I have read a lot of opinions on this subject, both for and against the closure of this specific attraction. I have also figured out that many people who extol the virtues and complain the loudest about the closure of this attraction have never actually been on the attraction at all. Let me take a few paragraphs to explain why I miss, but understand the closing of this innovative experience.
After a soft opening, and subsequent re-tooling, the attraction officially opened on June 20th, 1995 and closed permanently on October 12, 2003. The attraction replaced Mission to Mars, and Mission to Mars replaced Flight to the Moon but most of you probably know the facts about the attraction itself. If you don’t, you can find more technical details about Alien Encounter from Wikipedia here, but its Wiki, so take that for what it’s worth. The most recent attraction to utilize that space is, “Stitch’s Great Escape!” one of the most hated (by Disney Bloggers) attractions in all of Disney’s parks, but that’s a different article, and a different debate for a different day.
I have actually ridden three of these attractions at different points in my life. I did ride Mission to Mars on one of my Disneyland trips as a child, I have ridden Alien and Stich, but never Rocket to the Moon. While riding Mission to Mars as a kid, I can remember looking at the big screen in the bottom of the room, and the seats shaking a little to simulate the assent from earth on our journey to outer space. I remember thinking how cool it all was, and it was for that period in time. Nowadays, an attraction like Mission to Mars would be laughed at. Of course, you can read all about the usage of the space over the course of the years at Disneyland by going to Werner Weiss’s Yesterland. He also has a short paragraph at the end about the usage of the ride space in Disney World.
Now, I have ridden many attractions in my life, and I have to admit that I have been “startled” on several of them. Anyone can be startled. This is when you jump back a little, or are taken by surprise by something that you did not expect to happen. For example, The Haunted Mansion tries poorly to startle you in a few spots, (ghosts/heads popping up from behind things, etc.) but generally fails because you can see them coming due to the slow moving omnimover and the large show scenes. I have never actually been scared on an attraction until I experienced Alien Encounter.
In my opinion, there were two levels to the emotional experience of this attraction. The first part is the actual intended experience you are supposed to have as designed by the attractions imaginers and show producers. This part of the experience was excellent. It was very different, and unlike anything I had been through before. The bi-neural audio engulfing you, the darkness, dripping blood, the breath on your neck, the simulated attack on the guard, the huge and quick moving animatronic alien, they were all great. This is what made that experience as exciting and memorable as it was. However, this was not the part that actually scared me.
The second and scary part of this attraction were the other people on the ride. We were going through the show sequence like normal, when I noticed the ride experience start to intensify. It began with my curiosity as to why we were wearing shoulder restraints when I knew we would not be moving. Then moved onto my wife, “white knuckling” the arm rests as the show started to progress. This is where I began to realize why we needed to be held in our seats. As the encounter further intensified the legitimate screams of terror started to rise up from the audience. My experience culminated with what I like to refer to as, “The Lady”.
I remember “The Lady” very vividly. She was the most intense part of the attraction for me. As I was experiencing this new attraction, and admiring all the work that had gone into creating the sense of terror that was playing out all around me, suddenly “The Lady” lost it. I don’t know how she did it, but somehow she managed to get out of the shoulder restraint and was sitting on the edge of her seat, trying to stop herself from standing. (I don’t know how this didn’t trigger some kind of show stop or sensor or something, but it didn’t.) “The Lady” is looking around for help, or an exit, finding none she seriously began to panic. I honestly believe that she was about to start to run around the room screaming. It was dark, but there was enough light that you could see the genuine look of fear on her face. The whole time she was yelling things like, “Get me out of here!, I have to get out of here!, Let me out now!” She would not stop! By now her panic had started to affect the rest of the room, like lemmings headed over the edge of a cliff. This was the part that scared me. I was truly concerned that this lady was going to start to get up and could possibly hurt herself, or others, or more importantly me, during her irrational attempts to escape the clutches of the vicious alien.
Now, I have heard many stories of people,(and not just parents with children)that either ignored or could not read the plethora of signs prior to the entrance, stating that the ride had intense sequences, that subsequently saw someone freak out during the ride experience. I know all Disney attractions are safe, within reason. I know that I, am acting safely in the environment. It’s the behavior of the individual guest, and their reaction to the ride experience. That is why it’s the individual guests that scare me. They’re unpredictable.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the attraction. I loved the fact that it fit so well in Tomorrowland, it was an entirely new and different type of attraction. It was not part of some movie franchise. At the time, it was one of the largest and fastest moving animatronics there was. Also, the pre-show was great! The stars they got for the video, the setup of impending doom with poor little Skippy’s demise, the smarmy nature that was conveyed by X-S Tech. It was all a cohesive and well produced. However, its place is at some other theme park, not a Disney park. I would even venture to say that this attraction would have been more well received had it been installed at Disney’s MGM Studios.
When part of the show consisted of blood dripping through the grates of an overhead catwalk after the brutal dismemberment of an employee by the alien; that’s not necessarily in alignment with other Tomorrow Land attractions that are rated PG at best. I do not believe that Disney attractions should just be for kids, and I think that Disney has figured that out (for example Mystic Manor in Hong Kong) but at the same time, I do not think that Disney attractions should send unsuspecting soccer moms into a state of genuine panic, causing them to risk injury to themselves and others.
Thanks for taking the time to read through my post. Feel free to comment or provide feedback below, and follow me on Face Book (Saddlesore Swanson) or Twitter (@SaddlesoreSwnsn). I am new at this, and always appreciate any input.