Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Spaceship Earth: Why All the Hate?


Yesterday I made my first trip to EPCOT since I started this blog. The last time I was there, on Labor Day Weekend 2007, Spaceship Earth was still closed for its Siemens-funded overhaul. The Project Tomorrow post-show area was open, but very few of the exhibits were actually functioning. Nevertheless, what I saw there left me with a sense of optimism, and I was sure that the new Spaceship Earth would not be a Journey Into Imagination With Eric Idle-style fiasco. Then the ride reopened and the reviews came pouring in. With the exception of EPCOT Central’s author Epcot82, most folks on the message boards and blogs were down on the new ride. Although the first three quarters of the ride looked very good, they claimed that the descent at the end was so obviously unfinished that it ruined the whole experience for them. The Judi Dench narration talks to us like we’re six-year-olds, they said. And as I listened to the new narration on Subsonic Radio, I found myself agreeing with them. Roman roads as the first “world wide web”? Jewish and Arab scholars as the “first backup system”? What happened to the scholarly, majestic tone of the Jeremy Irons or Walter Cronkite narrative tracks? Still, I tried to keep an open mind yesterday as I boarded my touchscreen-equipped Time Machine vehicle.

And it wasn’t half bad. Unlike the three previous iterations of Spaceship Earth’s show, this new one is aimed at the younger generation that doesn’t remember the world before cell phones and Internet-connected computers were everywhere. Sure the new narration is simpler, not as lofty and poetic as it was before, but remember that it has to reach those kids whose parents brought them to the park to ride Nemo.

Something else I like about the new ride: Spaceship Earth’s main weakness always was that its final scenes depicting the present and near-future always became outdated eventually, necessitating a pavilion closure and costly upgrade. But since the ride’s finale now takes place on a computer screen, it’s much easier and cost-effective to update once it starts to become stale. This should allow the ride to remain fresh and relevant for years to come and will hopefully allow us to avoid those awkward intervals when the present would surpass or move in a different direction from the “future” Spaceship Earth showed us.

Which brings me to the descent. It is really noticeably, embarrassingly unfinished? Well, during the time when you’re focused on the computer screen everything around you is just unadorned and black, but most folks are going to be too focused on their screen to be bored by the lack of entertaining stuff on the walls. And right around the time you finish with your screen, just before you get to the exit area, the walls acquire some sparkly lights meant to simulate a starfield. It’s not an expensive effect, but it’s nice enough.

Even the pickiest EPCOT connoisseur would be hard-pressed to find something wrong with Project Tomorrow, though. For the first time in recent memory, Spaceship Earth has a worthy post-show area. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to explore it much; I was on a tight schedule and the place was so darned crowded with people enjoying themselves that I just didn’t have the time to check everything out. Still, if an attraction’s crowd level is a barometer of its quality, then Project Tomorrow is one of the best things in EPCOT. When I go back in January, I hope to have time to explore the place properly.

In summation, I’ve got to say that this new iteration of Spaceship Earth is a solid EPCOT Center attraction that’s worthy of that beautiful Bob McCall mural that still adorns the entrance. I hope it’s indicative of the kinds of things we’ll see at EPCOT in the next decade.



  1. FWIW, I pretty much agree with your assessment! While *I* didn't 'learn' much on the ride, my kids actually DID learn some facts. That has to be part of the goal, right? And for them it's very repeatable. And they love the post-show area.

  2. I also agree with your assessment. I like the new version very much. I think today's audience has changed compared to 20 years ago and it's harder to grab their attention but this overhaul really addresses that audience while keeping "classic" EPCOT ideals.

    There have been a lot of big misfires in Future World over the past decade+ (Test Track, Mission:SPACE are good rides but don't quite "get" EPCOT; JIYI was (and still pretty much is) just crap; and the demolition of Horizons was unforgivable) but SSE v4 hits all of the right notes.

  3. The problem is, I have no interest in staring at a computer screen while I'm on a ride. The whole idea is ridiculous. I come to a theme park for the fantastic, for things I can't see at home, at work, on my freaking phone.

    And the imagery that used to be in the descent was beautiful. Now while I'm trying to ignore the dumb flash video all I have to look at is unfinished blackness.

    Here's hoping imagineering runs out of new ideas.


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