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X-S Tech

Image: Disney

Welcome to the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center. This spacious and luxurious expo center is home to exceptional traveling exhibits from around the galaxy. And you’re in luck! Currently, the Convention Center is hosting an advanced Martian conglomerate known as X-S Tech. (Maybe read that as Excess Tech?) With their promise to Seize the Future, X-S Tech has rented the Center to demonstrate its newest technological accomplishment: intergalactic teleportation.

The looming yellow antenna atop the building isn't just for looks. It's capable of beaming organisms into space. In fact, occasional humming flashes of the massive spire really do signal incoming and outgoing teleportations... (Only the observant will notice that the high-intensity beaming antenna is seemingly plugged into wires that scale down the building's side and into an open manhole cover in the city streets below... evidence that X-S Tech might not be as reputable as they'd like us to think...)

Just inside the Convention Center, a video produced by X-S Tech (and underscored by a disturbing white noise) explains the company’s origin and its number one status in “electro-robotics, techno-surveillance, planetary restructuring, genetic engineering, and hyperspacial transport."

You might recognize the beautiful face X-S Tech's greeter, played by Tyra Banks.

The amicable video hostess then introduces the CEO and chairman, L.C. Clench (played by Jeffrey Jones) who growls, “We were, of course, extremely enthused when our market research probe discovered the Earth. A world with so many eager customers is always worth our greatest effort.” Hmm...

Pre-Show

Image: Disney

Guests are then ushered into a new chamber overseen by a robotic figure called S.I.R. – or Simulated Intelligence Robotic. Voiced by Tim Curry and his trademark sinister snarl, S.I.R. plans to show us a simple and “practically painless” demonstration of X-S’s newest innovation: the Series 1000 teleportation system.

There’s one glass tube on each side of the room, but only the right one is occupied. Inside is an adorable antenna-crowned alien with bulging sweet puppy dog eyes, a trunk, and six chubby little legs. This benevolent life form - Skippy – seemed to have been placed in the teleportation tube against his will. He kindly coos, to which S.I.R. demands, "What do you want, Skippy?" The adorable alien squeaks a response, but S.I.R. plays it off: “No, you may not get out... You’re our lucky volunteer!” The dark exchange with the innocent alien may give you goosebumps and twist your stomach. It's meant to.

With the touch of a button, Skippy’s tube fills with an electrical crackling and billowing smoke. Guests listen as Skippy shrieks horribly. After a few agonizing seconds, the second tube on the other side of the room begins to crackle as well. When the fog clears out of each, the right tube is empty. And in the left tube? The sizzling, fried, charred remains of the tortured Skippy with glowing eyes yelps in pain.

Image: Disney

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. The intentionally macabe demonstration is meant to weed-out those who overlooked the queue signage warning of how sincerely scary the attraction beyond will be.

Now, if you’re still interested in X-S Tech, listen to S.I.R. The robot, suddenly a little more forceful and intimidating, mentions that this little demonstration is nothing compared to the real thing. Imagine if, instead of simply being teleported the width of a room, you could be teleported the width of the universe. That, we’re promised, is what will happen in the room beyond, where one of us – the lucky guests – will be chosen to teleport to Planet X-S across the galaxy.

S.I.R. loses power and goes dark as a familiar friendly alien voice presses you forward into the Testing Chamber. (Just don't lag behind or you may hear her get pushy.)

The Testing Chamber

Ushered quickly into the Testing Chamber, guests find themselves in a room that's suspiciously similar to the "Mission to Mars" theater of yesteryear. Seats are still arranged in stadium-style concentric circles around the room But now, there’s something new in the room’s center. A massive metallic shield stretches from floor to ceiling. The foreboding steel tube is covered in rivets and bolts, and overhead, hundreds of wires and pipes connect to the tube’s top as if channeling power into it.

And those seats that were formerly simple theater seats have something new, too: over-the-shoulder restraints. No, this is not a roller coaster. It’s not a ride at all. You won’t move anywhere. But the restraints will play a large role in the attraction, and they’ll keep panicked children from running through the dark theater to escape. Truthfully, they’ll probably be paralyzed with fear anyway. And unlike a normal Disney attraction, closing your eyes or plugging your ears won’t make this attraction any friendlier. Because on Alien Encounter, the show is in your head.

As the experience begins, you’re introduced to a few of X-S Tech’s technicians who will be along for the experience: Spinlock (played by Kevin Pollack) and Dr. Femus (Kathy Najimy). Projected onto circular screens positioned around the room, these new characters are barely through introducing themselves when the CEO himself, Chairman Clench, arrives to make sure the demonstration is on schedule. “We’re just about to pick a volunteer,” Spinlok offers.

“It’s off. I’ve been seized,” Clench says.

