“If something can’t be done with x-S, then it probably shouldn’t be done
July 14, 2015 9:18 AM   Subscribe

As the first in our In-Depth Retrospective series, we’re going to dive headfirst into the tale of this long-lost attraction, discussing the history and lore that surround it. As time marches on, fewer and fewer guests can actually recall what Alien Encounter was like, so we’ll walk you through the harrowing experience from the entrance doors to the exit and then discuss what brought about its demise. Could Alien Encounter have found a new home at Disneyland Resort? What of the original attraction remains today? Let’s look back together.

Page 2
Apparently based on what Lucas told him, Eisner returned to the Alien Encounter team with a change of heart. He told them that he had decided against using Fox’s Alien, but that he was confident they could come up with something just slightly less frightening to be the basis for their Alien Encounter. The team recoiled. They wondered if the attraction could even work without the Xenomorph. They’d suddenly lost their built-in marketing, parental controls, and backstory.
Page 3
The show took in its first test audiences in December 1994 – folks then reported angrily that the attraction was much too intense. They reportedly said that while they’d expected Alien Encounter to be thrilling, they hadn’t expected to be legitimately terrified. Even though Imagineers hadn’t used the Xenomorph, they’d still crafted a creature, story, and effects that audiences were unprepared for. Even signs throughout the queue reminding guests that TERROR was in all-caps in the ride’s name did little to prepare them for the experience.
Page 4
Have a good feeling about X-S Tech? If not, Disney hopes you’ll take the chicken exit or ask to be escorted out now. This dark and foreboding pre-show replaces a humorous and lighthearted one from Alien Encounter’s test and adjust period, which did not sufficiently prepare people for the attraction’s horrific climax.
Page 5
The truth is, Alien Encounter was terrifying. Plenty of twenty-somethings today recall being absolutely traumatized by it during their childhoods. Even with plentiful signage, guests truly did not imagine that Disney would actually scare their kids. Like, sure, Haunted Mansion is “spooky” to elementary school kids, and Tower of Terror is pretty frightening to pre-teens, but Alien Encounter was enough to make kids want to go home. Not back to the hotel, but home.
Page 6: The End
It didn’t take long for things to change. Today, much of that world-building is gone. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority is called the Peoplemover – a much more classic name harkening to Walt’s original installation of a similar ride at Disneyland, but it downplays the “real” mass transit system theme. On board, the new Peoplemover script no longer describes the building along Tomorrowland’s main entry as the Tomorrowland Science Center, currently hosting The Timekeeper. The Science Center motif is gone. Which is expected, since the attraction inside was perplexingly replaced with Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor.
"Alien Encounter is the one Disney World attraction I miss the most and wished they would bring back. Stitch's Great Escape is a piddly joke of a once-great attraction"

In Memoriam: ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter
Alien Encounter and in night vision.

This attraction closed October 11, 2003, and was replaced by a new attraction, called Stitch's Great Escape which opened in November 2004.
posted by the man of twists and turns (39 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Disney picked just about the right moment to get out of the Jeffery Jones business.
posted by anazgnos at 9:27 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I loved loved loved this attraction, and yeah, it was traumatizing even as a teenager. It is definitely the one thing I wish Disney would bring back.

(That it was replaced by the lame Stitch's Great Escape is just insult to injury.)
posted by tocts at 9:32 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Alien Encounter was just a redressing of the Mission to Mars show system, and Anaheim tore their mtm setup out completely in 97 (now a restaurant), so there was probably never any prospect it could have come west.
posted by anazgnos at 9:33 AM on July 14, 2015


It turned out that guests were screaming longer than expected, making important dialogue and plot points impossible to understand.

It looks awesome and I would love to experience it, but yeah - when your audience during testing is screaming longer than expected, you might want to re-think what you are doing.
posted by nubs at 9:39 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


It turned out that guests were screaming longer than expected, making important dialogue and plot points impossible to understand.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:44 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


And yet they say Stitch's Great Escape is also way too scary. (Never bothered with it, personally...curious to know what other MeFites think.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:50 AM on July 14, 2015


Metafilter: guests were screaming longer than expected
posted by hippybear at 9:56 AM on July 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


My parents had a Disney timeshare, and my Dad and I loved the ever loving crap out of Alien Encounter. One thing about the ride is that almost all the horror went out of it after the first experience, and so once you were on it enough times, it became funny. I mean that as a compliment. The dark humor of Skippy's teleportation, the fate of Clench, the exploding alien, and—above all—everyone else's reaction to it, we found it endlessly entertaining.
posted by SansPoint at 10:05 AM on July 14, 2015


I miss Alien Encounter a lot. It had the Disney attention to detail (the cheesy intro video was great) but not the Disney cuteness. Stitch's Great Escape is pretty bad, mainly because Stitch is annoying as hell. But it is still pretty dark, so it scares kids. So no one likes it, except those in desperate need of air conditioning.

when your audience during testing is screaming longer than expected, you might want to re-think what you are doing.

