) but it was INTERESTING and worth doing once. I could only remember generalizations from my viewing of Dredd so, before commenting on it, I wanted to wait for that perfect movie for my next D-Box MFX excursion. That movie was G.I. Joe: Retaliation -- something fun, visceral and disposable. At least I hoped it would be.

The Movie

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the type of movie where you know by the title alone if you’re going to watch it or not. I doubt many people are on the fence about this one, waiting to see how the reviews pan out. With that in mind, here’s my G.I. Joe resume to better help you understand where I’m coming from: I was a He-Man guy growing up. G.I. Joes were fine. I liked the PSAs more than the actual adventures. So what I’m saying is I was a casual fan.
I don’t think Retaliation is as good as the original movie (my sentiments match Patrick’s from his Take Two column on G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra). It’s not even close to being as good. The two movies are like opposite sides of a coin, the only linkage being the handful of characters that came back from the original G.I. Joe movie. The filmmakers of Retaliation go way too far in the opposite direction to separate themselves from the original. Why were they so embarrassed? Retaliation is more hardcore than The Rise of Cobra, but also a lot less fun. I’m not sure who this movie is for, to be honest. It’s too dumb for adults and too jingoistic and gun-crazy for kids. 

The main issue with Retaliation is that it’s BORING. The movie gets knocked off its axis early and what we’re left with is about five different movies fighting for screen time: a slow-burn military revenge drama starring The Rock, an uninteresting nuclear warfare thriller with Jonathan Pryce, a Mission: Impossible team-on-a-caper movie with Adrianne Palicki, a Martial Arts Samurai type revenge movie with the characters Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow (and the RZA) and whatever movie Bruce Willis is in. Willis sleepwalks through this movie, and I’m being very generous in stopping there. Retaliation is a movie that screams of filming with an unfinished script. Scenes play out without any connection to what came before, and the events that follow are totally arbitrary. I would write a plot summary but I honestly a) don’t care and b) couldn’t tell you what was going on most of the time. Wikipedia helps, especially since I had no idea who some characters even were.

What this movie does with its characters is absurd. Two of the three major stars have little more than cameos, so we’re left with a lot of Jonathan Pryce. Talk to any fan of The Rise of Cobra and none of them would tell you "more Jonathan Pryce, please." Nothing against him, but he’s aggressively average and boring (there it is again). I'm very frustrated with The Rock, who continues his streak of being the best thing in bad movies. He’s a great movie star but always ends up in clunkers. Adrianne Palicki doesn’t have much to do other than look freaking amazing. There’s a scene where she’s wearing a red dress to the Mission: Impossible party and all I could think was "Why isn’t she in a remake of 27 Dresses but trying on EVEN MORE dresses?" She’s so pretty that it makes me want to be a better man. The RZA is here being Asian because that’s all he wants to do these days. Gone are interesting actors like Sienna Miller and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cobra Commander. That character returns, but he’s played by a different actor -- one who sashays when we walks. Lastly, Retaliation also makes the mistake of doing a turnaround with a villain we like just fine as a villain.
Every once in a while, you’ll get something neat in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. The action sequence in the Himalayan Mountains is really well put together and fun. I liked the first few minutes of banter between The Rock and Channing Tatum (especially when they’re playing video games – I want to see THAT MOVIE...with Palicki trying on dresses, of course). So that’s about 15 good minutes in a 110 minute movie.
Before we talk about the D-Box, allow me to close the review by commenting on two things that bugged me about the movie. First, there’s a scene where they festishize a house full of machine guns to rock music with all of the characters all geared up on the firepower. It’s ugly to watch. Second, the end credits show a highlight reel of the 'great' moments from the movie we just watched to the awful and overused song "How You Like Me Now?" by The Heavy.  I don’t like you now. Please stop forever.

The D-Box MFX Experience (aka "But Your Scientists Were So Preoccupied With Whether or Not They Could That They Didn't Stop to Think if They Should")

What is a D-Box MFX Seat? According to their website, it’s a multi-sensory revolution (for your butt). Kind of like Videodrome. It’s immersive motion when sight and sound just won’t do (for your butt). The point is to make you feel part of the scene. You feel different vibrations for punches, speeding cars, explosions, gunfire (I was very familiar with that one after G.I. Joe: Retaliation) etc. 

