The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was a ‘sensory thriller’ attraction co-created by George Lucas for Orlando Florida’s Walt Disney World theme park. At the opening day press conference for Star Tours (January 9th, 1987), Lucas and then-CEO-of-Disney Michael Eisner spoke of future plans to replace the dated-looking Mission to Mars ride in Tomorrowland with an unspecified sci-fi attraction.
Compare this concept painting, above, with the finished building, below.
When Mission to Mars ended its eighteen-year run on October 4, 1993, the existing show building was remodeled and rechristened as the ‘Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center’. This is where Alien Encounter had its soft opening in December of 1994. Initial complaints were that the light-hearted tone of the pre-show did not prepare the audience for the big scares of the main show, and also that the main show story was difficult to follow (mainly because of the duration of the audience’s screams).
Michael Eisner ordered the show closed for retweaking. The pre-show was given a more unsettling edge and additional exposition was added to the main show, while other elements were retimed to allow screams to die down. Rumor also has it that the ending was changed so that the alien was blown up instead of teleported away. After costing a reported $15 million dollars’ worth of revisions, Alien Encounter had its official opening June 20, 1995.
The giant collecting dish pointing straight up to the sky (like the famous big dish at Arecibo) suggests that the entire building is a receiver for some trans-galactic signal. One might assume that the dish is directly over the chamber where the titular Alien will materialize. However, like its predecessor Mission to Mars, Alien Encounter actually featured two complete show theatres, offset by a five-minute interval in their start times, to give the attraction a steadier flow-though. Each theatre held approximately 180 guests, so in a typical two hours of volume operaton, the show might be seen by 2,340 park visitors.
In the Imagineer tradition of acknowledging what went before, a detail in the queue included the obligatory ‘Hidden Mickey’ reference to both Mission to Mars and the Audio-Animatronic host* of its similar predecessor, Flight to the Moon. Among several screens of ‘scheduled events’ could be seen an announcement for the ‘League of Planets – Interstellar Debate on Space Science – Mission to Mars: History or Hoax? – with Professor Tom Morrow’
[*Flight to the Moon’s host Tom Morrow is also paged in the queue announcements of Star Tours, among other attractions.]
Children younger than seven years old or shorter than 48 inches tall were restricted from this show.
Directed by Jerry Rees– who had been a visual effects supervisor for Disney’s visionary 1982 film TRON– the show was an eighteen-minute sit-down attraction which featured breakthrough binaural audio pioneered by Lucas, plus many interactive effects, some of which were built into the seat-harnesses. This “4-D” technology allowed guests to feel immersed in the experience by such details as: the hot, smelly breath of the alien on their necks; its weight as it walked around atop them; its prehensile tongue slathering over them; the spatter of blood from its hapless technician victim, and its own gore when it was finally defeated.
A particularly hip aspect of the audio portion of the Alien Encounter show was the inclusion of pre-recorded comments made by unseen fellow ‘tourists’… a fitting ‘Rocky Horror Show’ interaction, considering that one of the pre-show animatronics was voiced by Tim Curry!
Curry’s voice tracks as the robot S.I.R. replaced the earlier cut where the robot was named T.O.M. 2000 (‘Technobotic Oratorical Mechanism’ series 2000). TOM was voiced by Phil Hartman– who was coincidentally a frequent writing collaborator of Paul “” Reubens. Hartman’s TOM was a nicer, slightly goofy personality, which was revised to the more sinister Curry performance to more properly set the tone for the main show. Even the animatronic robot was altered in subtle ways to add more menace to the facial expression, most noticeably by the addition of a jagged ‘eyebrow’. He also lost his bowtie at this time… perhaps it was a gift from Pee-Wee Herman?
(Above: two photos of the Audio-Animatronic character of T.O.M. before he was redressed and re-voiced to become S.I.R.– note the lack of ‘eyebrow’.)
