Well... I finally had my chance to board the Spaceship and see what the big fuzz is all about. I actually rode twice.
So first... let me warn you about the spoilers.. as there will be many from this point on. So skip if you do not want to know ahead of time what's in store for you next time you go visit EPCOT Center.
I was able to ride at around 5:35pm today, and again at about 6:15pm after the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, which I found to suck this year... mostly because of all the talking those hyperactive hosts do thru the whole presentation. Call it "HSM does Xmas" but without Zac. So skip this if you visit EPCOT Center.
As for Spaceship Earth... let's start from the beginning...just like the ride does..
I do like the small cosmetic changes they have done to the outside area of SSE. I like the new palm trees that light up in raimbow pride colors at night with the new digital light system, very cool. I like the simple elegance of the new SSE signs on either side of the walkway leading into the attraction. I like the newly installed warning signs with the acrylic edges. Of course, these will need cleaning often and I hope WDW's custodials are up to this challenge. Finally, I like the newly planted gardens with the accent lighting, with it's escalated look as we approach the boarding area. One thing I wish had been changed was the mural at the front door, which has been there since day 1 in 1982. The mural is adecuate with the new take in the storyline but artistically it does contain several perspective mistakes that makes it awkward to look at (like the round satellite dish that really isn't round due to poor painting talent?) I didn't like it in 82, and still do not care for it today. Another aspect I do not care for is the new CM costumes. They still have that cold Gap feel to them, and I think Disney couture should be more impressive and detailed than this. Oh well.. at least those kids won't look nor feel out of place when they go into our public Walmarts and Winn Dixies in those costumes after they get off work.
Upon reaching the boarding platform, the place looked a bit grayer... maybe because the lighting has been changed or the lighting-like light fixtures on the wall were turned off (permanently?) and this whole area felt as bland as any nightclub ever operated at Universal Citywalk. The CM pointed me to my seat, and I was all set for blast off. Of course, the new onboard flat TV monitors are the rage here.. (so Business Class chic) and they did an excellent job of incorporating these TVs into the original look of the vehicles.. as opposed to when they installed the sound system in the old Space Mountain vehicles in CA. However, I noticed several vehicles behind and in front of me that were cordonned off because those ultra cool TVs were inop. Hmmm.. Also, seems very unfuturistic that a CM has to close the vehicle doors *manually*. Whatever happened to that magical touch Disney so much proclaims? Well, It should be a part of every aspect of the show, this one included. They could use the Ghost Host here doing lap bar duties.
Once settled into my vehicle.. the obligatory warning video can be enjoyed overhead, brough to us by Disney Legal Dept. The new TV location is an improvement since these TVs use to be intrusive when they were located in the ascent tunnel. However, why not play the warning video on the TV monitor INSIDE the vehicle instead? Seemed redundant to me, and more so since the graphics on the onboard TV are so... primitive in look. Oh I forgot, we are going back to the age of the Dinos... so I guess those graphics are OK then.
We start our journey, and we are directed to a monitor on our overhead right-hand side of the vehicle, where we can see ourselves and our photo is taken. Question here... What is the point of the photo? I never got to see my photo later during the ride at any time.. so what's the purpose of the photo? Anyone? Bueller?
The tunnel as we go up, is surrounded by a black curtain with fiber optic points of light on it. I sure hope this is just a temporary measure because it looked terrible. Overhead at the top of the tunnel, they still have those tacky nebula-like projection... and I wish that one effect had been retired.
Now on to the good stuff... The old distorded images of cavemen have mercifully given way to a more impressive CGI film of some cavemen taunting a poor nice prehistoric pachiderm who just wants to play with them. Those men are bullies and they deserve to be fried and eaten off a kebob. But the film is an improvement over the very primitive projection effects that used to populate this scene, which I never liked since 82.
From this point on... the ride does shine in a very positive way. I was quite impressed with the new AAs that now populate the ride. The new AA costumes are elegant (making the CMs at the boarding platform look even more drab). Certain stand out AA performances include... the Greek teacher, the Egyptian king, the talking caveman, the renaissance man sitting on the steps, and the phoenixians (sp?) on their rocking ships. Those ships used to rock much slower before and now, well.. the surf is up and so is the quality on these scenes. To be honest with you, I was having a hard time identifying the old AAs from the new ones.. because even those AAs that appeared to be the old ones..seemed to move much fluidly and quickly now. The new scenes found at the top of the ride.. the computer room with chic in go-go boots, the 60s family watching the astronauts walking on the moon, and even the unsightly garage scene.. are all welcomed additions. Was that a Pinto I saw parked in there? Urgh! Much improved is the tunnel of lights that leads to the outer space scene, which has been replaced now with cool projections of computer language images over a new canopy.... Even the view of Earth from "space" seems much clearer and impressive.. maybe because the Earth seems bigger now as opposed to what it was before? I still miss the satellite prop that used to hover overhead in that area and I wished it had been re-installed. Also, the new music playing as we go into space is quite beautiful and haunting... in an "Edward Scissorhand" kind of way. However, the music is badly overshadowed by the unnecesary "remain seated" warning as vehicles beging to rotate. Thanks again Disney Legal..
