Thursday, November 02, 2006

Rethinking Mission: Space

Especially for those of you who have accused me of "fuddy-duddiness" and incessant complaining about EPC-- er, Epcot, this will come as a total shock. I know it shocked me.

After my absolutely scathing indictment of Mission: Space several months ago, I ventured on board again during my recent vacation to Walt Disney World. Damn it all ... I kind of liked it.

Make no mistake: I absolutely hold to many of my original criticisms. The ride is absolutely not suitable for all guests -- in fact, I'd wager that the vast majority of Epcot visitors would leave the ride highly agitated. It is an intense experience with sensations that would best be described as disturbing to most non-teenagers and questionable for those who are younger. It is most decidedly not the kind of ride Walt Disney had in mind when he wanted to make a theme-park experience for the whole family, or what Imagineers had in mind when they created EPCOT Center.

And yet ...

I rode it four times in six days, and I learned how to enjoy it. It still left me queasy and slightly afraid for my own well-being. Even the "less intense" version is a borderline terrifying ordeal, one to which I would suggest most people to subject themselves.

But for those who can stomach it, there is some genuine awe on Mission: Space. I actually felt, for a few moments, that I was not at a theme park in Florida but on board a spacecraft headed to Mars. I felt the weightlessness, felt the extreme g-forces, felt the rush of excitement that comes with pushing the limits of what I ever thought I would allow myself to do.

(As a side note, it's a telling sign of the public's general rejection of this expensive addition that on a crowded Saturday afternoon the wait time for Mission: Space was listed as 10 minutes -- and in actuality was about three minutes -- while the 24-year-old Listen to the Land boat ride boasted a 35-minute-long queue.)

There's something almost addictive about Mission: Space, once you accept that it's a thrill ride through and through.

It's still very much the case that I learned nothing about space travel (and came away, after four rides, confused whether we're supposed to be going to Mars or, as the ride seems to indicate, just training for that). I'm not even sure if astronauts-in-training actually experience things like this. It left me with no sense of discovery or excitement other than a pure adrenaline rush.

At any other theme park, Mission: Space would be an extraordinary, noteworthy accomplishment, but at Epcot it remains just another example of trying to appeal to adrenaline-addicted teenagers.

Nonetheless ... I've softened just a tiny bit. Mission: Space is still all wrong for Epcot, but it is a heck of a ride.


Epcot82 said...

Actually, *I* was beginning to have trouble reading some of it! This theme seemed to help the blog read a bit more easily.

It should also demonstrate that it's possible to "refurbish" and "upgrade" without destroying basic concepts! ;-)

FoxxFur said...

I, personally, am not agitated at all by Mission: SPACE, this coming from somebody who cannot stomach Splash Mountain or the third drop in Space Mountain. G-Forces just seem to not be a problem area for me. I don't find it especially thrilling, either, but I enjoy it as kind of high camp: all this very serious buildup and dramatic music just to ride Dumbo From Hell, Gary Sinise delivering utterly preposterous dialouge straight faced, unnessicary and not thrilling "plot twists" like ice breaking and space rocks! Ever notice Sinise totally misses a button he's supposed to press in the preshow right before he cues the stock footage? Oh well. I think it's a hoot, just kind of lame, although certainly one hundred thousand times better than Test Track. Easy way to get dirty looks in the queue: loudly announce "We who are about to die, salute you!"

Scott said...

Preface: I am a bit of a fan of Apollo-age NASA because I think that is when NASA was at its best.

Astronauts used to (and may still) use a centrifuge to get used to the g-forces. You may remember in a space movie (perhaps Apollo 13?) that an astronaut was sitting in a chair on a large stick that spun in circles.

Astronauts also use simulators to practice the maneuvers they will perform in space. The simulation operators throw all kinds of situations at the astronauts to prepare the astronauts for anything that may happen while in space.

I don't know of any combination of the centrifuge and the simulator other than Mission Space, however. I believe, but can't confirm, that the two were always separated.