Other cast members of Alien Encounter include an overdubbed Tyra Banks, Kathy Najimy, Kevin Pollak– who played Rool the Brownie in the Lucas-produced Willow (1988)– and Jeffrey Jones (I’ll avoid mentioning his own infamous connection to Paul Reubens). Jones is no stranger to appearing in prosthetic alien makeup appliances, or even to the concept of galaxy-spanning teleportation gone awry… he played Dr. Walter Jenning, a hapless scientist possessed by an alien Dark Lord, in the Lucas-produced Howard the Duck (1986).
Alien Encounter closed on October 12, 2003 after an eight-year run. It was then retooled to become Stitch’s Great Escape. Various merchandise was available for Alien Encounter, including a plush doll of the six-legged ‘Skippy’ animatronic from the pre-show…
… a similar plush Skippy backpack…
…a very cool action figure of the animatronic alien menace from the show itself…
… shown both in its cylindrical packaging, above, and loose, below…
… and a three-pack of action figures from the pre-show, containing SIR, Skippy, and Fried Skippy all in one cylindrical package.
(above, the SIR action figure has one-third of the package to himself)
(the above action figure, in a different third of the package, shows Skippy in his ‘before’ state… while the action figure below shows him in his ‘after’ appearance, showcased in the third and final portion of the same cylinder)
(Note that the price of the three-pack was originally $12.00 as seen on the under-most price sticker, but was later marked down to $2.99 in the larger price tag placed over that one. Expect to pay about ten times that amount now if you find one on eBay, although I was fortunate to get the Alien itself for about $10.00)
The queue for The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter carried you past monitors advertising other exhibitions at the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center. Some of the upcoming events which they advertised included…
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
CANIS MAJOR KENNEL CLUB
CHAMPIONSHIP PET SHOW
ZERO GRAVITY DOG FOOD
BECAUSE WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR SPACE PET
WHAT GOES DOWN MUST NOT COME UP
LEAGUE OF PLANETS
INTERSTELLAR DEBATE ON SPACE SCIENCE
MISSION TO MARS: HISTORY OR HOAX?
WITH PROFESSOR TOM MORROW
THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY
PAN-GALACTIC STOCKHOLDERS MEETING
HOLOGRAPHIC TRANSMISSIONS FROM LUNAR DISNEYLAND
THE HAPPIEST PLACE OFF EARTHTM
After the queue screens finish their rundown of Scheduled Events, the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center animated logo appears, with the corporate slogan for X-S Tech sung as a slow-tempo jingle.
Eerie Singers: (sung) We’re seizing the future.
(A new fanfare plays and then an alien woman appears on the screen. She is played by Tyra Banks, almost unrecognizable under her prosthetic makeup appliances, although when the character speaks, another actress has looped the voice. She is standing in front of a large X-S Tech corporate logo, and walks forward toward the camera.)
Sknab Aryt: Welcome to the universe of X-S. You are about to experience the latest scientific wonder brought to you by X-S Tech, the galaxy’s leader in innovative high technology.
(Her image cuts to a closeup. Notice the hornlike projections curving upward from the chest. Judging from the rest of the alien makeup/costume designs, this is a feature of their anatomy. Sknab Aryt has chosen to decorate hers with ornate bands… perhaps on their homeworld it’s the equivalent of a woman having pierced ears.)
Sknab Aryt: (continued) But first, let me share with you the fascinating story of our company.
(The lighting on her changes and she turns profile to the camera, revealing a very Giger-esque elongated skull. It also becomes obvious that their race has no ears, supporting the chest-horn jewelry theory.)
(An animated graphic of a distant solar system replaces her image.)
Sknab Aryt: (continuing as voiceover) We began many galactic years ago on a world quite distant from your own. From one small manufacturing plant, we’ve grown into the largest consumer-oriented research and development company in the universe. X-S Tech is number one in Electro Robotics, Cryo Cybernetics, Techno Surveillance, Planetary Restructuring, Genetic Engineering, and Hyperspatial Transport.
