The Story of Body Warsby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
The Walt Disney World Resort is a fluid environment when it comes to attractions, restaurants, entertainment and shops. Many favorites disappear suddenly, not always replaced by something comparable or better.
The closing of the Maelstrom in Norway pavilion of the World Showcase is just one of the most recent examples of an attraction that had entertained Disney guests for more than a decade that is now closed. Perhaps the new Frozen attraction will bring greater enjoyment to a new generation.
I miss attractions like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, World of Motion and Horizons, among others. I have fond memories of all of them and am very grateful that I got to enjoy them personally. I also mourn for the attractions that closed before I got a chance to sample them.
However, the Disney Company is a business, and I must assume that it was considered a good business decision at the time to replace these experiences.
I will admit that I do not miss an attraction that closed with the Wonders of Life pavilion on January 1, 2007.
While I eagerly visited Cranium Command several times before it closed (and doesn’t that attraction seem very similar in concept to the new 2015 Disney-Pixar animated feature, Inside Out?), even as an ardent Disney fan I couldn’t bring myself to take one last ride on that motion control simulator known as Body Wars.
“Science fiction and science fact merge with state-of-the-art simulator technology to propel you on a thrilling ride through the human body. Health and other boarding restrictions” was the description from the 1989 Epcot guidebook.
It was the first Epcot attraction to have restrictions to ride: at least 3 years old and at least 40 inches tall.
I think every time I rode that attraction, it made me ill and made the rest of the day at Walt Disney World slightly unpleasant because I was still a bit woozy for a period of time after the ride.
What was always puzzling to me was that I did not experience the same discomfort when I rode Star Tours, even though it is the same ride technology. Later, I will share some possibilities of why that happened.
The story behind Body Wars actually begins with Walt Disney himself.
Walt had a great fascination with miniatures. So when the Monsanto House of the Future faced its final year at Disneyland, he was intrigued when Dr. Charles Allan Thomas, who was a key researcher at the Monsanto Chemical Company, approached him with the idea of creating an attraction that would explore the miniature world of Inner Space.
Originally called "Micro-World," the attraction would carry guests in Omnimovers (which were then called Atomobiles) into the miniature world of a snowflake.
The storyline would have guests getting smaller and smaller during their journey until they could actually see the atoms of oxygen and hydrogen that make up water as the snowflake starts to melt. In order not to be lost forever, the guests would be quickly returned to normal size and the real world. As they returned to full size, they would see a huge moving eye in a microscope observing their transformation.
The final version of that attraction officially opened on January 27, 1967, and was called Adventure Thru Inner Space. It was one of the most popular rides at Disneyland until it closed almost 20 years later on September 2, 1985. (The space was needed for a new coming attraction: Star Tours.)
One of the most memorable films of the 1960s was Fantastic Voyage (1966), a combination of the Cold War spy films popular at the time and a clever science-fiction idea about exploring the inside of the human body. A team of specialists on board a miniaturized submarine are injected into the body of a defecting Russian scientist who has suffered a dangerous blood clot as a result of an attack by Russian spies. In addition to eliminating that threat, they also have to battle the body itself, in particular white blood cells trying to protect the body.
Fantastic Voyage was a big hit for 20th Century Fox and was highly praised for its special effects, earning two Oscars: one for Best Art Direction and one for Best Special Visual Effects. (Although some critics claimed the best visual effect was a young Raquel Welch in a skintight diving suit.)
It was the inspiration for the 1987 Joe Dante film comedy Innerspace with Martin Short and Dennis Quaid where a miniaturized pod is injected into a hapless bystander.
The Disney Imagineers were intrigued by this concept of exploring the inside of the human body in a miniaturized submarine vehicle. However, the crudeness of the then-current technology prevented Adventure Thru Inner Space from being more than a charming attraction where the styrofoam snowflakes often fell victim to guests poking at them, hitting them with a baseball bat and even shooting a BB gun at them.
That experience taught Imagineers that there needed to be sufficient space between the guests and the attraction scene.
Adventure Thru Inner Space did become a popular "date night" ride. The darkness surrounding the enclosed Omnimovers allowed the opportunity for guests to become more friendly.
When it finally closed, Disney Guest Communications received an irate letter from a couple who complained about the attraction closing: "How could you close that ride?" they wrote, "Our son was conceived on that ride!"
The advanced technology of the Star Tours attraction inspired the Imagineers to once again try developing an "inner space" attraction of a submarine-like probe journeying through a patient's body for the Wonders of Life pavilion at Epcot in 1989. Body Wars opened 22 months after Star Tours at Disneyland. By 1994, surveys showed it was the most popular ride at Epcot.
The storyline was packed with excitement about guests entering MET labs (Miniaturized Exploration Technologies) to participate in an experiment. Remember the sponsor for the pavilion was MET Life insurance, so it was a clever play on words.
The probe's captain, Jack Braddock (Tim Matheson from the film Animal House) was setting out on a fairly routine medical mission with a the crew of civilian observers accompanying him. The submarine (Bravo 229) and crew were miniaturized to the size of a single cell and beamed inside the human body to rendezvous with Dr. Cynthia Lair (Elizabeth Shue who starred in the Touchstone 1987 film Adventures in Babysitting), an immunologist who also has been miniaturized to study the body's response to a splinter lodged beneath the skin.