“Something you ate, sir?” (Cue Michael Eisner’s raucous laughs, no doubt.)

Image: Disney

But Clench has been seized by inspiration! He’s decided that instead of teleporting a single human to X-S, he will teleport himself to Earth where he can personally answer each question of the audience. On the screens, Clench steps into a tube where he demands to be sent. When technical difficulties seem to delay his departure, he begins to get upset. Dr. Femus cries, “I’m going as fast as I can!”

Just as Clench’s tube fills with smoke on the screen, the metallic shield rises to reveal our tube doing the same. Red lights billow against the smoke as the steaming pipes overhead buckle while the theater’s lighting fluctuates, no doubt dying from the power surge. A vortex of steam builds in the tube as Dr. Femus warns, “there’s another planet in our transmission path. Something’s intercepted the signal… Wait… I’ve got something.”

“Well boost the power and send him to Earth,” Spinlock bites.

“But what if it’s not him?”

Send. Him. To. Earth.”

The escape

Image: Disney

Overhead wires begin to vibrate and fluctuate as the tube fills and electrical static crackles inside. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Spinlock announces, “Chairman… Clench!”

But as the smoke dissipates, something else is inside the tube. The extraterrestrial Imagineers designed for the attraction looks nothing like Alien’s Xenomorph. It’s tall with spider-like legs and a long body something like a praying mantis. It has gnashing fangs and glowing red eyes, plus transparent wings like a dragonfly. The creature shrieks horrifically and begins to bang its head and spindly legs against the glasstube. Femus’s computer readings scan the creature and determine that it's carnivorous.

“Carnivorous? It eats meat?”

Image: Disney

The creature rears back and slams itself against the tube as the sound of shattering glass and a burst of pressurized air blasts out of the center of the room. As electricity crackles, we see the shattered tube with smoke billowing out, the creature snarling. Thinking quickly, Spinlock engages a set of security beams that surround the tube. "People of Earth: do not be alarmed! As long as those beams are on, the alien cannot fly out!" An electrical spark falls as the sound of a failing generator disappears; the security beams are gone. A sense of dread fills the room.

In pitch black darkness, the sound of spreading wings and falling glass echoes through 3D sound. Sheets of air rain down from overhead, mimicking the beat of the creature's wings as it takes flight. A few final flashes of electricity show the shattered tube with smoke billowing out… and the alien is not inside. Guests shriek.

"It flew out! The alien's out! Get it back before it eats someone!"

Now, the experience really begins. The joy – and terror – of Alien Encounter is that the entire experience is in your head. You can’t escape it by shutting your eyes. In fact, shutting your eyes will do very little. Now that the alien was escaped, the rest of the attraction takes place in absolute pitch black darkness.

An Alien Encounter

If you’ve experienced Disney’s 3D sound shows, like Sounds Dangerous Starring Drew Carey, formerly at Hollywood Studios, you understand the idea of Alien Encounter. But while that show used the sophisticated sound technology to leave guests shimmying in their seats to the sound of a haircut or bees, Alien Encounter is a little darker. By just briefly showing the alien, Disney has now convinced your mind that it exists. By letting you see, feel, and hear its escape from the tube, touch and sound alone can take it from there.

The alien has settled somewhere in the room, cocooning itself high in the rafters.

In the catwalk overhead, an X-S Technician with a flashlight has arrived just in time to restore power. Dr. Femus and Spinlock encourage the tech to do so, and quickly. They hush each other when either begins to mention that an insectoid, winged alien is roosting somewhere in the chamber. As the tech’s flashlight beam searches the room for the circuit breaker, it grazes across the shattered tube. The tech seems wary as the screens come alive with his night-vision helmet camera.

With bated breath, you watch on the overhead screens as the technician's night-vision searches the room. We all know what's coming, and it's not going to be pretty. After a few agonizing minutes of watching through the tech's night-vision eyes with the flashlight scanning from the catwalks overhead, it happens. The tube crackles as the screen reveals the alien ahead. The tech is silent as his flashnight drops. Before he can respond, it lunges at him. His camera goes dark as he screams, and warm blood rains down from the catwalk onto us below.

Everyone around you has lost control - screams, tears, panic, horror, fear, laughter. The audience collectively believes in this experience and allows it to become real, perhaps more so than any other attraction on Earth. It's a group experience, and we're all in it together. In the freedom of the darkness, people laugh and scream openly. It's pure, terrified fun.

Spinlock calls out, “People of Earth, listen, please! Do... Not... Scream.” After a moment of dead silence, the floor rumbles and bangs as the alien slams its way around the theater, sending the crowd shrieking. After pounding its way around the room, the alien ultimately stops... just behind you.