(The animated graphics de-rezz back into an image of Sknab Aryt, standing at the end of the X-S Tech logo seen earlier, with the slightly different angle revealing a wall labelled “Those Who Seized.”)
Sknab Aryt: (continued) Here at X-S, helping others seize the future has always been our goal. It’s a tradition handed down from our founders, and carried on by current chairman, L.C. Clench.
(Visible on the screen behind her are still images of the founders, which move to the left as each new image replaces an old one… the final image is of Jeffrey Jones as L.C. Clench, wearing the same elaborate green makeup as Tyra, indicating clearly that he is from the same unnamed alien race. Some sources indicate that they hail from the Planet X, but this name is never spoken during the attraction. His static image crossfades to a video image of him sitting at a corporate desk with a starmap on the wall behind him. He is speaking to someone off-camera.)
Clench: We were, of course, extremely enthused when our market research probe discovered the Earth. A world with so many eager customers is always worth our greatest effort.
(The video of Clench cross-fades back to Sknab Aryt, in a laboratory where alien workmen are clumsily and violently arc-welding a large teleportation tube.)
Sknab Aryt: And for today’s demonstration, thousands of skilled X-S engineers have worked around the clock. We think you’ll find our hard work well worth your while. After all….
(The video slowly crossfades from Sknab Aryt at screen left to Chairman Clench at screen right, so that for a moment they appear to be standing side-by-side and finishing one another’s sentence.)
Clench: …if something can’t be done with X-S then it shouldn’t be done at all.
(After this tongue-in-cheek pun, he walks to the center of his desk and sits on the edge.)
Clench: (continued) Now, I know some critics have implied that we are interested in the Earth solely for commercial reasons, for (scoffing laugh) profit. But I believe we have an important obligation to help less fortunate planets upgrade their technologies. Profit is simply a by-product we’ve learned to live with. (He stands and walks forward during the next speech so that his face fills the screen.) So, join with me now, won’t you? And together we will seize the future with X-S!
(The image of Clench is replaced by the X-S Tech corporate logo, which is then replaced by the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center logo.)
Female Voice: Ladies and gentlemen, in just a few moments the automatic doors will open and you will proceed to the X-S demonstration area. Please stand clear of the doors until they are fully open. Thank you and have a pleasant stay here at the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center.
(The video ends and you are taken to a darkened room which houses two clear vertical cylinders. The one on the left– marked Series 1000 Receiver– is dark and empty, while the one on the right– marked Series 1000 Transmitter– is illuminated by a single spotlight.
This light shows that the Transmitter cylinder contains a vaguely insectoid alien, sporting six limbs and antennae above a large-eyed face with a proboscis. But this is a Disney alien, after all, so it is undeniably cuddly, fuzzy and cute.
Between the two cylinders there is a robot who for some unknown reason is wearing a dirtbike helmet and chest-piece. The droid is slumped over, deactivated at the moment. At the far right of the room is a large screen of Chairman Clench.)
Female Voice: Attention please. We ask that you fill in all the available space in each row of our viewing area. Thank you.
Eerie Singers: (sung) We’re seizing the future.
Sknab Aryt: And now, to tell you more about living life with X-S, here once again is Chairman Clench.
Clench: By now you must be wondering how X-S Tech can help you seize the future. Well, wonder no more. Here to show you how is our most advanced cyber-botic performance unit to date.
(During this speech, a lightly slowly comes up on the robot as it reactivates and looks itself over, flexes it arms, etc. When SIR speaks, his voice is provided by Tim Curry with a slight overtone of sadistic glee.)
SIR: Ah, welcome weary travelers to the great big universe of X-S. You may call me SIR!
SIR: Ah, welcome weary travelers to the great big universe of X-S. You may call me SIR!
(SIR gestures with his left hand as he says his name– the cute alien in the right cylinder makes the same gesture at the same time, as if he’s seen this self-introduction a million times.)
SIR: (continued) That is: S.I.R., which stands for Simulated Intelligence (points at own head on the word ‘intelligence’) Robotics.
