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A rather Spacey Monday Mélange

A rather Spacey Monday Mélange

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Every decent Disney dweeb out there can probably tell you the story. About how -- when WED was struggling to get a handle on how to do "Spaceship Earth" (I.E. The thesis attraction for EPCOT Center) -- the Imagineers finally turned to Ray Bradbury. The author of such beloved books at "Dandelion Wine," "The Illustrated Man" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes." And it was Ray who finally broke the back of all this attraction's story problems.

You see, Ray (Like the Old Mousetro himself, Walt Disney) had the ability to dream big. To take a far-reaching concept like:

"Man and his Spaceship Earth"

Theme Show
Epcot Center Future World

Concept by Ray Bradbury
July 22, 1977

And then whittle it down to workable size. Using his gift of language to paint a picture that was so vivid, so vibrant ... After reading this author's concept for Epcot's signature attraction, you'd want to immediately fly down to Orlando and go ride this thing right now!

Mind you, the version of "Spaceship Earth" that Bradbury wanted to build didn't actually get built. Why for? Because WED wasn't working with an infinite budget. And some of the ideas that Ray proposed for this Future World show would have really cost big bucks. Not to mention being somewhat impractical.

What am I talking about? Here, take a gander at Act One of "Man and his Spaceship Earth." What Ray liked to call the attraction's "Descent into the Past."

As the audience enters the Domed Theater, vague faces float in and out of mists and vapors, coming clear then dissolving into others.

We hear the voices of KENNEDY dedicating us to SPACE TRAVEL. MARTIN LUTHER KING speaking of his dream. TRUMAN giving them Hell. ROOSEVELT speaking of the Day that will live in infamy ...

Mingled with other voices, traveling us slowly back in time, we hear:

CHURCHILL speaking of Blood, Sweat and Tears.
HITLER shouting to his mobs.
MAHATMA GHANDI -- CHARLES LINDBERG --
WOODROW WILSON -- TEDDY ROOSEVELT --

Then shifting from real voices, swiftly we move back to hear the simulated words of:

QUEEN VICTORIA
LINCOLN
NAPOLEON being crowned Emperor
COLUMBUS telling his sailors to "Sail on ..."
The crowds crying HAIL CAESAR!

More swiftly and more swiftly, names, sounds, bells, impulses of light, as suns and moons glide over, stars wheel.

The voices and sounds are multitudinous as if made of all the reverberations and thunders of the past. Gradually, all the voices of time and history blend into a single voice, like a wave on the shore. It is the voice of UNIVERSAL MAN -- asking us to speculate on our past.

VOICE:

What are we?
Where did we come from and where go?
What is our past that lies beneath us like the dust?

Let us sink into the past, that dust, to find ---
Ourselves!
Let us bury ourselves like the Five Billion Year Locust
and then burst forth with wings -
to plan tomorrow's noon!

Now! Suns reverse! All moons, rephase!

As they listen to Universal Man speak, the audience becomes involved in a physical experience that seems to sink them into layers of the past.

The cities begin to unbuild themselves and we see in these sculpted pieces of antiquity the historical remnants of man through the ages.

VOICE:

We are all of Mankind that ever existed.
All of Time that ever was.
All of the Dreams and Myths that fill the heavens.
All of the Dust from which we are formed.

The Rhodes Colossus dismantles itself. The Roman Forum, with its pillars, falls, stone by stone. We see the Sphinx return to the dust from which it came. We glide through layers of Angkor-Vat, see Incan sculptures and Mayan rocks, chisled with blunt suns, uncarve themselves, until at last the ancient caves surround us.

The first leg of our journey terminates at the beginning of time. We sit in darkness.

Isn't that some amazing writing? I just love how even Bradbury's prose has this element of poetry to it.

But -- the same time -- you can see why the Imagineers used just Ray's basic premise here as their leaping-off point. I mean, can you imagine trying to physically duplicate what Bradbury wrote here? What ride system would ever allow you to have " ... a physical experience that seems to sink (WDW visitors) into layers of the past."

