ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter
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|ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter|
|Attraction type||Sit-Down Theater with harnessed special effects seats|
|Designer||Walt Disney Imagineering|
|Theme||An alien encounter|
|Music||Seize the Future & original score by Richard Bellis |
|Audience capacity||162 per show|
|Height restriction||48 in (122 cm)|
|Host||Spinlok and Dr. Femus|
2 (1 for each main show)
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (often abbreviated Alien Encounter) was a "theater-in-the-round" attraction in the Tomorrowland section of the Magic Kingdom themepark at Walt Disney World Resort. It was a darkly humorous science-fiction experience that used binaural sound to achieve many of its effects.
A warning outside the attraction's entrance alerted guests that it was intense and unintended for children under the age of 12.
It 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-Disney CEO Michael Eisner who deemed it was not intense enough. It opened officially on June 20, 1995 as part of the Magic Kingdom's New Tomorrowland.
It closed permanently on October 12, 2003. The attraction was replaced by Stitch's Great Escape!, which uses much of the same technology and set pieces.
While the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was short-lived, it developed a cult following among Disney fans. Some praised it for its sophisticated tone, in contrast to other Tomorrowland attractions such as Space Mountain and Astro Orbiter.
First preshow area
Guests are ushered into the "Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center" (mentioned as such in the Tomorrowland Transit Authority narration) for a demonstration of new technology from an alien corporation known as X-S Tech. The company's chairman, L.C. Clench (Jeffrey Jones), sets the attraction's subtly sinister tone with a pre-show welcome that includes his corporate philosophy, "If something can't be done with X-S [excess], then it shouldn't be done at all."
Before the start of the pre-show, the television monitors describe other events taking place at the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center, including "The Tomorrowland Chamber of Commerce presents 'X-S Tech'" ("The galaxy's #1 authority in technological innovation invites you to experience its latest achievement"), "Mission to Mars: History or Hoax" (a tribute to the attraction that previously occupied the Alien Encounter's space), "Championship Pet Show" ("because when it comes to your space pet, what goes down must not come up"), and "The Walt Disney Company's Pan Galactic Stock Holders Meeting" (featuring a holographic transmission from "Lunar Disneyland—The Happiest Place Off Earth").
Second pre-show area
Guests proceed into a second area where they are introduced to an X-S robot known as Simulated Intelligence Robotics, or S.I.R. for short, voiced by Tim Curry (originally called T.O.M. 2000, short for Technobotic Oratorical Mechanism series 2000, and voiced by Phil Hartman). He proceeds to demonstrate the company's "practically painless" teleportation technology using a cute little animatronic alien named Skippy. The creature's charred and disoriented appearance after being teleported a short distance across the room suggests the technology is flawed. While teleporting Skippy back across the room, S.I.R. pauses the process, demonstrating how the technology can be used to suspend subjects in teleportation indefinitely.
Finally, guests are seated in harnesses within a circular chamber surrounding an enormous plastic cylinder, the "teleportation tube." Clench and two bumbling X-S Tech employees, Spinlok (Kevin Pollak) and Dr. Femus (Kathy Najimy), communicate "live" from across the galaxy via video screens. Initially, a single guest is to be teleported out of the chamber for a meeting with Clench. Instead, Clench is "seized" by inspiration and decides to have himself teleported into the chamber to meet the entire group.
Clench's impatience and the unexpected change of plans cause the teleportation signal to be diverted through an unknown planet. As a result; a towering, winged and carnivorous alien is beamed into the tube by mistake, as chaos and confusion ensue and the technicians panic. The creature quickly escapes, however, as intermittent darkness and flashes of light reveal the shattered and empty teleportation tube. A power outage then plunges the chamber into total darkness as guests sit helplessly restrained in their seats. A maintenance worker attempts to restore the power, but is mauled as the alien's shrieks resound throughout the room and a spray of fluid flies out into the audience hitting the guests' faces. After the spray of fluid, the guests feel their seats rumble and shake as the alien makes its way swiftly through the crowd, during which time the guests also feel the "breath" of the alien on the back of their necks and drool dripping from its mouth.
The power finally comes back, and with assistance from the two X-S Tech technicians, the ravenous alien is ultimately driven back into the broken teleportation device, but overpowering the tube causes the alien to explode right before the tube closes. Guests are then released from their seats while the two technicians bid them goodbye and resume their search for the misplaced Clench. On the way out, guests can see the sign "What a Way to Go" and are wished "a nice tomorrow."
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.