(The cute alien begins ‘speaking’. This visibly annoys SIR, who places one hand on his hip and speaks to the alien as if gritting his non-existent teeth.)
SIR: What do you want, Skippy?
Skippy: (almost unintelligible) I wanna get out.
SIR: No, you may not get out. You’re our lucky volunteer!
SIR: Now dear friends, you’re probably asking, “What could the galaxy’s leader in sophisticated technology possibly do for me?” Well, how would you like to travel anywhere, anytime, at the touch of a button?
(Skippy shakes his head ‘no’.)
SIR: (continued) Science fiction? No!
(SIR jabs a button on the console, and a light comes on, fully illuminating Skippy’s tube)
SIR: (continued) Behold the X-S Series 1000. The first in a complete line of personal and commercial teleportation systems. Capable of sending bright-eyed biological life forms like yourselves– and even lower life forms like Skippy– from one place to another instantly. In a moment, I will break down our fuzzy little friend into a mass of molecules, (Skippy moans and mutters in dread) send those molecules through the air above your heads, and reconstruct them in the tube over here as good as new. And now, witness for yourselves the wonders of X-S teleportation!
(SIR hits a button and Skippy’s tube fills with smoke.)
SIR: (continued) Phase one of the process has begun: disintegration into molecular components.
(Lights flash in Skippy’s smoke-filled cylinder and his moans become screams, which then echo into nothingness.)
SIR: (continued) Don’t worry, it’s prac-tic-al-ly painless.
(The smoke in the right tube dissipates– revealing that Skippy is now gone.)
SIR: And now the second phase.
(SIR hits a button and the Receiver cylinder fills with smoke, and lights begin to flash inside it.)
SIR: (continued) The molecules are beamed to the receiving chamber where atom-by-atom we reconstruct our carefree traveler.
(Skippy’s screams are now coming from the leftmost tube. The last scream is punctuated by a humorous “whoo!” noise from Skippy, perhaps of relief that the journey is over. There is also a comical sound effect: the ding of a microwave oven when the dinner is ready.)
SIR: And here’s the little skipper now.
(The smoke in the left tube dissipates, revealing a visibly charred Skippy, eyes rolling around and glowing, with a Tesla coil spark of electricity between his antennae. Skippy grumbles.)
SIR: Oh, shut up, scruffy! You’re not burned; you’ve just got a healthy glow.
(Skippy yells and shakes his fist, which angers SIR.)
SIR: Skippy, you– ! You’ve just reminded me of a feature that I absolutely love. With a mere touch of a button, the entire process can be reversed.
(SIR waves ‘toodle-oo’ to Skippy and hits a button starting the reverse transmission process all over… smoke, lights, etc.)
SIR: (continued) Bon voyage!
(Skippy disappears again.)
SIR: And– this is my favorite– it can be suspended… (hits another button) indefinitely!
(Skippy’s screams echo into nothingness.)
SIR: My dear friends, you’ve just witnessed a small sample of the awesome power of X-S teleportation. But wait! There’s much more. Imagine if the trip were not merely the width of this room but the breadth of a galaxy, the span of a universe. Well, imagine no more. Because soon one of YOU will be taking that trip.
SIR: (continued) One of you will seize the future with X-S! Bon Voyage!
(Note SIR’s ‘eyebrow’, other facial changes, and lack of bowtie when compared to the original TOM animatron.)
(Music swells under SIR’s previous speech, and the lights fade out as he concludes.)
Female Voice: Attention visitors. Please gather your belongings, including smaller carbon-based lifeforms, and proceed to your right into our testing chamber. There you will experience the wonders of X-S teleportation for yourselves. Please proceed to the testing chamber immediately. Don’t miss your chance to be seized by X-S. For your own safety, we must insist that you LEAVE THIS AREA NOW. MOVE IT!
(Everyone is now taken into a large round chamber surrounding a larger version of the Receiver cylinder, but no Transmitter cylinder is visible.)
