'Alita: Battle Angel' Passport to Iron City Lets You Step Inside the Movie
“Doctor, I don’t think he’s going to make it!” screamed a filthy nurse living in Iron City, 500 years in the future. He was talking about me as I frantically scrambled to put 30 oddly-shaped jacks into various plugs in 30 seconds. The task was near impossible, and I managed just over twenty of them. “Shame!” the nurse said, shaking his head sadly as he glanced at my fat, short fingers. “Should’ve put you on something else.”
I really let Team Yellow down at that point during the preview for Passport to Iron City, a new pop up experience in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that allows anyone to enter the retrofuturistic world of Alita: Battle Angel. Participants compete in a timed, team-based immersive experience that feels like a cross between an escape room and a top-tier interactive exhibit you might find at Universal Studios or Disney.
An unassuming building near the high-trafficked Bedford Avenue subway stop houses the 12,000-square foot market, which feels like it’s been plucked straight out of the Alita: Battle Angel cinematic universe based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga series.
Each team attempts various tasks and puzzles to earn credits, actively competing against other teams via a leaderboard. Some challenges require teamwork, others straightforward puzzle-solving skills, and a few even require acute senses.
I made up for my poor dexterity in the marketplace, where I was able to identify various edible goods inside bags using only touch and the contents of strange vials using only smell. (How do I know exactly what dried coconut nibs feel like? Why can I instantly recognize the scent of black peppermint extract?)
“We brought Iron City to life as a 12,000-square-foot, high-tech, living board game where you are one of the game pieces,” James Cameron says in a video introducing visitors to the experience.
Opening in New York, Los Angeles, and Austin throughout the rest of January, Passport to Iron City is a collaboration between 20th Century Fox, iam8bit, and the Seelig Group to create a new way for anyone to experience a world we’d usually only get to see in movies.
Immersion experiences are all the rage these days, especially in New York City where the chic McKittrick Hotel plays host to experiences like Sleep No More and, in October 2018, the Unknown 9 Experience. But “total immersion” isn’t quite what Passport to Iron City is going for.
“The experiences are very much so about tactile sensibilities,” says Jon M. Gibson, founder of iam8bit and chief overseer of the project. “This is, at its foundation, meant to make people smile.”
Gibson also revealed that the same production and set designers that worked on Alita: Battle Angel helped design these interactive experiences as well.
Children and adults alike would find Passport to Iron City entertaining, especially because the various game elements were designed by video game designer Erich Meyr, who also currently works for Squanch Games.
Everyone enters the experience through the Kansas, a bar featured in the movie that’s recreated at each of the three locations. Unlike the film sets, which are only made to look real enough for production, every one of these is a fully functioning bar with various drinks, including beer and wine. After learning more about the experience and mingling with your team, participants are ushered into the marketplace where they have a limited amount of time to earn as many credits as possible.
One booth gives your team only a few minutes to search through piles of junk and spare parts, scanning each item to see how much it was worth. Plugging some things in would unlock passwords that could be used to open safes leading to even pricier junk! Other pieces of puzzle-solving lead to a set of keys opening even more containers.
The experience feels more like a high-quality amusement park attraction. As I was going through the various booths and games, I was reminded of visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but rather than being overwhelmed by places and characters I already knew so well, I was constantly intrigued by everything I didn’t know.
Who were these characters? What did this all mean? In this way, Passport to Iron City feels like a great way to build intrigue surrounding the movie and a world that’s unfamiliar to most people.
“It’s not a requirement to see the film,” Gibson says. “But we’re opening early for a very good reason, hoping this might embolden you to see the film.”
Even those completely unfamiliar with Alita: Battle Angel can find a fun and interesting experience in Passport to Iron City, but existing fans can find even more.
Passport to Iron City launches January 23 in Los Angeles, January 26 in New York, and January 29 in Austin, with Alita: Battle Angel hitting theaters on February 14.