Binaural sound effects and moving shoulder restraints suggest that the alien is moving through the chamber above the audience. When the alien was meant to be traveling on the far side of the room, "several banks of 1,800-watt-per-channel servo-driven subwoofers" repurposed from the previous attraction, Mission to Mars and transducers mounted in the seats made pounding vibrations meant to simulate the footsteps of a powerful monster. Warm moistened air was used gently, to simulate the alien breathing down your neck; and forcefully, to induce a more acute reaction from the audience. Water sprinklers and air blasters mounted in the row in front (like the ones used in Disney's "4D" movie theaters) were used to simulate the dripping of either the creature's drool or blood from an attacked worker in the scaffolding above the theater (played by a cast member carrying a flashlight using pre-recorded dialog) and to simulate the explosion of the monster in the finale when the blast shield does not close in time. Soft textile tubes had air blown through them, causing them to slap against the back of the head of the audience member. This was the most direct physical effect, used in conjunction with the hot air blowers and olfactory emitters to suggest the alien's tongue was licking the audience member's head.
During lighted segments, the show used lasers, rear-projected screens repurposed from the previous attraction, Mission to Mars, and audio animatronics for the alien, S.I.R., and Skippy (both normal and deformed).
Alien Encounter was proposed for Disneyland 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. Due to budget cuts from the Disneyland Paris opening, "Tomorrowland 2055" was scrapped.
The original name for this attraction was Nostromo, a reference to the spacecraft from the 1979 movie Alien. Furthermore the monster was planned to be the titular creature, and X-S Tech was going to be the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. This idea was scrapped for two reasons: first, it was deemed too frightening for a Disney attraction. Second, the Alien series were rated R. This contradicted a rule-of-thumb that Disney attractions are supposed to be based on either G or PG. (However, Disney has since developed attractions from franchises that host at least one PG-13 rated film, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, Indiana Jones) As a result, the name Nostromo was taken out entirely and an original monster was created for the ride and the fictional company was changed to X-S Tech. Nevertheless, there is an attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios called The Great Movie Ride, which features a small area aboard the Nostromo where a frightened Ripley hides behind a wall while Xenomorphs pop out of the walls and ceiling to growl at the audience.
As an original story was developed, George Lucas was brought in to work on the project. This version's storyline had X-S Tech's open house being a front for exposing human guinea pigs to an alien monster they had captured. After the alien menaces the audience for a moment, it is revealed to be sentient and desires to escape its captors and free the guests as well. The X-S scientists respond by trying to destroy the test chamber and leave no evidence, but the alien holds off their weaponry, raises the restraints allowing the guests to escape. While leaving, the sounds of the alien rampaging through the pre-show facilities could be heard. The story's grim tone would lead to it being further re-worked. 
Tyra Banks played the female alien who greets guests in the first preshow video, although her lines were voiced by another actress. Tim Curry voiced the Audio-Animatronic robot S.I.R. (Simulated Intelligence Robotics) in the second preshow area. In the original version, the character was named T.O.M. 2000, was voiced by Phil Hartman, and had a much more bumbling script. Chairman L.C. Clench was portrayed by actor Jeffrey Jones. Dr. Femus is portrayed by actress Kathy Najimy, with Kevin Pollak playing her partner, Spinlock.
A game within DisneyQuest at the Walt Disney World Resort called Invasion! An ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter features some of the X-S Tech mythology, although its game play bears no resemblance to the Tomorrowland attraction.
A stage show introduced in Tomorrowland (WDW) called Stitch's SuperSonic Celebration (which ran from early May 2009 to late June 2009) referenced X-S Tech and the robot S.I.R, further weaving it into the general Tomorrowland world-building.
References in other attractions
- The futuristic SMTV footage that was once used in the queue lines for both Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom and Space Mountain at Disneyland featured references to X-S Tech.
- Stitch's Great Escape!, the replacement attraction for Alien Encounter, has a comical reprisal of Skippy, the Audio-Animatronic alien from the second pre-show area. However, the normal Skippy has been moved to the teleportation tube that is (from the view of the animatronic sergeant in this pre-show) on the right hand side of the room, whereas the deformed version (which is teleported into the room from a cruiser with a video link showing the process) is now in the tube on the sergeant's left, and is meant to be a creature who has been eating a number of doughnuts. The theaters in Stitch's Great Escape! are the same as the ones in Alien Encounter, but now have state-of-the-art animatronic versions of Stitch and new animatronic laser cannons.
- Many props from Alien Encounter are reused in Stitch's Great Escape, including the 'broken seat cover'. It has the X-S logo under the words (in AE font) "Temporarily Seized"