Announcer: X-S Tech assures that every seat in this chamber provides an excellent view for the demonstration. Please select a row quickly, continue to the end of that row, and take your seat! Your compliance is expected, thank you. Attention! Our biological sensors have detected an… innapropriate seating pattern. Stand and move all the way to the END of your row. And we mean NOW! Thank you. All seats to your left and right provide excellent viewing. Please select a row AT ONCE. Act quickly, and proceed all the way to the end of that row. Remember, the future waits for no one. Not even you. Attention Earthlings, for the success of our demonstration, we insist you remain upright. Keep your arms by your side, with your feet firmly planted on the floor. X-S regulations require all life forms be properly seated, or the demonstration will be terminated. Thank you for your submission.
(The screens on the wall come to life with two more aliens of the same species as Sknab Aryt and Chairman Clench: the masculine Spinlok, standing on the right, and the feminine Dr. Femus, seated at a console on the left. Their voices overlap as they quarrel, at first unaware that their images are being broadcast live to Earth. Spinlok is played to oily perfection by Kevin Pollak, while Dr. Femus’ level-headed caution is essayed wonderfully by Kathy Najimy.)
Dr. Femus: It seems to be working.
Spinlok: No, no, no more tests. We’re about to go live. We can’t have any more tests.
Dr. Femus: Look, our other transmissions did not cover this kind of distance. Again you are putting sales before science!
Spinlok: Exactly. Someone’s got to be a role model.
(Femus realizes they are being broadcast and smacks Spinlok.)
(Femus points to the lens and then waves at the camera. Spinlok realizes they are being broadcast and switches gears greasily.)
Spinlok: (addressing the camera) Ah, people of Earth. Greetings, to each and every one of you. I am Spinlok, X-S management supervisor, speaking to you live from across the galaxy, where we’re all set for yet another spectacular demonstration. Dr. Femus?
Dr. Femus: (to camera) Hello. (to Spinlok) Look, I don’t think we should–
Spinlok: (interrupting her) We should waste another moment. (he pats her hand patronizingly) I couldn’t agree with you more. Ready when you are, Doctor.
Dr. Femus: (sarcastically) Thank you. (to camera) The analysis modules above your head will now lower into place. Please remain seated in an upright position with your arms at your sides. When the modules touch your shoulders they will stop automatically. So, remain seated and do not interrupt their operation.
**Sometimes the harnesses woud be in need of repair, in which case at this point you might have heard a Disney Cast Member say something like “Reach up, pull them down.”
(The shoulder harnesses have now locked into place on the people. Dr. Femus turns away from the camera to monitor her console.)
Spinlok: (to camera) I trust you were all impressed with our earlier demonstration, in which a living creature was teleported a short distance in total comfort.
(Dr. Femus glances back over her shoulder at the lens on this sugar-coated revisionism of the demonstration.)
Spinlok: (continued) Now the time has come for one of you to experience something much more remarkable. (He gestures to Femus who begins scanning the audience for a suitable teleportation volunteer.) A journey through interstellar space via X-S teleportation. Dr. Femus will now analyze your human physiology to determine which one of you is suitable for our demonstration.
**Graphics on the screens show the outline of tourists of various heights and gender. Popular lore claims that one closeup graphic resembling a CAT scan is an homage to Darth Vader, but I think the resemblance is arguable. Probably just wishful thinking.
Dr. Femus: Datalink online, analyzing now. (Analysis equipment makes noises.) This one might be adequate; we’re gonna have to boost the IQ, there’s a lot of genetic–
Spinlok: (interrupting once more) And we’ve got our lucky traveler to whisk across the galaxy.
(One of the seats in the audience would be illuminated as the selected volunteer.)
Spinlok: (continued) In just a moment, the analysis module will rise. Release–
(Yelling is heard in the distance, cutting Spinlok off mid-sentence.)
Clench: I don’t care! Stand aside. Idiot. Ah, Spinlok.
