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Just A Day Away...














A column with two subjects today: We begin with a look at the new post-show exhibits for Spaceship Earth at Epcot, and then we have an update for you on the Give Kids the World fundraising campaign. - Kevin

Just A Day Away...

Project Tomorrow, the new post-show by sponsor Siemens, opened this week at Epcot's Spaceship Earth. I wasn't expecting much; maybe a corporate nod or two. Anything, I thought, would be better than the boarded up empty space which had been here since AT&T moved out. But I was pleasantly surprised. This new Siemens area is classy, futuristic, moderately fun, and done in a tasteful, Epcot-kind of way.

Spaceship Earth

The most noticeable feature is the giant globe (actually, only three-quarters of a globe) in the center of the room. Across this giant project screen flits images of the future, silhouettes of children, and brief messages.

Spaceship Earth

It's also the only place where Siemens has a noticeable advertisement for their company, and it's pretty discreet. I approve.

Spaceship Earth

This globe is also home to a message that Spaceship Earth (the ride) will be updated soon.

Spaceship Earth

Flanking the globe are two long, plushy upholstered benches, ideal for resting and awaiting party members who went on the ride (or, I suppose, for sleeping). It's nicely air-conditioned in here, just in time for the blast of hot furnace air we call Floridian summer, so it's sure to be a draw on this basis alone.

Spaceship Earth

But there's more to do here. So far, there are two kinds of interactive experiences (OK, I guess you could call them games), each with multiple stations so various people can play. Off to the west side is the driving game "Super Driver." In some ways, this is a typical driving simulator, only with graphics less advanced than could have been found four years ago in arcades.

What's different is that every so often, drivers are given a chance to "let the car take over" by pushing the action button. The heads-up display, a nifty 3D effect, lets you know when it's a possibility. Examples include sending a signal to make all stoplights green, turning on x-ray vision to see through fog, enabling snow tires to grip the road, turning on auto-steering to find a route past obstacles, and triggering a super jump straight out of the 80s show Knight Rider.

Spaceship Earth

These features are what's "in it" for Siemens, with the obvious implication that this futuristic company is going to be behind such changes to our cars in the future. There's not much in the way of an advertisement for the company, so subtle is it, but I liked the game. It was a good balance of entertainment and actually having a point about futurism, without feeling like work or "education." The General Motors display at Test Track could learn a thing or two from this exhibit by Siemens.

Across the way, the other functional display is equally entertaining: it's a video game where players pick up pieces of bones to form a skeleton (and, disturbingly, major organs too) and drop them like a giant claw game onto the operating table. When positioned just right, the pieces fall into place and click together. If not, they drop through the table and you have to try again. All the while, bones and organs rotate around in the background.

Spaceship Earth

The point Siemens is making is that someday doctors will perform surgeries remotely, but no player is really thinking about this; they are just playing the engrossing game. What makes it even more immersive is the great vocal acting, apparently supplied by Wallace Shawn (you know, the voice of the T. Rex in the Toy Story movies and Vizzini in The Princess Bride... inconceivable!) As the voice of the skeleton, he makes puns and jokes every time you pick up an article and especially mocks you when you fail to position it correctly. Nearby, a placeholder announces that the "check up of the future" will inhabit that spot soon.

Spaceship Earth

Behind the globe, another large placeholder heralds the coming of the city of the future.

Spaceship Earth

I didn't mind these temporary signs at all they are done at great expense, fit right in, and their presence allows the rest of the exhibit to open now, months before the entire thing is "completed."

I can only find one point of criticism: the skeleton game uses a 3D display, which enables the carnival claw game to work in the first place, but necessitates the use of the yellow 3D glasses. I saw more than one person simply place his used glasses back in the trays for other people to pick up yuck! There is a deposit receptacle for the glasses on the opposite side, but it's fairly hidden, so something needs to be done about that.

Spaceship Earth

Also, the temptation to just steal the glasses is too big; we saw a few people walking around outside with them. Perhaps they could solve both problems by placing the trashcan-like eyeglass return receptacles at the exit to the exhibit, just right there in the walkway like when you leave Honey I Shrunk the Audience?

Spaceship Earth

On the whole, this exhibit just "feels" like Epcot, and restores some futurism to the almost mis-named Future World. Best of all, the exhibit is "on theme" about Spaceship Earth. All around the circular building are screens, almost Circle-Vision like, that show stars drifting through. It takes a moment for the message to sink in: that huge globe in the middle of the room is the earth, after all, and this is a representation of "spaceship earth" moving through the cosmos.

It's a fitting tribute to the end of Spaceship Earth, the ride, and I can only hope Epcot continues in this vein. That Epcot's chief executive, Brad Rex, just moved on from Disney is possibly a portent of good things to come.

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2007 Kevin Yee

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