Saturday, December 8, 2007

MouseFest 2007 (Day 03) Special Report: Space Ship Earth Sneak Peek

SPOILER WARNING:  The following post lists details about what is contained within the new re-Imagineered Space Ship Earth.  If you do not want to know anything about it then do not read this post

Space Ship Earth We were sitting at lunch when Tim Devine got the phone call from one of his forum members that Space Ship Earth had the doors open allowing people on the ride.  The powers-that-be have been doing this the entire time we have been here, but we kept on missing it. 

So, we wolfed down our food and then sped on over to Space Ship Earth.  After getting through security and getting our annual passes scanned we started walking toward Space Ship Earth at a deliberate pace.

It wasn't very long before one of our party made the statement that they thought the doors were open.  Before they could finish the sentence we were sprinting toward Space Ship Earth.  You would think that we were participating in the annual bridal gown sale by the way we were hoofing it to the door.  We figured as long as one of us got there before they tried to close the door, they'd have to let all of us in. 

Sure enough the doors were open and we were in the queue.  I just had to rub it into George and Andy Taylor (Imaginerding) who were attending the Fantasmic! Dessert Meet at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  I could hear the disappointment in their voices as I gloated about our good fortune.

Greek Scholar We got through the queue and onto the ride vehicle fairly quickly. 

The first thing I noticed was that the ride vehicle seemed a bit more roomy and if my memory serves me correctly, a bit more "boxy".  The most obvious difference is the presence of a small LCD screen in the center of the front of the ride vehicle.  It seems to be about a 22-24" display.

As soon as you start your approach up the hill, the narration starts and one quickly finds out that Dame Judy Dench is indeed the new narrator.

As you approach the first diorama, you will start to notice some differences.  It is clear that the new message of Space Ship Earth is technology and it's use for communication.  We start off in the stone age.  I'm pretty sure this diorama was in the old ride, but the Audio-Animatronics have been brought up to modern standards.  In fact, all the Audio-Animatronics have been updated.

Many of the scenes seemed to be polished up versions of the old ones.  Some seemed to be in new locations and Ancient Librarian expanded upon.  Others were flat out new.

We did get to see the much rumored inclusion of Steve Jobs in the famous garage where Apple Computers was formed.  Granted, his name was never mentioned and it was just alluded to the fact that the ability to have computers in the home originated in a garage.   Now, everyone on the Internet is saying that the figure is supposed to be Steve Jobs, but I'd like to think that it was his buddy and geek-in-arms Steve Wozniak.  The figure appeared to look like more like the uber-geek and Segway Polo Stud Woz than it did Jobs.

Painting of the Cistine Chapel When you got the top of the geodesic sphere, where they introduce the term Space Ship Earth to us, we turn around for the descent.  At this point everything is black.  There is nothing outside the ride vehicle to focus your attention on.

This is when the LCD Screens kick in.  You are asked a series of questions about your preferences in life.  Then a little animated story is told based on your answers.  For example, we were asked questions like would we prefer to travel by solar power or wind power or do we most enjoy the planning a trip or the destination.  The animation seems to be computer generated as opposed to hand-drawn.  It is definitely not Pixar, photo-realistic-quality.  It's more of what you'd see lately on the Disney Channel at night. 

When you get to the bottom, you are dumped onto a moving platform and escorted to the post-show building.

WDI RadioIn our case, Tim asked the Cast Member if we could ride again and we just got to stay in the vehicle and go again.  What a Magical Moment!

Now that I've given the description I feel I should give my opinion.....

First, I need to say that it is quite obvious that the attraction is not complete.  I wouldn't even classify this as a "soft opening".  The signs outside were saying that Space Ship Earth was scheduled to be re-opened in February 2008.  That means we are over 2 months away.  I would classify what we got to experience as a sneak peek.  More of a tease.  You could almost say the Imagineers were saying, "Oops, did we leave the door open in the construction wall?"Space Ship Earth - The Computer Age

Part of me is wondering if this "event" was really just a nice "thank you" to all the MouseFesters.  We'll have to wait and see if they are still letting people on after MouseFest is over.

It is obvious the attraction is not complete.  I was very prepared for this fact when I got on the attraction.  I knew there was no way the ride could be even remotely close to being completed if it is scheduled to open in February and it is now December.