(Although Spinlok fawns over Clench in a very sycophantic manner, Dr. Femus does not even rise when the chairman enters the laboratory.)
Spinlok: Chairman Clench.
Clench: So, is everything on schedule?
Dr. Femus: Well, to tell you the truth, sir….
Spinlok: (interrupting her yet again) We’re ahead of schedule!
Spinlok: We’ve just selected a volunteer.
Clench: It’s off.
Dr. Femus: Oh, good.
Clench: I’ve been seized.
Spinlok: Something you ate, sir?
Clench: Seized with inspiration. A new idea.
Dr. Femus: (unenthusiastically) Oh, terrific.
Clench: We’re live, right?
Spinlok: Yes, very.
(Chairman Clench’s next speech is extremely insincere. He gives off a vibe of wanting to hurriedly leave his homeworld for some other hidden motive, as if fleeing a police investigation about illegal files found on his computer.)
Clench: (to camera) Hello, everyone. I’ve recalculated our plan. You see, if– if we bring one of you here, well, I just get to meet one of you. However, if I am teleported to Earth, I can meet all of you. Shake each hand and personally answer all your questions about the wonders of X-S. I’ll be with you in just a moment. Prepare yourselves for an unforgettable encounter. (during this speech he enters the transmission tube, while a nervous Spinlok stands just outside its open door)
Spinlok: Uh, sir, I-I doubt that we, uh… we, uh…
Clench: Ah, remember, Spinlok, doubt is the rust of a feeble mind. But the only way to seize the future is to grasp the present. Let’s go! (Clench hits a button to close the sliding glass door of the cylinder)
Spinlok: Grasp the present. Yes, well, the chairman certainly has a way with words. (Spinlok returns to Femus’ console) What do you say, Dr. Femus, shall we grasp?
Dr. Femus: Yeah, grasp, right. But first I have to totally recalibrate–
Clench: (from inside cylinder) Come on! Seize! Grasp!
Spinlok: Okay, Doctor!
Dr. Femus: I am going as fast as I can!
Spinlok: Yes, sir. Dr. Femus!
Dr. Femus: What?!
Spinlok: Must I do everything?!
Dr. Femus: No! No! Don’t do it! (Spinlok pulls a lever) I didn’t lock the trajectory! We’re not set to go yet!
Spinlok: I didn’t realize–
Clench: Spin-loooooooooooooockkkkkk… (Clench’s screams begin loud and then fade)
Spinlok: N-now what’s happened?
Dr. Femus: Another planet, in our transmission path. It must have intercepted the signal.
Dr. Femus: But wait, wait… I’ve got something.
Spinlok: Good, good! Boost the power and send it to Earth.
Dr. Femus: Well, what if it’s not him?
Spinlok: Of course it’s him, send him to Earth!
(The giant Receiver cylinder at the center of the room fills with smoke as the monitors flash “TELEPORTATION IN PROGRESS”. Then a large moving creature can be seen in the smoke.)
Spinlok: (to camera) Ladies and gentlemen, live and in person, Chairman Clench.
Dr. Femus: Uh, Spinlok, since when does Clench have wings?
Spinlok: Wings? (A loud roar errupts as the smoke clears inside the tube) It’s an alien!
(We now hear the first of a handful of pre-recorded comments made to seem as if they are extemporaneous utterances by fellow audience members.)
Faux Tourist: No, it’s my mother-in-law!
Dr. Femus: Analyzing now!
Spinlok: Well, what is it?
Dr. Femus: Okay let’s see. Ornitheus, carnivorous….
Spinlok: Carnivorous? It eats meat?
Dr. Femus: Exactly, genius! Those people are in a lot of danger. (A pounding sound is heard.)
Spinlok: Now what’s happening?
Dr. Femus: The teleportation tube is starting to break!
Spinlok: But it’s unbreakable! (The lights go out and the sound of shattering glass fills the room with a gust of wind, flapping of wings) It broke the tube!
Dr. Femus: We cannot let it get out!
Spinlok: Activate the force field!
