After a brief preview in late 1994, and subsequent changes as a result, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter officially opened its doors to Magic Kingdom guests in June 1995. It was unlike anything Disney had tried before at their parks. Far darker in nature, it featured one of the most advanced animatronics the parks had seen to date, though it relied heavily on effects experienced in complete darkness.
Guests entered the attraction by way of two individual pre-shows:
The first show took place in a waiting room that held enough guests to fill the attraction’s main theater. Displayed on overhead monitors, guests were introduced to “X-S Tech” via small commercials for the company whose corporate philosophy was “If something can’t be done with X-S, then it shouldn’t be done at all.”
The second show, hosted by “SIR” (Simulated Intelligence Robot), an X-S Robot voiced by Tim Curry, demonstrated X-S Tech’s teleportation technology with the help of an alien named Skippy. Skippy was teleported from one containment tube to another, though he appeared disoriented and burnt after the experiment.
After the pre-shows, guests entered a circular room of seating very similar to that of the attraction’s predecessors. Instead of a small display screen in the center of the room’s floor, however, guests saw a large, empty teleportation tube like the one they had been introduced to by SIR. After finding a seat, a shoulder restraint lowered onto each guest as the lighting is dimmed. Guests are then introduced to a few X-S employees who explain that one lucky guest is going to be teleported out of the chamber to another point in the galaxy. In a rush of inspiration, however, the plans change and instead an X-S Tech employee will be teleported to Earth. In order to do this, however, the signal for the teleportation device must be re-routed through a potentially dangerous and unknown point in the universe. Of course, it’s decided to continue anyway.
As the teleportation process completes, it’s suddenly very obvious that something has gone wrong. Instead of the employee, a huge winged creature can be seen in the teleportation tube. The containment system is failing and amidst the flashing lights and smoke, a crash can be heard as the creature escapes, leaving a shattered and empty tube. The power fails and guests are thrust into complete darkness as they hear a maintenance worker attacked and feel the alien jumping around the room via their shoulders. As the employees work to fix the tube and contain the alien, you feel a hot breath on your neck and the low growl of the creature behind you. Soon, the X-S Technicians are able to fix the tube and lure the creature back inside where he is contained and presumably destroyed.
Despite its unequaled special effects and cult following, after 8 years of operation and very mixed reviews, Alien Encounter was shut down in late 2003. Though the official reasons for the shutdown range from operating costs to maintenance problems, the general assumption is that the attraction was simply too scary for the Magic Kingdom’s typically younger guests and resulted in many complaints. Just over a year later the attraction re-opened as Stitch’s Great Escape and featured many of the same technological aspects of Alien Encounter. The second preshow animatronics were completely reused with only a new story line, new voice talents and some “cuter” costuming. Inside the attraction itself was much the same though now it is Stitch who is teleported into the chamber and runs amuck.
References to X-S Tech were made in the extremely short-lived Tomorrowland attraction “Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration” as well as a game at Disney Quest. Additionally, some of the props from Alien Encounter can be seen in the new Stitch version of the attraction.