That was the other problem with Ray's take on "Man and his Spaceship Earth." The way he saw this EPCOT attraction playing out:

The audience will, of course, load in the Present.
They will then descend into the Past.
They will move along into prehistoric, ancient, medieval, and then modern times.
And in the finale, they will be summoned, called, raised up beyond into the Future.

You understand the problem, right? Were the Imagineers to have followed Bradbury's script to the letter, that would have meant digging this rather large hole under Spaceship Earth to create a space where all of the show's sequences that were set in the past could be staged. And -- given Central Florida's high water table -- that just wasn't going to happen.

And yet ... I can't help but think how much more emotionally moving "Spaceship Earth" would have been if the Wizards of WED had actually found a way to duplicate that sensation. That -- as you went to enter the attraction's scenes that were set in the Future -- you physically rose up in the show building. Ascending to a better time, a better place.

Mind you, I'd love to put all of Bradbury's elegant script for "Man and his Spaceship Earth" up on the Web. But -- to be honest -- that wouldn't be fair to Ray. This concept is his property, not mine.

More to the point, I have concerns that -- were I to put this entire treatment up on the Internet -- that Disney's legal department would immediately descend upon me and take away my house.

But -- that said -- how's about we press our luck a just bit further? I've already shown you all of Act I. So how's about I let you read Act II, "Journey Out of the Past" ?

As you'll recall, as Act I ended, we were sitting in darkness. After a moment, we again hear the Voice of Universal Man:

VOICE:

Where are we now?
In the time before all Time.
In the night that is endless night.
In the unlit waiting Dawn.
Where vast things stir and breath.

Out of the blackness comes an explosion of color, light and sound. The Great Andromeda Nebula spirals by, tossing out new suns and planets. The Horsehead Nebula spins up. The Orion Nebula goes over and around, in heartbeats of Universal push and shove.

And as we move we see the fireball comet nearest us cool down into a sphere and form before our eyes. Its fires fill our vision. It is ... EARTH!

The seas pull back and the walls of Earth rear up. Shadows form and move along the walls, and suddenly become -- the DINOSAURS. We move now in a parade of beasts, on left and right, led by a flight of Pterodactyls overhead. These, with other flying reptiles, surge toward the blind future. Everywhere, the beasts who shared the Earth long before man, move on the long march into time.

The dinosaurs fall ... Great tonnages of nightmare flesh knock together ... concussions of vapor, water, fire, from which rise shadows, shapes, simian evolutions. Half-dreamed-on preconcepts of ape and man. No sooner seen, they run to hide in grass -- in trees -- in caves.

Isn't this just terrific writing? Not the usual predestrian crud that you find here at JHM. Bradbury's an absolute master when it comes to working with words. He just paints these pictures with his prose that really stoke the fires of your imagination.

That's actually why I'm putting these excerpts up on JHM. For almost 30 years now, Ray Bradbury's "Man and his Spaceship Earth" concept -- with all its beautiful writing -- has been locked away in a drawer at Walt Disney Imagineering. And writing this good isn't meant to be locked away. It should be shared with the public.

Which is why I'm hoping that -- by calling attention to this particular piece of material -- that some enterprising soul will think to fold this intriguing item into the very next Ray Bradbury anthology. So that it won't be just the occassional Imagineer who stumbles upon the right file drawer who then gets to savour the "Man and his Spaceship Earth" concept paper.

Still hungry for more? Okay. Just one more little quick taste of the attraction's Act III, "Man -- His Struggle to Survive Begins."

A flash of lightning! A mighty roll of thunder! A great volcanic eruption! In the fiery light we see revealed a half-naked ape/man ... approaching a tree set afire by the flowing lava. Cautiously he touches a burning branch -- holds it high with awe and surprise -- carries it off into the black darkness of night.

Man, that's good writing.

Anyway ... If you're now feeling somewhat more enlightened & informed than you were at the start of this dreary Monday morning ... Well, don't thank me. Thank Ray Bradbury. Arguably one of America's greatest living authors.

Here's hoping that someday soon that it's not just fat bearded Disney dweebs with very generous friends who get to read the complete concept for Ray's version of "Man and his Spaceship Earth." But -- rather -- it's everyone who gets a chance to savour this extremely poetic & optimistic take on the history of man.

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