Alita: Battle Angel won’t be in theaters until February 14. However, some cities are getting a taste of the upcoming manga adaptation early, thanks to a new interactive experience. Alita: Battle Angel – Passport to Iron City opens on January 23 in Los Angeles, with an installation in New York City following on January 25 and Austin on January 29.
Interactive experiences tied to movies are nothing new, whether it’s the opening of Neibolt haunted house to promote the horror movie It or the Ready Player One event that sent visitors into the OASIS. After having the opportunity to try out the LA experience ahead of its opening, though, I can say with confidence that Passport to Iron City is unlike just about anything else.
The experience is a collaboration between iam8bit and TSG Entertainment, along with 20th Century Fox and Lightstorm Entertainment, that transports users from their world to Iron City, the cyberpunk city of the future in which the film is set. And right from the start, as writer and producer James Cameron explains, the entire 12,000 square foot space works hard to immerse you in the world of the film, starting with a stop at the Kansas Bar, which has been meticulously recreated to resemble the actual set used in production.
The bar actually serves wine and beer–including city-specific brews that are exclusive to the experience–for a fee. While the drinks, which include non-alcoholic options, aren’t free, they do help in setting the tone that Kansas is an in-world pub you’re free to hang out in. Like Iron City itself, Kansas is filled with actors playing characters and hints in the decor that could be very useful upon setting foot in Iron City, the proverbial “game board” of the experience, which is filled with elaborate sets and characters that are fun to interact with and filled with useful clues if you get them talking.
Once you’re in Iron City, that’s where the fun begins. Upon arrival, you’re divided into teams that are competing to collect the most credits. The team that stands tall at the end–in the preview, it was my team–walks away with a special coin created for Passport to Iron City, which claims to be worth 1,000 credits.
How do you win credits, though? Great question.
The bulk of Passport to Iron City involves a series of team-based activities and scavenger hunts, each of which is worth a specified number of credits. They range from something as simple as piecing together a puzzle containing propaganda critical of the Factory–the in-world government–to digging through a tech scrapyard to find the highest-value items in an activity that includes some elements of an escape room.
What makes Passport to Iron City work, in this regard, is the challenges are all different enough that they appeal to different strengths. While one of the activities is based on how good your sense of smell is, another finds you tracking criminals on the loose in Iron City with the Factory’s surveillance equipment.
Of course, you could just wander around the experience, admiring what’s been built. Good luck with that, though, as Passport to Iron City has figured out how to turn the entire thing into a very competitive affair. Near the entrance of the experience is a scoreboard, which keeps real-time track of the credits earned by each team. I definitely didn’t expect to find myself rushing around the play area trying to solve riddles and decipher words in other languages. After realizing that my team’s score depended on it, though, it was hard not to get wrapped up in what was happening. Even as the experience came to a close with one final challenge involving all teams, everyone was shouting at and cheering on a game of motorball–Iron City’s favorite pastime–as if we were watching a real sporting event unfold.
That all said, even those with no knowledge of Alita: Battle Angel–the movie or the manga it’s based on–aren’t going to be left out of the action. I know practically nothing about the franchise, but managed to easily figure out enough to operate within the experience. Still, fans of Alita will be able to pick up on small details scattered throughout the experience and may even have a bit of a leg-up in some of the challenges.
It’s simply a fun and engaging experience set that draws you further into the world of the movie. I had very little interest in the film before visiting Passport to Iron City. Now I feel like I know the world a bit better and am curious to see how it unfolds on the big screen, even if I’m still unclear about how all of the cyborgs fit in.
What’s more, I want to see other films take this approach to promotions. Yes, trailers and TV spots are still a useful tactic for many films, but as major blockbusters dive deeper and deeper into their world-building, why not take the audience into that world and let them explore pieces of it on their own?
Alita: Battle Angel – Passport to Iron City opens in Los Angeles on January 23, with New York and Austin locations following soon thereafter, with no announced end date. You can find out far more information and purchase tickets to the experience on the official website.
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Author: Chris E. Hayner