Unfortunately, the mission becomes a high-speed race against time when Dr. Lair is swept from the splinter’s site into the rush of the bloodstream.
Through the pounding chambers of the patient's heart and through the lungs' gale-force winds, the ship rides the body's current in an effort to rescue Dr. Lair. Even after she's safely on board, there are still problems when the ship loses power and must head toward the brain in search of emergency power to help them escape.
Every guest boarded Bravo 229 but, for the record, there were other submarines listed to create the illusion of a functioning fleet: Zulu 714, Sierra 657, Foxtrot 817, and Charlie 218.
The film was directed by Leonard "Mr. Spock" Nimoy, who had recently finished directing Touchstone's Three Men and a Baby (1987). With anatomical images produced by computer graphics and special effects film techniques, it was a remarkably realistic experience.
"Even though Body Wars is the shortest film I've ever directed, it presented a new set of challenges," said Nimoy at the time. "We had to take into account that the film will be shown inside a moving theater -- the simulator. So, in order to intensify the sense of motion, we built a set that actually moves, and rocked it during filming to match the pitching and rolling of the simulator."
Since the story of the attraction was that you were in the bloodstream, the Imagineers programmed in movement to mimic the beat of a pulse. That subtle additional movement that does not happen in the Star Tours attraction may have been the movement that unsettled me as well as others.
Some people contend that it was the gooey images of the inside of a human body that contributed to making people uneasy. It is common for some people to faint at the sight of blood and for even beginning medical students to get ill during a dissection or anatomy class. Apparently, other guests also had a similar reaction and the film was eventually shortened from its original length because of numerous guest complaints.
If the film slipped out of synchronization even slightly, that could also cause a feeling of uneasiness. Although there is debate as to the exact cause or causes of simulator sickness, a primary suspected cause is inconsistent information about body orientation and motion received by the different senses, known as the "cue conflict theory.” For example, the visual system may perceive that the body is moving rapidly, while the vestibular system perceives that the body is stationary. Inconsistent, non-natural information within a single sense has also been prominent among suggested causes.
The inside of the cabin was always monitored so if Disney saw a guest experiencing discomfort, they could immediately shut down the attraction. Hopefully, they would shut it down before it got to the point of “Code V,” the Disney term for a guest who has vomited.
Unfortunately, on May 16, 1995, a 4-year-old girl named Linda Elaine Baker from Texas slumped over in her seat three minutes into the ride. She was seated next to her single mother. The ride was immediately shut down and paramedics were called. Two nurses visiting from Germany were on the ride and tried to revive the girl using CPR. She died after being taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center. The ride was shut down for an investigation. It was determined that the girl had a pre-existing heart ailment and an autopsy revealed that it had not been aggravated or triggered by the movement of the ride.
One Disney secret was that if attendance was slow, they could "lock down" a probe so someone like an expectant mother could sit and enjoy the film without the jarring movement. With a total of four probes available, that was always a possibility.
Like Star Tours, each probe could hold 40 guests. The probes weighed approximately 20,000 pounds empty and roughly 27,000 pounds when loaded with guests. They were approximately 10-feet high, 17-feet wide and 26-feet long. The speed varies depending upon the axis of motion. In its starting position, it is approximately ten feet off the ground. This probe is a totally self-contained unit. It is almost like riding in a building. The air conditioning, film and sound are all individually controlled by each flight simulator. The ride itself is cued by the film. Each frame of film generates a time code pulse with an associated set of jack positions.
When the ride was being developed, an Imagineer watched the film repeatedly while moving a computer joystick to indicate movement and to synchronize the ride and the film. The 70 millimeter film ran at 24 frames per second.
The entrance and exit ramps were "photographed" by an infrared beam after each load/unload cycle. The beam acted as an intrusion system and could sense something as light as a piece of paper on the ramp so that the ride wouldn’t move until everything was clear.
The simulator (Rediffusion ATLAS-Advanced Technology Leisure Application Simulator) consisted of a cabin supported by six servo actuators. In some ways, it looks like the All Terrain Attack Transport (“Walkers”) in the Star Wars movies.
The actuators were powered hydraulically and driven automatically using electrical drive signals received from a free-standing motion-control cabinet. The actuators provided "six degrees of freedom movement" so the cabin could be moved in planes representing heave, surge, and sway, and in axes representing pitch, roll, and yaw independently, or in any combination.
By June 2001, MetLife had ended its sponsorship of the pavilion but it remained open until 2004, when it became seasonal. Closing on January 1, 2007 after the holiday season, Wonders of Life never reopened as the health pavilion.
With the 2007 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, the pavilion became an event facility.
Although there were rumors that the simulators would be shipped to Hong Kong Disneyland for their proposed Star Tours attraction, that never happened.
There are more credible reports that the simulators were stripped for parts for the Star Tours attraction at Disney Hollywood Studios, so it would be very difficult for Body Wars to once again be brought back to life and rush through the circulatory and respiratory systems and make me queasy.
As I mentioned, Body Wars was a popular attraction for many guests but I think just as many guests avoided it just as I know some guests avoid the Mission: Space attraction at Epcot because it is just too “rough.”
While I mourn for many attraction and entertainment experiences that have disappeared from Walt Disney World, Body Wars is not on my list.