The funny thing was, they actually piped in extra screaming. Including a classic cheesy remark when the alien was shown: "it's my mother-in-law!"

There's another attraction where Disney bit off more than they can chew: Mission: SPACE. It is a very intense ride, where you sit in a very tight capsule while a centrifuge creates high G-forces. Two people have died (albeit due to pre-existing health conditions.) But it's a unique ride experience you can't find anywhere else. They added a less intense version that doesn't spin, but the crowds never returned after those two high profile deaths. You can walk right on it most days.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:08 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was 11 and really into sci-fi so I thought Alien Encounter was pretty awesome. Even so, I spent half of the ride hiding with my baseball cap pulled down over my face. Not that it helped.

Once you were locked into your seats, there was an intro sequence with spotlights scanning the crowd until they finally stop on several people for a few moments. I was one of those people. My mom got worried the ride had selected her daughter as a "volunteer" for god knows what and she was mentally preparing to break her way out of her seat to save me if I got sucked into some horrific Audience Experience. It's been 18 years and she still talks about the click-clack sound of the alien walking behind you & feeling the "blood" of the doomed maintenance worker, as if she's an older Ellen Ripley.
posted by castlebravo at 10:14 AM on July 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


ALongDecember: Man, I was so psyched for Mission: SPACE, but it didn't open until I'd gone off to college and my folks sold their Disney Timeshare. My Dad got to ride it and liked it a lot, though. So jealous...
posted by SansPoint at 10:20 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would pay a lot to visit Disneyland as it was in the past -- Disneyland Retro, as it were. It will never happen, but I could imagine a park where they recreate all the original rides and attractions.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:25 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


man I loved that ride (er, "Experience?") I remember going on it at least 3 times. The latter 2, of course, to witness others experiencing it for the first time. To this day, there are only 2 things I remember clearly about Disney World: Alien Encounter and the utterly laughable lameness that is the half-broken golf-ball in Epcot.
posted by ghostiger at 10:30 AM on July 14, 2015


And yet they say Stitch's Great Escape is also way too scary. (Never bothered with it, personally...curious to know what other MeFites think.)

I've been on the Stitch ride, but not the previous Alien one. Mind you I'm an adult, but I didn't find the Stitch one scary. Kids might - it goes into blackout with noises of Stitch running around in the dark. I could've done without the bit where he "burps" chilidog scent at you.
posted by dnash at 10:33 AM on July 14, 2015


ghostiger: the utterly laughable lameness that is the half-broken golf-ball in Epcot.

My parents first took me to Disney World when I was four, not long after EPCOT opened. They have a picture of me hugging the little robot that used to roam around. EPCOT is the best, and Spaceship Earth is awesome. (And the ride inside, last I was there, was pretty nice too.)
posted by SansPoint at 10:34 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


There's another attraction where Disney bit off more than they can chew: Mission: SPACE.

Yeah, I actually declined to ride that when I was there years ago. I've found that I can't take spinny rides the way I could as a kid so I didn't think I'd enjoy it.
posted by dnash at 10:35 AM on July 14, 2015


when your audience during testing is screaming longer than expected, you might want to re-think what you are doing.

Look, you do PowerPoint presentations your way, and I'll do them mine.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:40 AM on July 14, 2015 [32 favorites]


Oh man, I remember going on this - maybe 1999, 2000 timeframe? I would have been in high school. I remember I figured out pretty quickly (maybe even before the show started) where all the "tactile" effects came from - mostly from ports behind your calves and neck - and ended up sitting leaned forward with my heels on the seat. It was still pretty terrifying.

We were at Disney for the FIRST robotics championships, so of course the one thing we were most excited about when we saw it was a robotic/remote controlled trash can in front of Animal Kingdom. We hadn't even gotten in the park yet, and we spent maybe a half hour there chasing it around and talking with it.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:47 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I vividly remember going on this at Disneyworld. It was fantastic and, yeah, really damned dark for a Disney ride. Really amazing use of the guest's own imagination. I loved it.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:00 AM on July 14, 2015


Did this have any connection with the Alien War thing that toured the UK in the early 90s (and terrified teenage me)?
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 11:02 AM on July 14, 2015


I once made it as far as the preshow for Alien Encounter before noping out, as a kid, but never actually sat through the show. It and Space Mountain are the only rides at Disney I've never been on, not not counting rides that have opened since my last visit. You couldn't pay me to set foot on the Tower of Terror or the Rock n' Roller Coaster again, though.

