Spaceship Earth: Then and Now

Spaceship Earth has always been my favorite attraction in Epcot, and is right up there with my favorites in all of Walt Disney World Resort. It was with great sadness that I walked onto the attraction in June of this year knowing it would be the last time that I would be able to experience it in it’s classic form. Much mystery surrounded the attraction from the moment it closed down: Who would the new voice of the attraction be? What was going to change? Is it ever going to re-open?

During Mousefest 2007 , I was able to experience an unexpected preview-not-quite-soft opening of the new Spaceship Earth, as presented by Siemens. With much excitement and anticipation, I (along with several of my good friends) rushed to the construction gate which was opened up, allowing guests to enter the geodesic sphere we have all come to love so much. How much has changed? Well, at first glance it wouldn’t seem to be all that much until you look beyond the obvious. Subtle enhancements galore adorn this attraction, and while it is obvious that a lot of work still needs to be completed prior to the grand opening in February, 2008, it is clear that the Disney Imagineers and Siemens are on the path for great success. Here is a scene by scene account of the new attraction.

 

 

WARNING! THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD. PROCEED AT ‘YER OWN RISK!
Click the thumbnails to expand for larger versions.

 

EXTERIOR

Well, it’s clear to see that the classic, pure look of Spaceship Earth has returned to Epcot. Gone is the Mickey wand and “Epcot” wording in favor of the pure geosphere in it’s perfect round form. Let me go on record once again by saying that I liked “The Wand” and the way it sparkled at night. I was resistant at first to the change but after having seen Spaceship Earth a few times without it, I think the wand is where is should be: a pleasant memory. Other changes include new signs for the attraction on the legs as you enter and some new palm trees on each side of the attraction, but other than that, Spaceship Earth is still the iconic symbol of Epcot as it always has been.

While many of the scenes in the ascent of the ride remain substantially similar to it’s classic predecessor, it only takes about 20 seconds for one to realize that this attraction has undergone MAJOR changes. For starters, the musical score is completely different; gone is the soft, soothing, almost hypnotic theme of classic Spaceship Earth and in it’s place is a new, slightly more up-tempo score as composed by Bruce Broughton (Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Timekeeper, etc.)

You will no longer be hearing Jeremy Irons narrate the attraction. While Irons formerly told the story of human communication, the new attraction features Dame Judi Dench (M, for you James Bond buffs) educating the guest on how previous generations of humans have created the technology that preceding generations used and improved upon. The ride vehicles are exactly the same except for the addition of a new LCD computer screen that is dark throughout the ascent portion of the attraction. More on the screens later. It does seem, however, that the ride system itself is smoother and quieter than before.

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CAVEMAN SCENE

The caveman scene is largely unchanged, save for an incredible new audio-animatronic tribal leader and some new lighting which makes it a bit easier to see the markings on the cave walls.

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EGYPTIAN SCENE
The Egyptian scene is where the new audio-animatronics really come to life. The scribe who previously just pounded his papyrus now does so in a much more realistic manner, with varying speed and in a much more convincing manner. The pharaoh and his court feature new costumes and decorations, and the pharaoh moves in a much faster, fluid manner as well. You half expect him to look right at your ride vehicle and begin talking to you as you pass by.

 

 

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MERCHANT SCENE

The ships that the merchants stand on rock and sway very realistically as if they were really out at sea. Improved lighting makes it easier to see what’s going on.

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GREEK SCENE

In the original version, the Greek scene featured a two person performance of Oedipus Rex, a Greek tragedy of love gone wrong. Now, a single orator speaks to his audience of at least four Greek citizens. His movements are stunning; you have to see it to believe it.

 

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ROMAN SCENE

While this scene remains virtually the same, the lighting on the audio-animatronics suggests a moonlight environment in the new version and the updated version sports a few new props.

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SCHOLAR / LIBRARY SCENE

The new edition of this scene features three scholars, down from the four of the original version. The new characters feature more elaborate costumes and headdresses, and is that a hookah in the background? The library which formerly featured an animatronic standing there looking at a book now presents a scholar deep in thought reading an ancient textbook. Despite all of the hoopla and excitement regarding the enhancements and future re-opening of Spaceship Earth, this monk is still sleeping after all this time.

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THE RENAISSANCE

While the printing press scene is substantially similar to the original version, the scene where a narrator was reading to a young man and woman has been changed to a scene where two men sit quietly reading to themselves. The statue being chiseled by the sculptor seems to have recovered from her medieval ‘wardrobe malfunction’ while Michaelangelo paints the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in a much more realistic manner. His animatronic features smooth and fine motor movements to suggest brush strokes rather than the plodding back and forth motion of the previous incarnation.

