- “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 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 which 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 too scary for children. 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.
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 qX-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 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 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 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. Also proposed to join "Tomorrowland 2055" were The Timekeeper, which was to take over Circle-vision 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 and Avatar.)
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, until 2017, there was an attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios called The Great Movie Ride, which featured a small area aboard the Nostromo where a frightened Ripley hid behind a wall while Xenomorphs popped out of the walls and ceiling to growl at the audience.
- 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 Pollas as Spinlok
- Tyra Banks as the Female alien greeter
A game within DisneyQuest at the Walt Disney World called Invasion! An ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter features some of the X-S Tech mythology, although its game play 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.
- 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!