The 3D sound allows you to hear its deep, raspy breath in your ear, perfectly in time with warm, moist air blown against your neck. Out of everyone, the alien has chosen you. It's smelling you. Looming directly behind you. Try to remain perfectly still as a drip of warm, thick drool lands against your arm...

Then, the alien's soft, wet tongue licks along the top of your head.

Cue absolute pandemonium in the crowd.

The tube crackles with electricity and steam pours from the overhead pipes. “Spinlock, we’ve got power!” Dr. Femus has an idea of how to get rid of the Alien once and for all. She activates the tube’s speakers and screams into it, drawing the Alien’s attention.

You feel the alien pull away from you, its attention focused on the source of the sound in the center of the room. With another beat of its wings, it flies just past you and breaks its way back into the tube. A few flickering emergency lights switch on, revealing the alien again as Dr. Femus powers up the teleportation tube to send it home.

Spinlock cries, “Boost the power! Boost the power!” The teleportation tube glows and pulsates as it fills with smoke, overcompensating for the shattered hole. The whole room is vibrating with power as the tube sparks and the wires overhead come unattached, spewing fog. The energy is too much. "It's going to explode!" The room rumbles as, at the last second, Femus lowers the metallic shield around the tube. Smoke erupts from it as the creature explodes, sending water spraying out across the audience as the sound of raining fleshy chunks strike the ground all around.

As the panic dies down, the lights begin to flicker back on. Frazzled, Spinlock whimpers. “Well… there you have it. Certainly you see the potential of X-S technology and… we certainly apologize for any inconvenience. But after all, it does take time to Seize the Future.

Though the experience of Alien Encounter might've been lost to time (especially given the relative unavailability of cameras in the '90s and the attraction's persistant darkness), we can be eternally grateful that the incomparable multimedia Disney historian and archivist Martin Smith coalesced source video and multiple point-of-views of the attraction to create a 2019 tribute. Check it out here:

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Comments

I experienced the Alien Encounter for the first and only time in summer of 01. When I went back in 05 w my fam, I couldn't wait to show them. Not even paying attention to the name change, stitch, anything, we got in the non-existent line. When I started to realize the stitch references, I thought maybe same concept- but now they will use stitch to cash in on the latest Disney movie. It was horrible!! I felt trapped w no where to go. Pure torture. In the times I've been back since, I stay far away from this "ride" and advise everyone else to too.

My family and I were in the very first test audience group in '94. A monorail conductor told us that they were opening it that day and to go and wait at a certain time in the afternoon. And so we did. And they told us it wasn't opening, but we waited anyway. They finally let us in. I was around 12 at the time. To this day I tell all of my friends about the scariest event of my life (I'm now 32). They were using the alien from the movie Alien at the time. I can fully remember the strobe lite views of it as it ran across the room eating people. We were interviewed before and after the experience. I remember being nervous going into the ride. And the nice lady CM told me that it was all sound. So if I got scared to lean forward and it would all go away because the speakers were behind every chair. This was not the case! With those darn shoulder things you could not lean forward much and the sounds was so loud anyway I could still hear the alien breathing its two mouths on my neck!!

scariest thing ever!!!

However, I do really wish I bought a Skippy plush

I definitely agree with everything you said about stitch i do think that Disney could have put out a full out warning that it wasnt age appropriate for kids to take all the confusion out of it they could have told people age appropriate for adults and we may still have one of the best atttactions that Disney has added after1990

Capt. Nemo Submarine in magic Kingdom
King Kong in Universal
Back to the future universal
Jaws Universal

The more I read, the more I got interested in reading the next page. I worked at Disney at the time it opened and it was also my first attempt at pursuing acting. I'm not sure if Disney put the call out or my agent, but I remember being one of the people in the audience for the commercial. I could swear they used the Fox Alien at the time, but I could be wrong. We were there early in the morning and walked through all the external parts of the ride, which I think were still under construction, straight to the seats where they strapped us in and told us what to expect and do. The ride was very uneventful with the lights up and all effects off. You saw everything and were cued when to scream. The lighting was on for filming and made it difficult to figure out what would be so scary. Later I went when it was open and did the ride, loved it, but had a pretty good idea what was going to happen (or not happen), but it was fun hearing the people around scream and also imagine the "what if?" and want to go with the flow. I did find it odd it being there at the Magic Kingdom and thought the Studios would have been a better place. I actually liked Mission to Mars, but that could be from memories of being a kid and always wanting to go in, pretending I was Captain Kirk heading on shuttle to a port there on Mars. I'd then imagine Tomorrowland as that port. I left Disney shortly after Alien Encounter opened and never experienced the ride again, wish I had. Would love to set it up in my living room now and get my film buddies together and make a movie around it. Or terrorize the kids at Halloween. :-)

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