This weekend Spy Kids: All the Time in the World 4D hits theaters, with the all-new Aroma-Scope! Don't "Ooh" and "Aah" all at once! Director Robert Rodriguez's newest installment offers viewers scratch-and-sniff cards during the feature; when you rub the corresponding circle, you will experience whatever the characters smell onscreen! Neat, right? Alright, alright, it may not be for you. But it's certainly an interesting way to spend the afternoon if you're six years old. And if you are 26, 46 or 66, you may remember a gimmick or two from your childhood that helped pave the way for today's cinema novelties. The Movie Gimmick is that extra step a movie marketer will go to make his film stand out from the rest, for better or worse...mostly worse. Here's what we have:
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (1994) - MRQE Metric: 62
We start off with Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, a spin-off of Honey, I Shrunk theKids, the hugely successful family comedy from the late eighties. This 3D installment was a main attraction at Walt Disney World up until last year's closing. 3D is the obvious gimmick. But from personal experience, I recall tubes that would blast air out from under your seat, and small ropes that would whip about when rats entered the frame. It certainly gave me a jolt as a toddler! Below is the trailer for the original:
Clue (1985) - MRQE Metric: n/a
From 1985 we have Clue, starring a very talented ensemble led by Tim Curry. However the entertaining cast of characters was not the only gimmick used in adapting this Parker Brothers board game to the big screen. Playing off the unpredictable guessing element to the game, the producers decided to have multiple endings in the film's finale. The idea is carried out surprisingly well. The last thirty minutes are a hoot as different suspects confess to the killing of Mr. Body, eventually leading back to Tim Curry's Butler...in the library with a wrench!
13 Ghosts (1960) - MRQE Metric: n/a
For this 1960 horror film, producer/director William Castle devised a screening method known as "Illusion-O." Audience members were given strips of red and blue cellophane. If you were so brave, you would look through the red cellophane to see vivid ghosts that would otherwise appear only slightly. Castle was a very well known Hollywood gimmick-maker in the fifties and sixties, especially in the horror genre. He always aimed to get that extra fright out of his audience. Check him out personally in the trailer below.
Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008-Present) - MRQE Metric: n/a
We only have to look back over the last few summers to see the modern-day gimmick. Marvel Films has installed a factory-like teaser model into their feature films. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and most recently, Captain America have all capitalized on the "Sneak Peek" gimmick, promising viewers a preview following the end credits. Thus far, these previews have offered nothing more than scant teasers for the upcoming Avengers movie. These big-budget comic spectacles are the adventure serials of the modern age. And this gimmick has yet to win me over. Here is a teaser. You be the judge.
Earthquake (1974) - MRQE Metric: n/a
Earthquake was one of the earliest modern-day disaster movies. Released to huge success in 1974, it would go on to win a Best Sound Oscar. This was partially attributed to its short-lived innovation: Sensurround. If you were lucky enough to witness the original release, you were treated to low-frequency bass sounds that would shake the theater during the climactic scenes. Of all the gimmicks, this one was actually technically savvy for its time.
Star Tours (1987) - MRQE Metric: n/a
Next, we have another trip back to Disney. This time, Star Tours, a main attraction of Disney Land up until its closing last year. (It seems like 2010 will go down as the year my childhood ended :( ). Star Tours was especially entertaining because it also functioned as a ride (or a motion simulator to be exact.) The gimmick is the theater space, which is a small chamber that moves with the images onscreen. One feels as if they are actually in a moving vehicle! Thankfully, to my surprise, the ride is getting re-opening, and everyone wants in on the fun:
Paranormal Activity (2007) - MRQE Metric: 72
Viral marketing is a medium unto itself. The Dark Knight Rises attests to the kind of obsession mere set pictures can spark in millions of fans. However Paranormal Activity had a very impressive viral marketing gimmick, especially considering this cult phenomenon truly came out of nowhere. By simply using "night-time" footage of audience members in their seats reacting to the movie, studio marketers struck gold. Paranormal Activity was the biggest low-budget horror sensation since The Blair Witch Project. (I'm still a bigger fan of the latter).
Next we have a recent innovation making its way through cinemas across the country. The D-box is a special seat installed in movie theaters that allows audience members to feel movement and vibration effects in accordance with action on-screen. The technology has been used on many films in recent years including Fast & Furious, Terminator Salvation and Clash of the Titans. The D-box is already a hit in the video gaming community. But will it catch on at the Cineplex? I'm going to say No. It's a gimmick! But they are trying:
House on Haunted Hill (1959) - MRQE Metric:
We return to Frank Castle's odd gimmick-filled universe with this next film. House on Haunted Hill is a horror film classic that stars Vincent Price as a man who offers $10,000 to five people if they can stay in a haunted mansion for one night. For the film's finale, Castle allegedly installed giant inflatable skeletons in the rafters of certain theaters. When Vincent Price uses such a skeleton in the film's climax, Castle sent the giant thing flying over the audience. I imagine it was not as exciting as it sounds.
Macabre (1958) - MRQE Metric:
And finally, I must return to Mr. Castle for this gem from 1958. Prior to my research, I had never heard of Macabre. It is a fairly straightforward suspense: a doctor must race against time to rescue his daughter from a maniac who has buried her alive! This was Castle's first gimmick feature, one that he funded independently by mortgaging his house. The gimmick is priceless: he gave each audience member a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd's of London in case he or she should die of fright. I find that to be rather brilliant, quite honestly. It is rumored that there were also ushers dressed as surgeons and ambulances that would wait outside the theater. Mr. Castle went for broke (literally) with his gimmick scheme. That type of ingenuity, however silly, should not be mocked...well maybe it should be...but it should also be celebrated! Long live the movie gimmicks, the cheesiest of them all!