Anonymous said...

The big problem is the "space flight" doesn't take you anywhere. If a realistic, informative, education, future-focused, optimistic space station was there to explore AFTER the ride, to me it would be great, old-fashioned EPCOT-utainment. As it is, I always feel (literally) that it's all dressed up with no place to go.

Anonymous said...

Astronauts used to (and may still) use a centrifuge to get used to the g-forces. You may remember in a space movie (perhaps Apollo 13?) that an astronaut was sitting in a chair on a large stick that spun in circles.

Astronauts also use simulators to practice the maneuvers they will perform in space. The simulation operators throw all kinds of situations at the astronauts to prepare the astronauts for anything that may happen while in space.

I don't know of any combination of the centrifuge and the simulator other than Mission Space, however. I believe, but can't confirm, that the two were always separated.

Strangely enough I've had the same thoughts. At this point I really dont believe its the fact that it's a super expensive gravitron that makes people sick, it's the combination of the simulator screen with the gravitron effect that makes people's brains go "WTH? I cant function properly"

I've not been on the green version yet, but Im interested to see how that is.

Kevin Carter said...

I will absolutely not ever ride the original version of this ride. I prefer to remain standing the rest of the day and not lurched over a trashcan for my visit to Epcot. I know my limits. Star Tours makes me ill for about an hour, anything that spins me with a simulation technology is bound to send me to my knees, so up until the current refurb to the ride I was less than pleased with it in the parks.

Now that they have added a side that does not spin I find that I'm not as annoyed by the rides location in the parks. I haven't had a chance to get back to Epcot yet to try out this new version yet so I'm going to retain any glowing comments on the ride until then, but from what I've heard it's a great addition for people like me.

To this day I believe the original inclusion of this ride in the park was a mistake. Walt's dream was for a place where parents and children could have fun together and not be seperated because of intensity of ride and Mission Space absolutely through that ideal out the window. With the update however, maybe some of that has been fixed and I shall wait to ride that before I make my final decision on this ride.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to disagree that Mission: Space is wrong for Epcot. I don't know of any other park where it would be more correct, short of installing it at the visitor's center at the Kennedy Space Center. Yes, it can be disorienting (or so I'm told; I had no problem on it myself but I've been waiting to experience something like this for thirty years now, ever since I had a poster of Saturn over my bed where other kids in my neighborhood would have had Carl Yaztremski.)

It's a "ride", sure, but it also *let's you feel like an astronaut*. And not in a "hey, we're going to go battle aliens" way, but in a "this is your training mission" way. It's not a Magic Kingdom ride (Tomorrowland requires a higher injection of fantasy) and it's not appropriate for Disney/MGM either. I agree that the post-show needs work, and love the 'space station' idea. Disney deals in dreams, for all ages. I can't agree that Mission: Space is simply a thrill ride-- and I argue that nobody else could have done it except NASA themselves.

Matt Arnold said...

Back in my day, we didn't have fast rides at Epcot.

We used rocks.

And we liked it.

Liked it a lot.

Epcot82 said...

TC -- I do believe the ride is all wrong for Epcot, though the excellent suggestion to make the post-show more elaborate and themed to a space station (i.e., your ultimate destination on the mission) is an excellent one.

I might also add that they could consider adding a small theater where non-riders could watch the entire "mission" video just so everyone could at least get the same backstory before they explored the space station.

In the end, any changes like that are unlikely to happen, since Disney doesn't seem to want to invest any more money in *improving* Epcot attractions.

All that said ... it actually COULD have been an excellent addition to Disney-MGM Studios. How about an intense simulator-style ride themed to Apollo 13 (well, since that's a Universal movie, it probably wouldn't work!)? Or, although the movie was a huge bomb, to Mission to Mars -- and, in a nice bit of serendipity, the ride would have ended up with the same name as a former, classic attraction and been able to star Gary Sinise, who was in the de Palma movie! Heck, it could even have been themed to The Right Stuff or, with a little tweaking, to Superman (as a journey to Krypton).

