Aliens All Around
In the spirit of Halloween, I had to write about something a little bit terrifying, so step of the way Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, I want to talk chilling and thrilling in this blog post.
Some may not think it, but Disney does have a darker side and it does show through in some of their attractions. I’ve seen both children and adults question themselves of rides like the Haunted Mansion, Expedition Everest, and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I still have a hard time making it through Snow White’s Scary Adventures. That witch giving out the apple is scary stuff. However, the story to tell, I thought, lurks within an extinct attraction still very popular and missed today.
The ExtraTERRORestial Alien Encounter, or just Alien Encounter, opened in the new Tomorrowland at Walt Disney Worldin 1994 and was somewhat of a black sheep. When Disney reconstructed Tomorrowland to have a Jules Verne looking future, they also felt that they needed to update some of the attractions. One such attraction was Mission to Mars which seemed out dated after being open for over 18 years. Mission to Mars was closed on October 4th, 1993 and Michael Eisner and his team went to work on thinking up the next great Tomorrowland attraction. What they came up with was a ride called “Noststomo” which was named after the space craft from the movie Alien. The initial idea for the ride was to use the actual alien creature from Alien but that was deemed too scary, not to mention that Alien was rated R which meant it was seen by children, a large base of the guests at the Magic Kingdom.
The idea was then given to George Lucas, who had a huge hit with Star Tours in Tomorrowland, and his team at Industrial Light and Magic, or ILM for short. They came up with a concept that was a bit more light-hearted but still scary. Using the idea that an intergalactic technology company, X-S Tech, has created a teleportation system, they teleport an alien into a circular theater room where guests would encounter this alien while staying safely seated. Lucas, despite having his name attached to the project, left all the work to ILM and the Disney Imagineers. The project attracted talents like Tyra Banks, Phil Hartman, and Jeffrey Jones who were added into the pre-show and main attraction. In rapid time, Alien Encounter had its soft opening on December 16th, 1994, but was shortly closed due to Michael Eisner thinking it wasn’t scary enough. Tim Curry replaced Phil Hartman as the voice of Simulated Intelligence Robotics (S.I.R.) which gave the character a more sintister voice. Alien Encounter reopened on June 20th, 1995 and was a big hit with adults and teens.
Even the promo for Alien Encounter is terrifying!
After waiting outside of the attraction, a group of guests are welcomed into the Intergalatic Convention Center where they are shown a video presentation on what X-S Tech is so that they become familiar with the story. Guests are the shown into a a second pre-show room where they get a demonstration from S.I.R. on how X-S teleportation works. After the demonstration including a cute alien named skippy, guests are shown into the main theater room where everyone takes a seat around a large tube. The plan is to teleport the X-S Tech chairman, L.C. Clench, who wants to meet all of the guests. The teleportations signal is diverted and instead, an unknown alien is beamed into the theater. The winged carnivorous alien breaks from the teleportation tube and rampages over the audience in the dark. Special effects were used during the main show, which simulated the sounds of an alien as well as the breathing and touch of an alien. Water dripped from the ceiling and warm air was blown onto the necks of guests to frighten them, in seat speakers brought the alien right up next to guests, and over-the-shoulder harnesses are pushed down to make it seem as though the alien was sitting on top of you. all of these effects are now used in many of the 4D shows, but at the time were pretty new to the theme park world.
Due to complaints from parents of frightened children, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter became a black sheep in the new Tomorrowland. It became increasingly a cult attraction and lost some star power by the beginning of the 2000s. Imagineers then decided to redesign the attraction using a newly popular character named Stitch from the hit animated film Lilo and Stitch. Stitch’s Great Escape was thought up so Alien Encounter was closed October 12th, 2003 permanently.
The attraction lives on within Stitch’s Great Escape as you can still find glimpses of X-S Tech logos and of course the beloved Skippy still exists in the pre-show.