Dr. Femus: Activating now! (Light beams surround the alien)
Spinlok: (to camera) People of Earth, do not worry. As long as those beams are on, the alien cannot fly out.
(Suddenly all the lights go out, including the beams. Loud footsteps are heard jumping around the room and the harnesses push down as something lands on you)
Spinlok: (to Dr. Femus) It’s out, the alien flew out. Get it back in the tube, before it eats someone.
Dr. Femus: I can’t. We just lost power.
Spinlok: Well, get someone in there and fix it!
(There is a momentary dread silence and then a torchlight and helmet-lamp appear on a catwalk above. Although the issue is debated among fans as to whether it was a real person or a mechanical device aiming the flashlight, according to Disney employees, it was always a live Cast Member. The duty position was known simply as ‘Catwalk’ and had to be rehearsed precisely to match the prerecorded voice and required light movements.)
Maintenance One: Hello? Hey! Hello! Is everybody alright down there?
Faux Tourist: Oh sure, we’re just screaming for the fun of it!
Maintenance One: X-S Lab, this is Maintenance One. We’ve got major damage, what’s going on in here?
Spinlok: Nothing. Just a blackout. Find the auxiliary power switch.
Maintenance One: No problem.
Dr. Femus: You can find it at the end of the first bridge to your left.
Maintenance One: Roger, already there. What in the world? Uh, X-S, did you hear that?
Spinlok: Never mind! Just find the switch.
Maintenance One: Roger.
Dr. Femus: Good job, we got the signal from your night-vision camera. (the screens light up with the camera view)
Spinlok: Now show us the people down in the chamber.
Maintanence One: Is something wrong?
Spinlok: No, we just need to make sure that they’re alright.
Maintenance One: No problem. Uh, folks, there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ll have this puppy up and running in a flash. Now where’s that hatchway?
Dr. Femus: Right behind you.
Maintenance One: Roger! I’ve got it. (coughs) Whoa, what in the universe could have done this?
(attempts to put a disconnected cable back into its socket)
Maintenance One: [mumbling unintelligible technical jargon] (zapping noise) [howls in pain]
Dr. Femus: Maintenance one, come in! Can you see the problem?
(into the view of the camera comes the alien, teeth and claws outstretched)
Maintenance One: I… can see the problem. Oh boy…
(the mouth comes down on the man and all goes dark again. Blood pours down on the people. The alien begins running around again. More screams)
Spinlok: (to camera) People of Earth, quiet! Listen to me, please! Don’t scream! (they all scream) If you remain perfectly quiet, it *probably* won’t eat you.
Faux Tourist: Whose blood is this?
Spinlok: (to camera) No, no! I told you to BE QUIET!
(You feel the touch of a nearby fellow tourist as he tries to offer you to the alien to save himself.)
Faux Tourist: Alien! Don’t eat me. Eat this one!
(The alien jumps on your back and breathes on your neck. It then licks you with a prehensile tongue. A flash of light sparks from the tube)
Dr. Femus: Spinlok! We’ve got power.
Spinlok: Good, how do we get it back to the tube?
Dr. Femus: Just leave it to me. (Her voice now also comes from the receiver tube, giving it a slight echo.) Tube speakers activated. Screaming now. (Dr. Femus screams and the alien steps on you once more as it heads toward the sound of its new prey.) It’s back in the tube!
Spinlok: Boost the power, hurry! Good, it’s working. More power! (The creature begins to spark)
Dr. Femus: The creature is about to explode!
Spinlok: Drop the shield!
(The shield comes down, but not in time to stop the explosion of the alien which sprays everyone. The screens take a moment to flicker back on.)
Faux Tourist: Ugh! My mouth was open!
Spinlok: (to camera) Well, you see, there you have it. A little glitch (screen goes to static for a split-second) here and there, but I think you get the idea, the potential of X-S technology, and all of that. We certainly apologize for any inconvenience, but after all–
(Dr. Femus is now standing up, finally.)
