Willy Wonka in Smell-O-Vision: review

The Seattle Film Festival theater does cool things – this week they ran a special showing of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in Smell-O-Vision. Yes, Smell-O-vision. Being a historian of invention I knew a fair amount about Smell-O-Vision, and had to check it out.

I wasn’t alone: the line went out the door and the theater was packed.

To my initial disappointment, it turned out that unlike the original Smell-O-Vision, or its arch-rival AromaRama, SIFF didn’t bother to install expensive ventilation systems  to pump artificial scents into the theater. Instead they went guerrilla – each person gets a bag of candy and smelly things. This turned out to be exceedingly clever.

The pre-show instructions, delivered by our very own Oompa Lumpa, explained that on-screen prompts would tell us when to smell, eat, chew or open the various objects in our bags. He also told us that “tasting is just smelling with your tongue”.

Here you can see what the on-screen prompts look like.   They also showed subtitles for all the lyrics to all the songs in the movie, making it a sing-a-long as well as a smell-a-long.

And it works. When 200 people all start eating chocolate at the same time, the room does smell like chocolate. When everyone eats cherry bubblegum, it smells like cherry. This simple approach to the problem was definitely way more effective than Smell-O-Vision ever was.

A particularly fun moment is when Charlie and GrandPa Joe are in the Fizzy Lifting Drink room – in the theater we were instructed to blow bubbles, and blow we did, filling the the theater with the same bubbles that were on the screen.

The theater was 60% children, which usually means I’m in for a nightmare film experience. But this event was so fun, creative and entertaining, and the grand silliness of the movie, combined with all the activities everyone is supposed to do, made it really fun. I’m a big fan of the film (70s satire at its finest) and this might have been the most fun experience I’ve ever had watching it.

SIFF promises to run it again next year. And they do similiar events with other 70s/80s movies. Labyrinth quote along is next week.

4 Responses to “Willy Wonka in Smell-O-Vision: review”

  1. Crystal

    They totally ‘Rocky Horror Picture Showed’ a kids movie. That is awesome. (Never thought you see that as a verb did you?)

    • Scott Berkun

      Crystal: Good point. I never thought about it that way, but that’s basically what they did here. They made a meta-version of the movie that’s more of the reason to go than the movie itself.



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