How do they do it? Motion code called MFX, which synchronizes motion in your seat with the visuals on the screen. MFX stands for Motion F/X. But F/X already stands for Special Effects, so I’m re-branding MFX to Mutha F*ckin' Xtreme. I don’t think they’ll mind. Action, sounds and scenes all become motion (for your butt). I didn’t know until yesterday that a zoom has a specific feel (for your butt)!

There are three components that make it work. The bottom of the seat has abs, and inside those abs are Nerf guns called "motion actuators." To create motion they hump a cable box called the "D-Box power drive" that is also in your cinema seat. The cable box is connected to a D-Box KineHop interface, which is what "talks" to the D-Box system and your seat. It works like the internet, I guess. Or the mall. I don’t know. The system then holds scripted motion information and translates cues from the motion code so you can feel retaliation in your butt.
Leading up to the movie, I was down for some D-Box MFX. The experience was a little off from the get-go. I hate how the theater isn’t all D-Box seats. The D-Box seats are mixed in with regular seats in the auditorium (it was like this at Dredd also), so you immediately look like an elitist to the poor people who paid $12 instead of $18 to see the same movie. D-Bag in a D-Box. I also had to switch seats about 15 minutes into the movie because my seat wasn’t moving at all. Very obnoxious and did the opposite of putting me inside the movie. If anything, it was taking me OUT of the movie. More on that in a bit.
The seat has three settings: Tickle, Here We Go and Boom Boom POW. Why would anyone not go to Boom Boom POW? Who wants to feel only 1/3 or 2/3 of retaliation? It didn’t matter, though. I had my seat turned all the way up and I still fell asleep for about 5 minutes (a punch woke me up). Guess you can’t replicate E-motion, can you D-Box? If it did, I would have had a specific motion for pissed off (when the movie did away with a character I like) or my heart skipping a beat (see previous comments about pretty girl in a dress).
The motions it did get right are punches and explosions. It’s worth trying D-Box out just once so you can feel being punched and getting blown up. It’s fun. It makes you want more, so you sit there wondering when you’ll be so lucky to be punched or blown up again. I was tempted to ask one of the other people in the audience to start punching me when D-Box wasn’t doing its job, but that would lead to Project Mayhem. I needed my fix! Can you imagine The Raid: Redemption in a D-Box? It would be glorious! The guys who are in charge of punches and explosions should get raises. I want you to hit me as hard as you can, D-Box!

The guys in charge of gunfire, driving and jumping still have some work to do. For jumps, the seat lifts and lowers to make it seem like you’re weightless, but it just comes across as confused. Gunfire feels like farting in your butt and back. Not fun. There’s so much of this in G.I. Joe: Retaliation that I just wanted to get up after a while and say "Get off of me!" Flying and driving feels like any massage chair.

D-Box MFX is a weird little thing. It’s not necessary at all, and I doubt it will be the wave of the future. It’s a curiosity. The viscera of the experience (I saw the movie in 3D as well) made it feel like a ride, not a movie. It took me out of the experience as much as it put me in it. You become more interested in the next motion effect trick than what’s on screen. This is why, if you do go, I would pick a movie that is kind of brainless and ineffectual to begin with.

How is the fighter pilot going to eat that popcorn?


  1. "D-Bag in a D-Box" If I owned the company that would make me change the name.

    I guess you wouldn't advise watching Deliverance in one of these puppies?

    1. The ending of Requiem For A Dream could prove problematic.

  2. Never heard of these things before but they sound completely ridiculous. Why is "feeling a punch" considered a good thing, especially as a way to make movie watching better? Movies (usually) aren't first person, we're not meant to feel like we are there. We are meant to feel like we are watching something that was really there.
    Just Dumb.

  3. When you said it’s a multi-sensory revolution for your butt, I was like "Sign me up!" but then you made it not sound cool.

    I wish that they would come up with a way that enstead of the chair giving me hits and jumps and could make me feel sarcasm, condescension and arrogance. That way I could really immerse myself during my viewing of Iron Man 3.

    Keep up the great work Adam!
    Diddy out!

  4. One word: "Sensurround".