Oh! Actually, good Disney story: because I went about every other year as a kid, and the Haunted Mansion is my favorite ride, I know it like the back of my hand. On a trip with friends when I was 22 or so, during the bit in the stretching room where the lights go out and you see the skeleton hanging from the ceiling, I tipped my head back and let out the loudest, most bloodcurdling scream I could muster. I scared the shit out of the rest of the room, including my Disney-newbie friends. It was great.

(Tip for Disney pros visiting with newbies: if you take them to the stunt show in Disney Studios, find a cast member right when you go in and tell them your friend is there on their first visit, and doesn't know what volunteering for the water effects bit entails. They are always happy to have an unsuspecting victim.)
posted by nonasuch at 11:46 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I loved, loved, LOVED that attraction, because it taught me, as a budding writer and theater geek, that the less that was shown, the better. The alien, when it appeared, always seemed not-so-bad, but being totally in the dark and just listening is awesome.

They've never had anything like it since, and that's a damned shame, because it was a truly scary, but exhilarating experience to be on it.
posted by xingcat at 12:14 PM on July 14, 2015


Man, few amusement park rides/attractions have ever scared me as much as Alien Encounter. I remember distinctively going with friends and getting scared shitless. Then we got our other friends to go through it, ensuring that we all sat inbetween them so we could make it even scarier for them by grabbing them randomly throughout.

I was SO sad when it became Stitch's Great Escape! because it is but a shadow of what it used to be.
posted by tittergrrl at 12:31 PM on July 14, 2015


I tipped my head back and let out the loudest, most bloodcurdling scream I could muster. I scared the shit out of the rest of the room, including my Disney-newbie friends. It was great.

Yeah, that happens almost every time. It gets really obnoxious real quick. Sorry, I am a jaded Orlando local with an annual pass.

(Tip for Disney pros visiting with newbies: if you take them to the stunt show in Disney Studios, find a cast member right when you go in and tell them your friend is there on their first visit, and doesn't know what volunteering for the water effects bit entails. They are always happy to have an unsuspecting victim.)

Are you talking about the water tank effect in the backlot tour? The backlot has been closed for a while now. I don't remember a water effect at Light Motor Action, but I haven't sat through it recently.

I am not sure Alien Encounter was the right tone for the Magic Kingdom. It might have flown at The Studios park, but MK is meant to be a fun, happy place. Visceral Terror isn't really the right feeling. Stitch lightens it up a lot, but it is still a ride that ends with a chorus of wailing children after the experience is over.

Although I say that as a 3 year old who was traumatized by the Primeval World display at Disneyland. For years afterward I was convinced that I was going to be eaten by a dinosaur any time I rode a train into a tunnel.
posted by Badgermann at 12:34 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I remember going thru this (as an adult) in 2000 or so and I thought it was *great*. Legitimately scary, particularly when you got the heavy breathing on your neck. It was a really good use of the available media. Definitely the most un-Disney thing I encountered at Disney.

Although, the second time I went through it, it had a problem and broke down so there was a lot of "please don't take pictures, folks".
posted by rmd1023 at 1:27 PM on July 14, 2015


I went on Alien Encounter three or four times - but the last time I went to Disney I was dying to take my husband on it & it was gone. So sad! One of my all-time favorites for sure. As someone who mostly can't handle physical thrill rides (I hate roller coasters) I had to be reassured over and over that the "twist" in the ride wasn't being dropped or something (when the shoulder/chest harness locked in place, I was totally "oh shit, they lied to me" ಠ_ಠ) but once I got through the first time and realized it was only a psychological scare, I loved it. It was just the right mix of cheesy lol + genuinely thrilling.

Every time I would think about how Stephen King said that whatever the reader's (or viewer's) imagination could come up with would be way more scary than just showing it to them, and I enjoyed all the little details (like the pre-show and the acting) that made it seem a bit silly but had some real menace underneath.

I didn't think I would like Disneyworld and avoided going for years but once I finally did, I loved it: your standard amusement park is no fun for me but Disney rides are experiences and while I agree this ride didn't quite fit in the rest of the park, it was immersive storytelling... which does fit. It was pretty inspired. Thanks for the memories =)
posted by flex at 1:28 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I helped work on some of the audio pieces for Alien Encounter - that was a damn lot of fun, but I always thought it was a massive tonal shift for that part of the park.
posted by drewbage1847 at 1:39 PM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I tipped my head back and let out the loudest, most bloodcurdling scream I could muster. I scared the shit out of the rest of the room, including my Disney-newbie friends. It was great.

