Friday, February 5, 2010

Ride Review - Spaceship Earth

: Disney fans hate change. Alright, it’s probably not fair to limit that to only “Disney” fans. Fans of any medium, generally, are petrified of change. Even the mere rumor of a change to a beloved Disney attraction often results in paranoia and borderline hysteria from both its most ardent fans and those for whom the attraction represents a hallmark moment in their childhood. Often both at the same time.

So it should come as no surprise that when Disney announced a massive rehab for Epcot’s flagship attraction in 2007, people went absolutely berserk. It was only a few years earlier that an e-ticket attraction called “Time Racers” – a roller coaster – was rumored to be going inside the geodesic dome. People were freaked.

Then, with minimal fanfare, the new and allegedly improved Spaceship Earth reopened in February 2008. Reaction was tepid at best.

Queue: The queue is pretty much exactly the same…but there’s a new mural outside! In fact the biggest aesthetic change (and undoubtedly the best thing to come out of the rehab) was the removal of the giant and wholly idiotic “Epcot” wand on top of the structure.

Ride: The cars are the same, save for a new video screen in front of everyone. It’s important later on (OK, not “important,” let’s go with “it comes into play” later on.) We start uphill and are greeted by the voice of some guy from Siemens who thanks us for riding and then has us pose for an on-ride photo. Worst on-ride photo spot ever. He turns things over to Dame Judi Dench.

“Like a grand and miraculous spaceship…” Doesn’t have the same gravitas as it did with Jeremy Irons. She goes on to say that the key to the future lies in our past and that our ancestors were constantly reinventing the future. See what they did there? The new narration shifts the focus of the ride from the communications theme it had under AT&T to a broader historical context for Siemens.

Cavemen learn how to communicate and write on cave walls but then the Egyptians figure out it makes more sense to move the words instead of leaving them in a cave and invent scrolls. “This leads to better record keeping, plans, designs, and, unfortunately, taxes.” Heh.

Great civilizations follow but they all have their own forms of writing so the Phoenicians create an alphabet. The Greeks invent schools and math (really?) and then the Romans build roads. “The first world wide web.”

OK. I have to interject here. That statement, and really almost all of Judi Dench’s narration, is really idiotic and comes off as kind of flighty and daft. Its like they decided to make the narration light-hearted, kind of like the old World of Motion (only not as intentionally campy and over the top.) And Judi Dench does a good job delivering the lines as written. The problem is that the tone of the scenes themselves haven’t changed. So Judi Dench is cracking jokes and being all “if you remember your A-B-C’s, thank a Phoenician!” while the scenes in front of her are dark and serious.

Case in point, the “fall of Rome” scene. The narration is: “but then we hit a road block! Rome falls and the great library of Alexandria burns.” Not exactly the haunting Jeremy Irons delivery of “those same roads were turned against Rome by invaders.”

Anyway, Islamic and Jewish scholars save some of the texts and monks in Europe record books by hand until Guttenberg invents the printing press. The Renaissance is not far behind. The industrial revolution soon follows and “life’s most important moments” travel faster than ever before. A kid reads a newspaper in a factory, a guy uses a telegraph, the ladies answer the switchboard, and a cinema shows a newsreel.

In a nice new touch, a family watches the Apollo 11 moon landing together. “To send a man to the moon we had to invent a new language spoken not by man but by computers.” We head into a new scene with a giant mainframe computer. The animatronics are dressed in some seventies-rific styles.

“What if someone could have one of these machines in their own home?” Thankfully Bill Gates invents the PC in a garage in California. Sadly they left out the scene where Al Gore invents the Internet. We go through a crazy tunnel with flashing lights and numbers and stuff that they lifted from The Matrix.

We make it to the top of the dome and the cool planetarium scene is in tact, only now without the old female narration of “please remain seated, your time machine vehicles are rotating backwards for your return to Earth” that I love so much because I’m fairly sure the same woman does the “please silence all cell phones” announcement at Cinemark.

So anyway, now it’s time for those new touch screens to come into play. We take a little survey (it’s about 5 questions long so there are tons of potentially different endings) and like the old Horizons we get a “glimpse” of what our lives might be like in the future. This mostly involves wholly absurd Jetsons stuff like flying cars and a suitcase that packs itself. LAME.

“Well…I think the future we’ve created looks pretty promising, don’t you?” No. I think it looks like something you stole from an episode of Futurama. Things thankfully come to a conclusion before they get any worse and we’re left off to explore the Project Tomorrow exhibit.

Thoughts: I know it’s not really fair to judge this ride based on the old version and in all fairness the new scenes during the beginning of the ride are an improvement. The big downside is the narration, which isn’t really bad; it’s just not as good as the old one. The finale, however, ranges from “kind of disappointing” to “a big smelly turd” depending on my general mood.

It was a nice try but the ending could have been so much better. Why not just do the questions and then offer and honest to goodness video of the future. No silly cartoon stick figures with our faces on them. Have a scientist, an anthropologist, an engineer talk about something important. Don't treat human history and the future of civilization as a joke. Treat the material with the weight it deserves.

The update isn't bad. It's just really disappointing considering what they could have done with it.

Overall Rating: *** 1/2


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