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BODY WARS: The "Inside" Story of the Lost Epcot E-Ticket That Left Riders Queasy

Image: Edward Russell, Flickr (license)

Making your way through the Midway-styled interior of the Wonders of Life pavilion, the entrance to Body Wars feels like a stark contrast. The massive mural that wraps around part of the pavilion’s inner circumference might be enough on its own to ward away those grossed out by blood – it’s a collection of blood vessels, tubes, and alien-structures that, shockingly, must be – gulp – something inside of us.

And indeed, stepping into the ride’s queue, the pastel whimsy of the pavilion’s rotunda melts away as guests pass through Dermatopic Purification portals. The idea is simple: we’re in some sort of research facility sealed off from the pathogens of the rest of the world.

Soon, our location becomes clear: we’re at a laboratory run by MET (that’s Miniaturized Exploration Technologies), a pioneer in health and medicine dedicated to the betterment of our lives. Their newest breakthrough is why we’re here: the incredible LGS-2050 Body Probe Vehicle is a cutting-edge way to explore the human body. These sleek white pods can be miniaturized to barely the size of a cell and beamed into a human body for research and exploration. When all is said and done, the 26-ton vehicles will weigh less than a drop of water.

(The clever conceit masquerades our lesson on the body as a science fiction adventure, doubtlessly inspired by the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage.)

But today, you’ll be more than just a witness to this newfound technology; you’ll be a participant. In the ride’s preshow we learn that we’re mere minutes behind Dr. Cynthia Lair (played by Academy Award winning actress Elisabeth Shue), who’s volunteered to be miniaturized and beamed into a patient to study the body’s immune response to a splinter. Our mission is simple: follow Dr. Lair’s route inside the patient aboard Probe Bravo 229 piloted by Captain Braddock (Tim Matheson) to retrieve her and bring her out.

Ready for miniaturization?

The Ride

Strapped aboard Bravo 229, Captain Braddock appears via a small screen to the right of our viewport. As he welcomes us onboard and signals the start of our reduction sequence, a shield covering the viewport falls away.

It’s important to note that the ride film you’re about to see is cutting edge, with CGI animation to create the (startlingly realistic) look and feel of the body. And the whole thing is directed by someone with a keen understanding of “incredible journeys” – the late, great Leonard Nimoy, best known as Spock in Star Trek.

We’re pulling up to a particle reducer that’ll beam us just beneath the skin of our patient. As the particle reducer powers up, the vehicle lifts and jostles before being propelled forward (seemingly a re-use of Star Tours’ “lightspeed” maneuver, here beaming us under the skin).

Image: Disney

When our view returns, we’re microscopic, drifting in a chamber of vessels and tubes with oblong spheres drifting past in the channel. “Directly in front of us is a group of white blood cells on their way to destroy the splinter.” As we drift aside to follow them, a continual pulse draws us back and forth, shuffling the pod. Then, it appears – a splinter which, on this scale, might as well be a skyscraper pierced through the skin with white blood cells clamping on.

Dr. Lair’s here. She needs just one more cell count before she can join us onboard. As we drift under the splinter, she calls out “Mayday!” Dr. Lair had been pulled into a capillary. We’ve got to find her, so the probe tears through a bulbous, fatty layer and races into a vein, slamming left and right as the heart’s pulse tears the ship forward and back. “I’m being pulled into the heart!” she cries.

Image: Disney

We’ve got to time it just right so as not to be crushed by the flaps of the right ventricle’s valves. Still, she’s drawn further through the circulatory system and toward the lungs. “We have to chance it,” Braddock commands. As deep, guttural breaths from the patient draw the vehicle forward and back in nauseating tilts and thrusts, we stun a white blood cell determined to consume Dr. Lair and she climbs aboard.

Unfortunately, our journey so far as used too much power; we can’t beam out.

“We need an energy boost!” Braddock orders.

“The brain! It works on electrical impulse.”

Image: Disney

The path forward? Another capillary. This time, we’re drawn backwards into the heart again, slamming and swaying with every pulse. We have only 5% power now. We’ve got to use the heartbeat to propel us!

With a pulse, we’re off, slamming again until a hard right takes us into the spinal fluid. With a jolt, we pass the blood-brain barrier as electrical nerves surround us, their sparks lighting the dark cabin. “The cerebral cortex!” Lair muses. “We’re in the brain!”

“Braddock, your power is gone!” the Mission Commander reports via radio. “I repeat, your power is gone!”

With the last bit of strength, the ship drifts against a neuron. “This neuron better fire…”

Then, with a pulse of energy, we enter into the warping beam again. In a flash, we’re back outside the particle reducer.

“Incredible!” Lair celebrates. “Do you realize what we just did?!”

“You broke every regulation in the book! You also managed to pull off the most spectacular mission this place has ever seen! Congratulations.”

And just like that, your mission is complete. You’ll pass down a series of simple, laboratory hallways before the pastel midway of Wonders of Life comes back into view.

Sure, Body Wars might not have the stellar, emotional story of some of Disney’s best, and it’s a little more light on content than many of Epcot’s storied dark rides. But it was one hell of a ride. The question is, would you ride it again?

We always include a point-of-view video in our Lost Legends entries to give you a first-person perspective of what it was like to experience these forgotten attractions. This one is particularly telling, as the videographer rides alone. A sure sign of things to come... Watch here:

Rough Road

Each of the four probe vehicles weighs 27,000 pounds fully loaded (that’s before miniaturization, of course) and can hold forty guests, just like the ones used on Star Tours. And like Star Tours, each is supported by six hydraulic servo-actuators offering six degree of freedom movements (planes in heave, surge, and sway; axes in pitch, roll, and yaw).  The ride film cues the physical motions of the pod, as each frame generates a time code pulse with an associated positioning for the ride’s motion base arms.

