Sunday, July 17, 2016

At Flashbak: The "super reality" of Sensurround

This week at Flashbak, I also remembered the glories of Universal Studios’ Sensurround.

“In the mid-1970s, Universal Studios launched a new gimmick to lure viewers away from their homes (and TV sets) and back to the movies.

It was called “Sensurround.”

Sense Surround. Get it?

To describe this technological advance in simple terms Sensurround was a sound system add-on which would generate a low frequency "rumble" at just the right time during a movie’s action. The process was described in Universal’s promotional materials as a "startling new multi-dimension" of film-going.

So it wasn't so much that an audience member heard noise at appropriate times, it's that they felt the noise reverberating throughout their body. It was more than a vibration; it was a rumble.

That was the upside to Sensurround.

The downside occurred if viewers happened to be seated in a different theater close by, sharing a wall with a movie screened in this particular format.

You would get rattled too -- whether you wanted to or not -- and whether or not it appropriate to your film’s narrative or action.

Additionally, there have been, across the decades, anecdotal reports of theater damage due to Sensurround equipment.

In other words, ceiling tiles might shake loose and drop in the auditorium as the Sensurround rumble carried you off -- and immersed you -- in another world. Of course, in some movies, that might be an appropriate “sense” effect.

The first Sensurround movie released by Universal was just such a movie: Earthquake (1974) starring Charlton Heston.  The film’s a warned viewers: "You will feel as well as see and hear realistic effects such as might be experienced in an actual earthquake."

Please continue reading at Flashbak.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, "Earthquake!" Where Ava Gardner was cast as Charlton Heston's mother! Oy.

    Isn't it funny how, desperate to drag people back from TV in high numbers, Universal adopted a gimmick not notably different from the tongue-in-cheek marketing ploys of William Castle? Interestingly, viewing "Star Wars" a couple of years later, the Dolby Surround experience in the theater was at least as physically exhilarating as Sensurround was intended to be. When it held over and then moved to other theaters for return engagements in town, you really could FEEL the Dolby experience at the next-door theater--and flotsam and jetsam did tumble from the walls then, as it had NOT done during "Earthquake" in my experience.