Robert Rodriguez defends his plan for movies that smell: 'There have been a lot of advances with the technology'
The idea of enhancing the filmgoing experience using scratch-and-sniff cards seems even campier now than a similar idea (Smell-o-Vision) did in 1960. That's when the B movie "Scent of Mystery" tried to get viewers' olfactory receptors in on the action by pumping fragrant gases into theaters full of sniffing moviegoers.
But filmmaker Robert Rodriguez -- who announced Friday morning he was releasing his upcoming 3-D family film "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World" using something called Aromascope -- has worked out the reasons why the world is ready for another odoriferous go-round.
Basically, it works like this. Upon purchasing a ticket, all moviegoers will be handed a card with a numbered set of smells. At certain points in the action, audience members will be directed to scratch the corresponding number so they can smell the appropriate scent. (John Waters used a similar technique with "Polyester" in 1981.)
Below, an except of our conversation with Rodriguez about why smells are swell.
24 Frames: You're comparing this to using 3-D, which you did with the third "Spy Kids" movie in 2003, when 3-D wasn't that popular yet. Are the two things really that similar?
Robert Rodriguez: I think Aromascope is fun in the way that 3-D is. And we wanted to do something in the same spirit of showmanship, which is why we're calling it 4-D. But this is better. When you put on the glasses in a 3-D movie they just kind of sit there and you forget about them. This is interactive throughout the film.
24: Aren't you worried that the interactivity could distract people from watching the movie?
RR: I actually timed it out really carefully so the part where you're supposed to smell the card you also see the characters smelling something. So you really feel like you're a part of the movie. You're experiencing what the characters are experiencing.
24: But you still have people stopping to look down and scratch.
RR: Actually, it's not that distracting. You just wipe your finger on it -- you don't have to scratch like you used to. There have been a lot of advancements with the technology.
24: There have?
RR: Great minds have been working on this for a long time. Like when you wipe your finger on the next smell it won't smell like the one before.
24: It sounds like you've given this a lot of thought.
RR: I've known I wanted to to this for a long time.
24: So you shot it with this in mind, yes? None of this post-production -- I guess you'd call it -- conversion?
RR: Well, I knew. But a lot of the actors didn't. They were wondering why I kept having them smell things in their scenes. I called some of them last week to tell them for the first time and they were like, "Oh, so that's why you kept having us do that."
24: How will this work once the movie leaves theaters and you're watching it at home?
RR: DVDs will also come with the card.
24: Dare I ask what kind of smells you threw in there?
RR: It's a mix. There's a kid who pulls a lot of pranks, so there are a lot of smells associated with him. Some are food items, so sweet smells. Some are surprising smells.
24: So kind of nauseating?
24: You're thinking about 5-D, whatever that is, aren't you?
RR: Don't laugh.
24: Any other advantage to releasing a film this way?
RR: Well it's free for all moviegoers, and you can decide whether you want to use it. It's not like deciding whether you're going to a 3-D showing or a 2-D showing. Everyone gets the card, but if you don't want to participate you just don't use it.
24: You mentioned that the last "Spy Kids" helped kick-start the 3-D trend. Do you think this will spark a smelly-cinema craze?
RR: I don't think it works with all movies. I don't know if it works with "Avatar." Actually, I think it could work with "Avatar." You could smell all the plant life.
Photo: An aromatic scene from "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World," which will be released in August. Credit: The Weinstein Co.