Given that structurally each Body Wars vehicle is operated within the same constraints as Star Tours, it may be odd that pretty quickly after it opened, Body Wars gained a reputation for a rough ride, leaving riders sick and queasy and causing a few too many “protein spills.”

We suspect there are three reasons why:

1) A ride program of “lub-dub” pulses. Like Star Tours, the motion program of Body Wars was set by an Imagineer sitting on board with a joystick, manually creating what would be the ride’s motion profile. The designers responsible for the ride’s motion added an extra bit to detail to Body Wars... throughout the ride, the vehicle rhythmically bucks and thrusts to match the pulse of the human bloodstream. Even when the vehicle is meant to be "floating" in place, the ebb and flow of the heartbeat jostles the cabin. Things get even worse in the lungs where the patients inhale and exhale lift and drop the pod over and over. This continual throbbing was a thoughtful and clever detail... but a debilitating programming choice.

Image: Disney

2) “Discombobulation.” Your brain uses a lot of sensory information to make sense of the world around it. In a moving car, for example, your eyes tell you that you’re moving while your sense of proprioception (your understanding of your own place in space) controlled by your inner ear says you’re sitting, stationary. For some, this contradiction leads to motion sickness (The very opposite effect is what unsettles stomachs on Mission: SPACE, as your eyes tell you you're hovering in place while your inner ears sense extreme motion.)

While this disconnect is inherent in many thrill rides anyway, motion simulators make it even worse. It's for that reason that programmers have to be very, very careful that each motion syncs up perfectly to its corresponding film frame. And some allege that Body Wars’ more aggressive ride cycle also made it prone to glitching the ride video, skipping a few frames and throwing off the careful choreography that, subconsciously, would cause major motion sickness in riders as their eyes and ears battled to make sense of their location.

3) Humans are gross. Perhaps the simplest excuse is the most true. Blood, splinters, pulsating organs, flapping valves, and networks of veins can simply be… well… sickening.

Be it one or all three of those reasons, Body Wars left riders pale and quesy. Cast Members in control booths would be charged with carefully watching each pod during its cycle to look for signs of motion sickness so that the ride could be E-stopped with the touch of a button. Slamming, swaying, thrusting, richocheting, and pulsing through the grossest inner workings of the human body simply proved a recipe too poisonous to overcome.

The problems were so severe that, shortly after opening, 20-seconds of the ride were edited out with an on-screen fade between frames. The push and pull of the lungs were simply too intense. Maybe it helped a little. Maybe the jump cut only exascerbated number 2, above. 

Body Wars was simply too intense, especially for those who witnessed the same technology in action on the much smoother new ride that opened down the road just a few months later... Which brings us to... 

Lost Legend or Disaster File?

Image: Disneyana by Max

Two months after the grand debut of Wonders of Life and its starring Body Wars, Star Tours opened at the brand-new Disney-MGM Studios, bringing the runaway wild success of Disneyland’s E-Ticket to Disney World. We make the case in Lost Legends: STAR TOURS that the Disney / Lucasfilm collaboration changed everything at Disney Parks. And frankly, Body Wars didn’t stand a chance.

It was inevitable that visitors would quickly discern that Body Wars and Star Tours were sisters, and given that realization, it was also inevitable that they'd compare them and that, by-and-large, they'd prefer the latter. Star Tours was the brand-new ride at the brand-new park. It was thrilling yet smooth, powered by a Disney-quality plot and story, and packed with beloved characters and settings from one of the most popular film franchises of all time. Even if Body Wars weren't nauseating in its motion and content, it couldn't compete with that.

It wasn't long before Body Wars was all but obsolete. As multi-hour queues built for Star Tours, Body Wars was a walk-on. It certainly didn't help that it was tucked away inside of a tucked-away pavilion. The often overlooked ride was a would-be E-Ticket whose popularity had crashed. 

Maybe that's why it's tough to decide if Body Wars fits in with our other Lost Legends, or if it would be more at home among the very opposite, with our in-depth Disaster Files: The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management, Stitch's Great Escape, Tomorrowland's Rocket Rods, or Epcot's own Journey into YOUR Imagination. In any case, things did not bode well for Body Wars. But what would Disney do to make the ride the star it deserved to be? You won't believe the answer. Read on...  

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There are 4 comments.

I remember wanting to ride Body Wars in April 2004, I was quite excited, and then it said that it was closed. Luckily for me I'd heard about things being closed before, so I just said ok. It's still a shame I didn't get to experience it, but aah well, that happens in life too.

I absolutely loved this ride as a child. I remember my dad did too and thought it was fascinating, especially the creative sterilization technique that they did in the queue. The fact that my father is a physician and I myself a pharmacist probably contributes to our fascination with Body Wars. It really is too bad that it is shuttered now as it was a very unique ride especially in terms of story and theming. Definitely deserves legend status and not disaster status.

I really enjoyed Body Wars. Strangely enough, I never had a motion sickness problem with it, even though I do occasionally have attacks. I did, however, long for a sports bra when I rode it. I vote for Legend, because it was very different than anything WDW had when it was first introduced.

I loved EPCOT and went frequently as a teen. However Body Wars was a horrible ride. I always viewed it as a Fantastic Voyage ripoff. The mechanics of the ride were also terrible. One time it might be fairly smooth and the next, you would think your spleen was going to explode because of the bucking motion that made the seat belt cut into your midsection. It was just uncomfortable and I would ride it once each time I went back to see if it had improved and then stay far away to allow my internal organs to heal. Mark this one in the disaster column for me.

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