Advance word on the movie was mixed but the Sensurround stories were downright scary. We’d heard tales of people being hit by sound waves so strong that they got knocked right out of their seats. Warnings were posted as you went into the theater. Wow!
What was EARTHQUAKE like in Sensurround? Well, frankly, it was a normal sounding movie. Until the earthquake hit. Then suddenly the big speakers kicked in. The movie got very loud and the speakers sent out a deafening constant roaring rumble. I wasn’t hit by any sound waves. I didn’t even feel my shirt or clothes shaking. Just a really loud constant roar. Earthquakes tend to last a few minutes but this just went on and on for way too long. It was actually a relief when the quake ended and the regular soundtrack kicked back in.
A friend I met years later in film school told me that when he saw EARTHQUAKE, there was actually dust and plaster floating through the air. He was impressed at how realistic it all was. Until the movie stopped and the manager announced they were cancelling the show because the building was shaking too much.
EARTHQUAKE became the high water mark for Sensurround. The next film to use it, MIDWAY (1976), employed much smaller speakers and barely caused a ripple despite the poster claims that we would “feel we were in combat.”
Universal planned to use it on a big budget remake of KING KONG (imagine Kong roaring in Sensurround) but the project got cancelled when Paramount started their own KONG with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange (in her film debut).
In the end Sensurround struck me (no pun intended) as just a gimmick like 3-D, Cinerama, Imax, Smell-O-Vision, or Illusion-O that missed the point of movies. The best way of making the audience feel they are in the movie is to create stories and characters that make us feel like we are up there living and dying with them. I’ll take that over a big rake of speakers any day.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ by Leon Redbone
I saw him sing this song on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in the 1970s & it blew me away. I loved his voice then and I still love it now.