Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Marvelous to Mediocre: ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter

ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, or just Alien Encounter for short, was a "theater-in-the-round" attraction co-created by George Lucas and located in the Tomorrowland section of the Magic Kingdom found only at Walt Disney World Resort. It was a darkly humorous science-fiction experience that used binaural sound to achieve many of its effects and it was simply a MARVELOUS attraction! Sadly, it has been replaced by Stitch's Great Escape! For all of you who love the original attraction continue after the page break and let us reminisce...

ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter opened briefly for previews on December 16, 1994, on the site of the former Mission to Mars attraction, but was ordered closed on January 12, 1995 for retooling by then CEO Michael Eisner. It opened officially on June 20, 1995 as part of the Magic Kingdom's New Tomorrowland. It closed permanently on October 12, 2003 and was replaced by the more "kid friendly" Stitch's Great Escape!, which uses much of the same technology and set pieces. Although it was short-lived, it developed a cult following, myself included, among Disney fans.

Unlike the Stitch-themed replacement show, much of Alien Encounter took place in total darkness while the attraction operated on the guests' non-visual senses. Most of the effects came from individual units mounted on the shoulder restraints behind audience members' heads. The most common effects were binaural cues which came from the highly separated speakers arranged next to each ear. These speakers bolstered many of the other effects with foley, creating unique effects like positional audio from the monster, and created general atmospherics to keep the audience tense, including the murmuring and screams of other audience members, pink noise, and heartbeats. The theater's circular design allowed these positional audio effects to be particularly effective, as it prevented individual guests from perceiving that their experiences were not unique.

Attraction Chair
Alien Encounter was proposed for Disneyland as well for the project "Tomorrowland 2055", as part of the "Disney Decade", started by Michael Eisner. It was to be installed in the space that housed the attraction Mission to Mars. Also proposed to join "Tomorrowland 2055" were The Timekeeper, which was to take over Circlevision 360, and also Plectu's Fantastic Intergalactic Revue, a musical revue which was to land where America Sings once was located, but due to budget cuts from the Disneyland Paris opening, "Tomorrowland 2055" was scrapped.

Michael Eisner from Alien Encounters TV Special
Prior to the attraction's opening, Disney released this one hour special, with no advanced notice to the public, and only in 5 major cities. While watching this clip try to remember the quotes you are about to hear were delivered by Disney CEO Michael Eisner and program narrator Robert Urich with straight, matter-of-fact, totally serious cadence and inflection. I find this special goes a little to far to try an get people excited about a new "attraction". I don't know about you but it just doesn't seem to Disney-like to me. Check it out:

A little intense huh?

In essence, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter did exactly what it was created to do... entertain guests over 12 years old. As parents ignored these warnings and executives watched children exit in tears, the ride was quickly toned down and turned into a decent, mediocre attraction. 

Disney needs more attractions aimed at older kids if they want to compete with the likes of Transformers, Spiderman, pretty much everything Universal. Even Disney cast members wish Alien Encounter was still entertaining guests as I quickly found out while we walked past its old location on a Keys to the Kingdom tour. Did Alien Encounter belong in the Magic Kingdom? Probably not. Does Alien Encounter belong on a Disney property? My answer is absolutely YES; Hollywood Studios/ Downtown Disney are you listening?!?!

If you feel like taking a walk down memory lane then here is the full ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter :

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