Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Spaceship Earth

There was a beautiful, ethereal majesty to Spaceship Earth as it existed from 1982 to 1999, before the millennium, before the hand and the wand.

Spaceship Earth achieved something virtually every architect aims to do but few ever accomplish: It made a bold and immediately compelling statement simply by existing. Anyone who saw it from afar, even without knowing anything about EPCOT Center, had an emotional response. The gleaming silver sphere promised something both impossibly grand and strangely familiar. It was an unmistakable landmark and also a symbol of everything for which EPCOT Center stood -- beckoning guests to comment on it and conveying a message of future hope and opportunity even if that message wasn't consciously understood.

By erecting the Mickey Mouse hand and wand, Spaceship Earth was defaced. It would have been understandable had the decorations been a temporary salute to the millennium, then been dismantled. But when the decision was made to make them both permanent -- and, worse, changing "2000" to a curlicue "Epcot" -- the meaning of Spaceship Earth was changed entirely.

Now, it stands as a giant billboard and not much more than that. It is a garish reminder that Disney cannot love itself enough, that the company must push Mickey Mouse into places that he is not comfortable. The giant, disembodied hand with the "Epcot" name spelled out is the most remarkably in-your-face insistence on blending corporate messages I've ever seen.

It's as if no one understood that Spaceship Earth itself was a symbol, one known to virtually anyone who had ever been to or even thought of visiting Walt Disney World. Much like the Empire State Building or Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, Spaceship Earth was instantly recognizable and inspirational for its simplicity.

It's time to take down that wand and hand, to show that Disney's newly inspired crop of Imagineers understand that the unadorned Spaceship Earth is a structure of power and of imagination in a way that even Cinderella Castle couldn't be, because it is wholly unique, created not by taking inspiration from the real world, but by imagining something out of whole cloth.

If and when that hand and wand come down, it will be a sure sign that Disney might, 24 years after it opened, finally be trying to understand Epcot.


Matt Arnold said...

I agree that the structure should have been taken down after the turn of the millenium celebration. But I'm glad it was there during it. Epcot is a millenarian place. Other parks escape into mythologies of the past, and Epcot escapes into a mythology of a future of infinite possiblity. It was as if Spaceship Earth were dressed up for the arrival of the special occasion for which it had been built: the arrival of the fabled future.

That's why as a future-oriented person Spaceship Earth is very important to me. My parents started a project to decorate their bathroom in tiles representing all the family members-- a rose, a bible, athletic equipment. I represented myself with Spaceship Earth: Link. I went ahead and included the hand and "2000" to emphasize the point.

Yes, Spaceship Earth should go back to being unadorned, but during the turn of the millenium the world needed to be pointed to Epcot Center as the mecca of the future.

Stoy Jones said...

I had seen pictures of that structure on the web. I couldn't believe it and to have seen it in person, I'd say it's quite impressive in it's own right, but keeping it as a permanent addition is incredibly tacky and pretentious and out of character for such a beautiful park.

Lectrorail said...

Sad indeed. Have not been to EPCOT since 1998. But when I worked there in 94-95, Spaceship Earth was amazing. The new score and Irons narration were a welcome update for me but I wasn't too impressed with the new "static" finale scenes. Nonetheless, I couldn't imagine another attraction having as much dignity as Spaceship Earth. It's the full package. Design, execution, story and excellent use of Disney-tradition park elements i.e. AA's and a sort of omnimover-type system.

I am going to EPCOT on 01APR06. Will be my first encounter with 'the wand'. At least I have had enough warning to properly brace myself for firsthand impact.

But the problems are a bit deeper than the disembodied hand up there. I picked up Birnbaum's 2006 guide just for kicks and read about SE. Yes, there is a smellitzer used in the fallen Rome scene but this OFFICIAL guidebook also indicates there's a musty-dusty scent of ages being purposefully pumped into the ascent tunnel to aid our mental transition to the pre-historic era. I had to re-read this three times to make sure I wasn't losing it. I know there's no such effect in that part of SE. Could this simply be an honest journalist error or is the writer for Birnbaum so on top of it, he/she is dropping a strategic (and ingenious) hint to the Walt Disney Co. of just how bad the upkeep is on this classic? Either way, the squeaky wheels, non-working effects, hand/wand, need to go now.

And that old rumor of turning this icon into something called 'Time Racers' is best served by remaining a rumor eternally.

Didn't mean to drag on like this. Excellent blog. Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

The hand must go. I agree. Maybe Lasseter will have some kind of influence, but I'm still not sure what his role as a kind of overseer of Imagineeringis going to be.

When you actually see the hand and wand, it is an impressively huge structure. That it in fact dwarfs SE in its 2D cartoon fashion is interesting, but it's also pathetic. SE should be THE structure at Epcot. Not the damn wand.

Lectrorail said...

Well, I saw the wand/hand earlier this month. Wow, what a beast. And what's the deal with the curly font used for 'Epcot'?

SE was in 'okay' condition. The audio didn't cut out, the AA's were 90% animated and the effects were working.

Ride system is very bumpy though. The large screen at the end/return to earth that shows news clips only worked half of the time.

Nonetheless, the story told in SE was not lost on my kids. They really got it and even asked for repeat rides when we went back to Epcot.

This one is definitely worth saving. Would be nice to see it done for Epcot's 25th........