Up to this point, I was thoroughtly delighted by the changes I saw. The new fluid-movement AAs, the new re-positioning of some props and AAs, the small little changes like the cavemen drawings in the cave coming to animated life, the costuming...and how well all AAs, old and new, appear to be in great sync with the audio effects. KUDOS!
Some things I didn't care much up to this point were things that bothered me since 82 and didn't get corrected here. Too many black walls on either side of the vehicles, opposite the sets. Only one scene was fixed to some degree.. the greek scene, where we see what appears to be the Partenon (sp?) in the distance..in a newly created mural. But areas like..the printing press scene, where we are given the chance to stare way too long to the plain black wall on the right side of the vehicle. It was unfortunate that someone left a step ladder in plain view of guests in the small hallway leading to the exit across from the printing press scene. It didn't go unnoticed. I found the Newspaper selling boy's positioning to be odd as best. Facing away from us, in the back side of the printing press room...shouting "extra! extra!".. to the black wall in the background. Hmmm..
I also do not care much for the lighting systems above us being so exposed, nor do I like how we can see the track and wheel mechanisms during some turns as we travel around. Imagineering could do better with these technical distractions, and they did just that when they opened the Great Movie Ride at MGM in 89. So why not here? and especailly now in the 21st century?
Now, let's move on to the final decent back to Earth... Up to this point, it has been a most glorious trip in history, and we are about to start our return down to Earth... As we start decending, our vehicles travel thru a mase of lights that somewhat mirror the graphics we now see on our onboard TVs. AS you enter the maze of lights, it's a mesmerizing feeling, and you feel like you are being sucked into this...universe of dots. I *loved* this simple effect if only for the clautrophobic feel it creates. Then those onboard TV monitors take over and go into survey mode...asking questions that I still am not sure how they relate to what the ride has been about to this point...or is this Seimens taking a survey about what they should concentrate on for future projects? I kept popping for the obligatory questions we are so used to from Disney... like "are you staying on property?" or "How much income do you make before taxes?"... Hmmm...
Let me explain what I thought of the big finale in the least offensive 4-letter word I can come up with: LAME.
Yes, you answer some questions about yourself and how you would like things to be in the future, then the TV takes over and presents a very chessy retro-style video of what life may have in store for you, based on your answers. Mind you.. I was spying what other guests were doing and I did notice my video did not resemble theirs.. and even some of the questions in my 2nd trip were different than those in my 1st ride; ditto for the two videos I got. So I wonder how many possibilities there are in regards to questions and video scenarios of the future.
SO...How do I feel about this new interactive ending...? Hmmm... I am torn here. I have read others' opinions on this and was totally prepared to hate it. But I actually thought the interactive aspect was fun, and designed with good intentions of making the ride "fun" and "hip" to appeal to the video game loving kids that populate these parks now a days. But the video is after all, a cheap attempt to downplay what could have been a big beautiful vision of tomorrow on real 3D sets that would tell that story in a much more entertaining way, even if that vision was obsolete by this time next year... But, As it is now, the TV interaction and cheesy video finale appears to be more of a distraction away from the fact that, besides being engulfed by a cheap looking fiber optic curtain, there is nothing else there to look at as we reach ground level. I would have welcomed the great wall of EPCOT along the side of the track..whatever! as long as we had something to entertain us more than a silly comical view of the future as predicted by the MTV generation. I guess that's the price we pay for seeing the horrible Mickey wand finally off SSE... the budgets were only so much and a choice had to be made. I am glad the wand is gone and can live with the cheesy video for some time to come.
So yes, this ending could have been so much more, but it falls flat (another 4-letter word!). Furthermore, I must ask again... what happened to the picture they took of us as we started the ride? I pray the answer to that question will be revealed once february comes around. In fact, the whole look of the ascend and descend tunnels is that of an incomplete one. The one on the descent in particular looks awfully unfinished. Add to that the glare from the onboard TV monitors and you can even see the sprinklers suspended above the ride corridor thru the faintly filed of fiber optic lights.. I can not imagine this portion of the ride being finished as some have claimed the ride really is. If it is indeed finished, then we can safely proclaim "Disney dropped the Ball" with this ending to the ride.
Also, I wish the quality of the videos had been of much better animation...especially with Pixar's groundbreaking CGI films, and Disney's legendary classic animation as tools.. again, the video has the same feel and quality of any garbage we can watch on Cartoon Network. So, what did the video teach me about my future? I learned we will all be digging 60s fashions again.
Finally... Ms Judi Dench. She's british and she speaks the language like Queen Elizabeth. Her narration is adecuate but a bit too fast. Can't blame her on that since her script appears to pack a lot of info that needs to get our in under 14 mins. Still, she comes across a bit too hurried, but it's not totally awful reading either. I can get used to her style and I kinda like having a female voice leading us thru the attraction, (and at the White House as well). Jeremy Irons was too starshy for me so I am glad he's retired. Honestly.. no narration has been as great as the original one from 82. But whatever.
With all of this said and done..my rating for SSE as it stands right now is...(drum roll)... B- rating. If further changes are made from now until February 2008, I will try to update you here on this thread. In the meantime.. go ride the Ball and have a ball of a time.