I was not even remotely sold by Judy Dench.  It really seemed like she "phone it in" when it came to her narration.  I don't really have a complete memory of Walter Cronkite's narration but I do have vague memories.  But, I do have a good memory of Jeremy Iron's narration.  Both seemed to have a very resonating voice with lots of intonation and sold you into what they were saying.  Just as with an audio book, the chosen voice is very important.  Judy Dench's delivery just seemed to blend into the background and didn't add anything to the show.  I found myself not even noticing that she was talking. 

Space Ship Earth - New Animation SequenceI was very hopeful that it was Patrick Stewart when I had heard the rumor that he was in the running.  But the Disney Corporation may have had their mind on selecting a woman for this incarnation (you never know).  I am just lost on a good suggestion for female voice-over talent.  As much as I am not a fan of Oprah as a talk show host, she does have a great voice.  Personally, since the theme seemed to be technology, I think they should've found someone who is closely tied with the field.  Someone, when you hear their voice, you think technology and/or communication.  That is why I thought Patrick Stewart would be a good fit.  He has loyal fans in the Science Fiction genre.

Who's to say it had to be a well known person.  Pixar, for example, works with tons of voice talent every day and not all of them are household names.  Heck, some of them were the animators who stood in until it was decided that noone else could voice the character.

But, I digress.

The various diorama sets we see are awesome.  They are clean and tell a great story by themselves.  I really liked Space Ship Earth - Roman Soldierthe scene where the town is being burned and you could really smell burning wood.

The Audio-Animatronics seemed much smoother and that is what caused me to conclude they were updated.  During a scene of Rome where a soldier was talking to another person, you almost could swear they were real people much like the Jack Sparrow audio-animatronic in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Is this attraction an abysmal failure?  That would be an emphatic no!

All in all, I think when another couple months go by this attraction will definitely be another home run for Disney Imagineers just like with the Haunted Mansion's Re-Haunting.  I don't know what they are going to do about the less than engrossing narration, but it's amazing what they can do to audio in post production.  Heck, there is even enough time that Disney could just decide to bring someone else in. 

Needless to say, I cannot wait until my trip next year to see it completed and until then I'll reserve final judgement.  Right now, we are seeing the equivalent of a film's rough cut.  Much can change before it's unveiled to audiences as a final product.

If you want to see all the pictures I took of Space Ship Earth you can see them in my Flickr account:

Space Ship Earth Set

But, if you want to see really good pictures, then head over to Tim Devine's The Magic In Pixels and check out his album devoted to this ride:

Space Ship Earth 2007



Ryan P. Wilson said...

Thanks for the first look at the new Spaceship Earth, it gives me high hopes of the finished product.

By the way, I like the new logo!


Unknown said...

The new logo is courtesy of the talented Jeff Pepper!

Greg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg said...

Thanks for the update. Nice logo.

Ryan P. Wilson said...

That Jeff, he certainly does get around... Not to mention he does phenomenal work.

Unknown said...


The logo is killer- Kudos, once again to the fantasmic Jeff Pepper!

When we rode SE, the descent was actually through what seemed like a green matrix type field.

You know our sentiments on the ride--we loved it and we are SO thankful that you guys were able to get hold of us for the ride. They closed it quickly after we got on.

When you talked about the AA's--they are much better. But I swear the roman soldier was Mike Scopa in disguise. That would be historically accurate, though!

GREAT pic's Ray!

Erica said...

I was standing by the open construction fence when y'all came racing by. I just laughed at you guys, as I chatted with the CM manning the gate and waited impatiently for my husband to return from dropping stuff in the car so that we, too, could ride. (The CM was interesting, because he said they couldn't call it testing, as that would imply it might break down, but they couldn't call it a soft opening, because that implies it's open. So the ride just "was" and as people came up to him to ask if Spaceship Earth was open, his reply was "Sort of." I felt bad for him, because he literally couldn't say much more than that!)

Fortunately, my husband made it back just as they were closing the gates and we squeezed in. Enjoyed your review, as my thoughts are mostly the same...I got to talk to a CM doing a survey about the ride afterward for about 15 minutes, and he took lots of notes, so here's hoping at a minimum they change up the narration and do something about the animation! Two more months until we know for sure.

Unknown said...


I'm sure it was quite hilarious to see a bunch of people running through the construction gate with a couple of them with large cameras strapped around their neck like paparazzi chasing after a B-List celebrity

Erica said...

I was glad y'all had your cameras, since my little point-n-shoot doesn't do so well in darkness when it's moving, so none of my shots came out. But, yeah, it was a good giggle.