There are many possible ways Mission: Space could have been made appropriate for another park ... but Epcot? Sorry, without a compelling story, without a sense of discovery, without a reason for being (other than that it's a fun ride), it just doesn't fit. Though that building sure is spectacular!

Anonymous said...

Mission space made be a tad dizzy, although I am usually fine with all these things.

What annoyed me though, is the lengths they now go to ensure they have disclaimed everything and made you really, really sure what you are entering.

It spoils the suprise.

I'd sooner come off dizzy, like some other attractions in Florida, than know exactly what is coming.

My $0.02 =)

Epcot82 said...

Disneynorth -- I like Soarin' as a ride ... I don't think it is a huge groundbreaker; it just takes some of the concepts introduced by Universal in "Back to the Future" and plusses them out a bit. It's another one of those troubling "fits," though -- does it really make a lot of sense at Epcot, particularly at The Land? And the whole California-in-Florida thing strikes me as odd. That said, it's a good ride, and I love that Disney improved the queue from DCA's cut-rate "hangar" concept. Lastly, it's nice to have a ride that everyone (well, almost everyone, as my mom is bothered by it, for some strange reason) can experience together ... that's what Disney theme parks should strive to do more often! It's a hoot for the kids, it's a rush for the teens and it's a marvel for adults.

Epcot82 said...

AndyJ, you're right ... but that's just another example of lawyers and fear of lawsuits taking over our society! Heck, I can't even get into my own car without reading at least three warnings that I could die from driving. Our "warning-happy" culture not only ruins the sense of fun and excitement on theme-park rides (the Expedition Everest warnings even reveal the big "plot twist" that it goes backward!), but really underscores our "least common demoninator" mentality -- that is, if the least intelligent can be the most offended, we need to cater to them, rather than the vast majority of smart, capable, savvy people.

Captain Schnemo said...

The only reason it doesn't fit into Tomorrowland any more is that they removed the futuristic element from Tomorrowland. The ancestral home of Mission to Mars would be perfect for a ride like this.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with TC. I love Mission:Space, though I can also see room for improvement. Most notably the exit halls need something, it feels like a big wharehouse at the moment.

I like to compare M:S to the old hydrolators at living seas, so many kids (and parents!) thought that the hydrolators went down 500 feet into the ground because they just simply couldn't figure out how it could be fake. I have heard comments from people riding M:S that are similar to this. Some kids ask their parents if they are in space and others wonder how they left Epcot so fast. So the sense of wonder is there.

The thrill was a needed one. From a business standpoint (and we know how much Disney fans hate business people and lawyers) Epcot needed to attract people away from Universal and build something exciting in Epcot. Talking to Imagineers in the 4 or 5 months before M:S opened, they were hyping this ride like it was the return of Walt himself. They figured that the uniqueness of the experience and the accuracy claimed by actual astronauts would make M:S an instant classic. No one hyped the story or themeing. What was funny, was that at the same time, Everest was being built and they were hyping that ride for it's themeing and even took me through the details of the ride for a few hours until they actually told me that the ride was a roller coaster. I was convinced instantly that M:S was a gamble.

I don't see how M:S could be changed in a way that allows the ride vehicles to be anything other than a simulator becuase you see the entire mechanism as you board, much like Soarin. So any hope of convincing people, especially kids that this is a real spaceship might go by the wayside unless they change the timing of the load/unload so that the room is completely pitch black.

I've never experienced anything like M:S. I couldn't believe it when I first rode it, it didnt' make me sick but left me a bit dizzy for a few hours. It is a very intense ride and I think that makes it more "edgy" than RnR ever was. M:S is "cool" and definitely plays to teenagers and people who want an intense thrill. It is not a fantasy world that stimulates your imagination, but it instills a sense of wonder and excitement that is literally hard to beat. I appreciate Disney's attempt to thrill me.