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NEWSPAPER PRINTING SCENE

Changes to this scene include significantly more newspapers bundled at the feet of the printer operator, back lighting to show a brick back wall instead of darkness, glasses on the face of the printer, and a new headline on the newspaper that the printer is reading (the headline clearly states “… WAR OVER!”. Further along, the paperboy now has his back to the ride vehicles, rather than facing it as before.

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TELEGRAPH SCENE

Minor changes to this scene include improved stage lighting and a visor on the head of the telegraph operator. Other than that, not much has changed in this area.

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RADIO BROADCAST SCENE

In a major change from the previous version, the radio personality’s female co-host is gone and he is solo in the booth. Sharp eyed observers will notice that the microphone flag has been changed from “WDP” (Walt Disney Productions) to “WDI” (Walt Disney Imagineering).

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CINEMA SCENE

The cinema now features silhouettes of seat backs and heads enjoying the performance. The old version featured a main screen with several other screens next to it but had no audience. The new version eliminates the secondary screens in favor of the audience and silhouettes. The woman in the ticket booth now reads the newspaper as well.

At this point in the attraction, things really start to change. None of the scenes that follow from this point on are the same as their previous versions. The living room scene and communication scene, along with the reflective globe are all gone in favor of bigger, badder scenes that just plain rock.

Here is where the change in theme, from communication to technology, really takes off. Be sure to check for a lot of clever little details and enjoy all of the new stuff. The music also begins to change to a quirky retro-futuristic tune that really fits in with the new scenes.

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LIVING ROOM SCENE

The living room scene has been completely re-done. The living room is now MUCH bigger and more heavily themed, with a back wall to close off the room, as opposed to the previous edition which suggested a background of apartment buildings. Very sharp eyed observers will notice the hidden Pinocchio LP record resting on the floor to the right of the television set.

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COMMUNICATION vs. BIRTH OF THE COMPUTER

The previous edition of Spaceship Earth featured a young American male and young Japanese female communication back and forth via computer, comparing stories of his baseball successes and her martial arts demonstrations. In the current iteration, we forego the communication between the youngsters and instead are taken through a state of the art (for the time) computer lab with massive data tape reels and huge mainframe computers. As we clear the lab, we then are taken past a dimly lit Chevy Nova and go into a garage in 1977 California to see a glimpse of the birth of the personal computer. Is this bearded fellow working in the garage Steve Jobs, or is it Steve Wozniak? The debate wages on and the attraction as of now gives no indication either way.

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TOP OF THE DOME

Just after the personal computer scene, you pass through the tunnel which used to be occupied by the mirrored globe. Where it formerly had colored light streaks and other random lighting effects, it now has a “data tunnel” which features moving green “Matrix” type effects. The top of the dome is almost exactly the same, just with different music and a very much the same view of Earth. At this point your vehicle turns backward for it’s return to Earth.

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YOUR RETURN TO EARTH

As you pass by the scene formerly occupied by the “holographic” news broadcast and the futuristic classroom scene, you pass through a tunnel of seemingly endless tiny lights that, thanks to some clever mirror placement, seems to go on forever in all directions in a geometric pattern (top photo). As you pass by what used to be the scenes depicting futuristic communication (ie. pregnant woman, college graduate, miners) your touch screen activates and begins asking you a series of questions. Based on your answers, the attraction creates a series of scenes showing how technology will improve your life going forward. The colored lighting effects throughout the decent tunnel have been removed as well as the final “globe” which was circled by a swirl of sparkling lights. The new attraction exits into Project Tomorrow, where you can play several video games depicting future technology.

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RECAP AND IMPRESSIONS

It is clear that as of this article, the attraction is not complete. The new narration and musical score, while fresh and new, definitely took some getting used to as I was quite accustomed to hearing Jeremy Irons and the classic Spaceship Earth soundtrack. The actual ride system seemed much quieter and smoother than before, an added bonus. The decent to Earth portion is very dark and devoid of anything to see except for some twinkle lights and the aforementioned computer touch screen interaction. At this time, I prefer the former descent portion better than the current one but it is still early. I just don’t know how long the touch screens will hold my interest with nothing to see outside of the ride vehicle. Hopefully there is more being added to enhance the experience.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride experience, especially since it had been closed for refurbishment for such an extended period of time. Look forward for a final opinion once the attraction is completely finished; until then, thanks for reading.

 

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