Dr. Femus: (interrupting him for once) It does take time to seize the future.
Spinlok: Good point.
Dr. Femus: (to camera) Thank you so much for coming. Please exit out the open doors and don’t forget your belongings.
Spinlok: (to camera) The ones that haven’t been eaten.
Dr. Femus: (to camera) Thank you. (she reaches up and turns off the camera)
… and move directly to the exit doorway opposite from where you came in. Now that you have been seized by the future, have a Nice Tomorrow!
(As you file out of the chamber, there is a graphic advertisement on the wall for X-S Teleportation, which bears the double-meaning slogan “What a way to go!”)
The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter attraction was a clever piece of entertainment… perhaps too clever for its own good. The show told its story excellently well, but once a casual guest had survived the ride and knew the story, there was little reason to wait in line for the experience again.
There were few repeat attendees, mainly just the diehard sci-fi fans who ‘got the point’ of the attraction. But among the frequent parental complaints that it was too scary, there were incredibly some visitors who disliked the abrasive nature of the characters.
The decision was made to replace it with Stitch, a character who– at least in the eyes of someone in the Disney corporation– was more kid-friendly and backed by a successful film and television series, which would lend name recognition to the ticket sales.
I find this corporate decision-making supremely ironic. Alien Encounter was a morality play about corporate blindness, ambition, greed… and the downfall of those behaviors. The characters in Alien Encounter were un-likable on purpose. From the sadistic nature of SIR to the suspicious behavior of Chairman Clench– even down to the brutal attitude of the announcer voice telling the audience how and where to sit– all of these elements were intentionally chosen.
Alien Encounter served as a cautionary tale… think before you act, test the waters! Don’t let raw ambition be your driving force. Don’t do things with EXCESS!
The true hero of the tale is Dr. Femus, the only character who sees the way things ought to be done, the only one who wants to serve science instead of using it for profit.
Alien Encounter raised more questions than it answered… why DID Clench want to leave in such a hurry? What happened to Clench on the hostile alien-filled world to which he was inadvertently sent? Did Dr. Femus take over the company? Did Spinlok get demoted? And whatever happened to Skippy?
According to a report at jimhillmedia.com, in the “ExtraTERRORestrial Files”, the answer to Clench’s fate was originally to be found at the end of the show, before it was retweaked to include an explosive finale. The planned ending had the alien teleported away, and Clench finally showing up, but he’s left locked inside the Receiver Cylinder with its shield down, pounding and shouting from the inside. Although this tied up the story threads better, it was unsatisfying to those being exit-polled, and after the show was reopened, Clench’s ultimate fate remained a mystery.
We may never know the answers to the rest of these questions… but thanks to that lovely Imagineer “Hidden Mickey” tradition, after the Alien Encounter show was shuttered behind the big blue construction walls and revamped into Stitch’s Great Escape, we at least have the answer to Skippy’s fate.
The animatron for Skippy was moved out of the Transmission Cylinder, and into “Fried Skippy’s” Receiver Cylinder, and so he has a cameo in the Stitch pre-show as a Level One Criminal who was arrested for “jaywalking between the moons of Jupiter”.
Although, when you think about it, maybe Skippy should warn Stitch not to get too comfortable. Judging from the turnover in this building, it’s only a matter of time before Experiment 626 also gets replaced and turned into just a passing mention of what came before.
Even though the Stitch animatron is one of the most advanced robots ever created by Disney Imagineers (and the first to actually be able to spit, according to one source), someday even he too might be suspended… indefinitely.
If so, heartbroken fans of the Alien Encounter experience will be wishing him Bon Voyage!
A big thank-you to Martin Smith and the gang at MouseBits for their efforts to videotape theme park attractions, to Disneyandmore.blogspot.com for some of the excellent photographs seen above, and to Glassmonkeyface for his original efforts to transcribe the audio of Alien Encounter. Other images came from all over the web, and I have forgotten some of the sources, so a big generic thanks to all the Alien Encounter fans out there!