- “Prepare yourselves for an unforgettable encounter.”
- ―Chairman L.C. Clench
The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (sometimes just called Alien Encounter) was a "theater-in-the-round" attraction located in Tomorrowland of the Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The attraction was a darkly humorous science-fiction experience that used binaural sound to achieve many of its effects.
It opened briefly for previews on December 16, 1994, replacing the former Mission to Mars attraction, but was ordered closed on January 12, 1995, for retooling by then-Disney CEO Michael D. Eisner, who believed the attraction wasn't "scary enough". It officially opened on June 20, 1995, as part of Magic Kingdom's New Tomorrowland.
The attraction closed permanently on October 12, 2003, and was replaced by Stitch's Great Escape!, an attraction that uses much of the same technology and set pieces. Stitch's Great Escape! is also based on the 2002 Disney animated film Lilo & Stitch.
There are several theories as to why the attraction was closed. The most common theory is that it was deemed too scary for children, as its violent and dark content had long been the subject of ire from many parents and families. Another was that Disney wanted synergy with a more recently-released animated film. And finally, there is one theory stating that the attraction was closed after Jeffrey Jones, who is featured prominently in the filmed segments, was arrested for possession of child pornography.
While ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was short-lived, it developed a cult following among Disney fans. Some fans even praised it for its sophisticated tone, in contrast to the other Tomorrowland attractions such as Space Mountain and Astro Orbiter.
The initial concepts for Alien Encounter were rooted in an attraction based on the Alien franchise created by Ridley Scott, taking the form of a shooter dark ride named after and set on the Nostromo, where the Weyland-Yutani Corporation would send guests in to take on the Xenomorphs.
This idea was scrapped for two reasons: first, it was deemed too frightening for a Disney attraction. Second, the Alien series was 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, and Avatar.) However, the Alien franchise would eventually find its way into a Disney park through the original film's inclusion into a sequence of The Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios, lasting from 1989 to 2017. The Nostromo attraction concept would essentially be revised into two separate attractions: The science-fiction shooter dark ride would evolve into Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, while the trappings of the Alien franchise would inspire a new theater-in-the-round attraction with a new alien and another corrupt corporation named X-S Tech replacing the Xenomorph and Weyland-Yutani.
The new "Alien Encounter" concept, which was in development as early as 1990, was initially proposed for Disneyland in California for the project "Tomorrowland 2055", as part of the "Disney Decade", started by Michael D. Eisner. It was to be installed in the space that housed the attraction Mission to Mars. However, "Tomorrowland 2055" would be drastically scaled back and the Mission to Mars space would end up housing Redd Rockett's Pizza Port. The concept would end up moving to the Magic Kingdom for its debut.
Around this time, George Lucas would join the project and help further develop the new story. In George's story treatment, XS-Tech opened their labs to the public to demonstrate their new technology, with the queue pre-show taking guests through clean labs behind glass where XS-Tech scientists in labcoats and masks were hard at work, recycling many of the animatronic figures from Mission to Mars's Mission Control preshow. The teleportation demonstration that guests were coming to see was actually a trap, with XS-Tech wanting human guinea pigs to test the destructive capabilities of an alien creature they had captured. After menacing the theater for a few minutes, the alien reveals that it is intelligent and only wants to go home. XS-Tech then tries to destroy the testing facility to leave no evidence or survivors, only for the alien to release us from our restraints to escape while it seeks revenge on our captors. As guests left the show, the sounds of the alien attacking the scientists could be heard in the hallway. This darker version would be toned down for a more comedic approach.
First pre-show area
Guests were 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), set the attraction's subtly sinister tone with a pre-show welcome that included his corporate philosophy — If something couldn’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 described other events taking place at the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center, including "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 proceeded into a second area where they were 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 proceeded 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 suggested the technology was flawed. While teleporting Skippy back across the room, S.I.R. paused the process, demonstrating how the technology could be used to suspend subjects in teleportation indefinitely.
Finally, guests were 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), communicated "live" from across the galaxy via video screens. Initially, a single guest was to be teleported out of the chamber for a meeting with Clench. Instead, Clench was "seized" by inspiration and decided to have himself teleported into the chamber to meet the entire group.
Clench's impatience and the change of plans caused the teleportation signal to be diverted through an unknown planet. As a result; a towering, winged, and carnivorous alien was beamed into the tube by mistake, as chaos and confusion ensued and the technicians panicked. The creature quickly escaped, however, as intermittent darkness and flashes of light revealed the shattered and empty teleportation tube. A power outage then plunged the chamber into total darkness as guests sat helplessly restrained in their seats. A maintenance worker was fatally mauled and as the Alien's shrieks resounded throughout the room, a spray of fluid flew out into the audience hitting the guests' faces.
The fluid (which was actually water) was presumably saliva of the escaped Alien creature, but since it was never officially specified, it was left open to the audience's individual interpretations and imaginations. Other common interpretations included blood from the mauled staff member or snot from the Alien creature. After the spray of fluid, the guests felt their seats rumble and shake as the Alien made its way swiftly through the crowd; during which time the guests also felt the "breath" of the Alien on the back of their necks.
With assistance from the two X-S Tech technicians, the ravenous alien was ultimately driven back into the broken teleportation device and destroyed. Guests were then released from their seats while the two technicians resumed their search for the misplaced Clench.
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 thAt 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).
- Tim Curry as S.I.R. (Simulate Intelligence Robotics)
- Phil Hartman voiced T.O.M. 2000, the original version of S.I.R.
- Danny Mann as Skippy
- Kathy Najimy as Dr. Femus
- Jeffrey Jones as Chairman L.C. Clench
- Kevin Pollak as Spinlok
- Tyra Banks as the Female alien greeter
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 gameplay bears no resemblance to this attraction.
A stage show introduced in Tomorrowland 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.
Trivia and References in other attractions
- In the attraction's entrance, there was a warning that alerted guests that it was intense and not intended for children under the age of 12. Unfortunately, this and other warnings failed to deter the backlash against the attraction by parents appalled by its dark tone.
- 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. The S.I.R. animatronic is also re-dressed to become Sergeant C4703BK2704-90210.
- 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".
- An invoice from X-S Tech appears on Tivan's desk in Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout!