It was the spring of 1975, Easter Sunday to be exact, when I first
saw the movie EARTHQUAKE. Although the film had started November 15 (in those day there were still premier theaters), it took time to reach the suburbs, even in New York.
When the print ads appeared in the New York Daily New it quite proudly proclaimed that it was to be presented in the “startling new multi-dimension of SENSURROUND”. The ad proclaimed, “You Fell it as Well as See it!”
Entering the theater, I was immediately struck by the sight of huge black rectangular structures, roughly the size of a small car, set up beneath the screen and standing on their ends in the back corners of the theater.
When the curtains parted – yes, there were curtains on the theater screens then too – the screen lit up with the following words, accompanied by a calm but authoritative male voice…
“Attention: This motion picture will be shown in the starling new multi-dimension of SENSURROUND. Please be aware that you will feel, as well as see and hear realistic effects such as might be experienced in an actual earthquake. The management assumes no responsibility for the physical, or emotional reactions of the individual viewer.”
Needless to say this sent the entire audience into a murmur of
hushed excitement. It was also the perfect way to set up the needed nervousness and tension which mounts in expectation of California’s biggest earthquake in history.
Then about an hour into the film – it hit!
Our first reaction was to grab the armrests. When the first jolt hit, immediately your attention is detracted away from the screen and to whomever you were with just to acknowledge that you’re both feeling the same thing. It was a shared experience of amazement that was enhanced with a terrific visual display of destruction.
More than an audio experience, SENSURROUND fills the theater with y low bass, sub-audible (sonic) effects (Harmonics). Huge air movements are released that hit the torso and diaphragm, sending vibrations throughout you body. This creates a sound pressure wave form comparable to an actual earthquake. In fact, the waveform is very similar to the 1971 Sylmar quake. In terms of Hz SENSUROUND is in the low teens!
The effect was extremely jarring and definitely added a dimension to the film making it “an event”, as the ads proclaimed.
When the Oscars rumbled around, EARTHQUAKE was given two Special Academy Awards, Technical Achievement Awards Class II, Class III for SENSURROUND, the Reciprocation Camera Platform which was used to create the realistic movement of an actual trembler, and awards for Special Visual Effects and Sound.
The success of SENSURROUND prompted UNIVERSAL to apply it new wonder to MIDWAY a WWII spectacle. In it SENSURROUND was called upon to enhance and create “the sights, sounds, and actual sensation of combat. So real you can feel it!”
For EARTHQUAKE one had to wait 52 minutes for the SENSURROUND to kick in. In MIDWAY as soon as the first cord of music is heard, all else is obliterated. As planes take to the air you are there!
The air pressure level was so extreme the cuffs of our jeans flapped wildly from SENSURROUND as the planes took off.
In fact, when UNIVERSAL released its third SENSURROUND film, ROLLERCOASTER in June of 78’ the SUNSURROUND had to be turned down at my local theater because it was setting off alarms systems in attached stores. Fortunately, multiplex theaters weren’t in vogue.
There were, however, rumors that SENSURROUND caused structural damage to building. This may be started when EARTHQUAKE premiered at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and there was fear the vibrations would affect a notable chandelier… thankfully, it didn’t.
Part of what makes SENSURROUND is the coupling of the SENSURROUND horns – black boxes in front and in back of the theater – to the theater itself. In a sense, the building structure itself