Yeah, thanks people like you are why I have to wear earplugs to manage getting on that ride anymore. I love Haunted Mansion and excessive super loud screaming in a crowded elevator is a dick move.
posted by FritoKAL at 2:08 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This was a great article, thank you for it! I find the business and tech behind the Disney parks endlessly fascinating. It's always seemed that the imagineers (which, by the way, is one of my all time favourite portmanteaus) are basically wizards who make magic, and reading about how they do it and all the economics/politics behind it thrills me to no end.
posted by wyndham at 2:10 PM on July 14, 2015


I'm now wondering if there's something wrong with me because I remember going on this ride when I was 16, I didn't think it was all that scary, and the schlock factor meant that when I later heard they'd gotten rid of it I instantly understood why.

No, seriously, I had no idea this ride was so beloved among Disney park fiends, or among Mefites, or among any group of humans on earth.

I do agree that the effects they deployed were rather clever, but as the article points out, they'd all been deployed in other rides (the Drew Carey thing, the Muppets 3-D movie where they spray mist on you, et cetera) and to me that worked against it. I knew the room wasn't going to move, and once the lights went off I tried to stay mentally ahead of the startle tactics I knew must be coming. I've always felt that sudden loud noises were a cheap horror-movie-trailer way of getting a reaction from an audience. (In other words, maybe I'm just not the target audience for this ride.)

I am somewhat amused by the plot of the ride. It exemplifies the “Icarus trope” sub-genre of Disney rides, in which some evil person or corporation is trying to do something fucking maniacal and the ridegoers suffer the consequences. (See also DINOSAUR, née Countdown to Extinction, in which a lackey goes behind Phylicia Rashad’s back to send the ridegoers on an “unauthorized field trip” that amazingly turns out to be 90 seconds before the meteor that makes all dinosaurs extinct.) And then there’s a close call, and somehow disaster is averted, and the evil person/company is like, “Whew! That could’ve gone horribly. Anyway, no lessons learned! Make sure you have all your personal belongings! Until next time!”
posted by savetheclocktower at 2:17 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I loved this "ride" when I came across it in the mid-nineties. The sheer audacity of strapping everyone in and then scaring the living bejeesus out of them seemed groundbreaking to me at the time. It was a clever perversion of the safety equipment on all the real rides. "Here, put this on... GOTCHA!"

I had friends working at the park, and the word on the street was that they had problems with people tearing their chairs apart to get out of the ride.
posted by bruceo at 2:32 PM on July 14, 2015


I "rode" this one in '96, I was 17. I remember being startled by the harness movement (when the alien is walking on them) but I don't remember being quite scared - I remember thinking the breath on the neck was pretty clever. Then again, I also remember it being an actual xenomorph. Funny thing, memory.
posted by solotoro at 3:54 PM on July 14, 2015


I went on this in 2000. I thought the alien was really too cute to be scary, but I bought a little toy one. I still have it somewhere. If it had been the Giger alien, I'd have probably gone through the ride a few more times.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:39 PM on July 14, 2015


I was about 30 years old and presenting at a conference in Orlando in late '99 and arranged to stay an extra day to hit the Magic Kingdom. I wandered into this ride having never heard anything about it. I was one of the folks who thought it was brilliant, but couldn't for the life of me figure out what on earth it was doing in the Happiest Place on Earth. Because, good grief there were a hell of a lot of unhappy people locked into those seats.

Loved seeing this piece detailing the ride...thanks!
posted by jburka at 5:22 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Man, I tuned out of the Disney parks web community a few years ago and suddenly like last month I checked back in and realized it became AWESOME. There is so much amazing amateur history and scholarship going on! Thank you for sharing this.
posted by town of cats at 5:58 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had such a surge of terrified sweat that I stunk to high heaven all day after riding this. It was a really nasty funk. I apologize to anyone stuck in the haunted mansion elevator with me afterwards.

I still get nervous going into "4-D" attractions. Like, there's a little mist here and a cool breeze there, but I am cowering in my seat waiting for sheer horror to occur.
posted by Biblio at 6:31 PM on July 14, 2015


I experienced this ONE time, in 9th grade, and I tensed up so hard at one of the jump scares I gave myself a full-on charley horse in my calf. HORRIBLE.

That said, the Stitch version sucks; it's simultaneously too tame and too scary, there just isn't an ideal audience for the attraction in that incarnation.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 6:45 PM on July 14, 2015


For years afterward I was convinced that I was going to be eaten by a dinosaur any time I rode a train into a tunnel.

Your therapist called and said that Dr. Freud thinks maybe you should make another appointment.
posted by hippybear at 1:23 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Micro-changes in air density" my ass...
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:48 AM on July 16, 2015


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