Munch on the popcorn, smell and taste the movie

Science & Technology

April 24, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

You've heard of snuff movies? Sony has patented an idea for sniff movies.

According to the British magazine New Scientist, the Japanese electronics giant hopes to develop a device that will bombard viewers with pulses of ultrasound that will stimulate neural activity in our brains and have us smell something we're seeing on the screen.

Not only that, but we'll be able to taste on cue and, possibly, have the sensation of being touched.

If they get this thing right, we could be watching Sideways and smell and taste that hint of "nutty Edam cheese" in the glass of Pinot Noir that Paul Giamatti is raving about. If they get it wrong, we might feel Giamatti's lips on Virginia Madsen's, which would not be satisfying to a large number of us.

A Sony spokesperson assured New Scientist that the process would be "non-invasive," but really - if you get into my cortex and start yanking my neurons, it's invasive.

For people who worry about radio waves entering their brains via cell phones, or getting too close to the microwave, the idea of paying their way into a dark place to be assaulted with ultrasound has to be vexing. But even if the sound waves are physiologically harmless, how about the psychological impact of losing control of your senses?

It's one thing to be stopped to smell the roses, but what if Quentin Tarantino wants us to know how it feels to have our throat slit?

Previous attempts to involve viewers more directly in movies have generally failed miserably. The most successful has been 3-D, but it remains an optical novelty, while such inventions as Smell-O-Vision, Sensurround, Percepto and Illusion-O had shorter film careers than Mariah Carey.

Sony's yet-unnamed process sounds more like science fiction than research and development. But we have to be diligent. If Hollywood is ever able to zap viewers with an ultrasound wand and make garbage smell like roses, that's all we'll ever see.

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