Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step into a future crafted by master filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron? Oh come on — I know you have! If you’re anything like me (and I’d be willing to bet the farm that on a site called “The Nerds of Color” there’s got to be several readers that are) the rhetorical question posed above certainly stopped being rhetorical after you saw El Mariachi, Sin City, Terminator 2, and Avatar.
On February 15, audiences will get their first glimpse of what that future embodies when Alita: Battle Angel hits theaters worldwide. However, to two cinematic innovators like Rodriguez and Cameron, a glimpse just isn’t satisfying enough. They want us nerds to be pulled directly into the screen — to become characters in the movie and the world it’s set in. And thus, these two mad scientists of cinema have managed to go above and beyond to send us straight into the future world of Iron City with the “Alita: Battle Angel – Passport to Iron City Immersive Experience.”
“What is ‘Passport to Iron City?’” you might ask. Well for folks in Los Angeles, Austin, and New York, it is a completely interactive and expansive (did I mean “expensive?”) immersive experience designed to take audiences on an in-world journey to savor the sights, smells, culture, and customs of the futuristic, dystopian world of Iron City, as featured in the film. Yes, we’ve seen studios invest large sums of money in unique in-world experiences before. But unlike the WB’s IT and Ready Player One maze-like walkthrough experiences, “Passport to Iron City” is something quite unique in terms of how interactive and engaging it is. Cameron and Rodriguez have partnered with the folks at iam8bit to, not only recreate the sets of the movie for you to walk through, but also allow you and a team of close friends to make Iron City’s futuristic setting your playground.
After checking in at the door to an unassuming Iron City taqueria, you’ll get a commemorative custom Iron City ID, and a group assignment before being sent to Kansas (the bar, not the red state); a key setting in the movie, as you may have seen from the trailer in my previous article (no, I’m not above shameless self-promotion. Why do you ask?). Within the bar, you’ll be able to sample Alita-inspired brews from Three Weavers Brewing Company, and interact with in-world character bartenders. You’ll even spot a few kiosks displaying the bounty posters for some of Iron City’s most wanted!
Following that you’ll be treated to a special video introduction from the legend himself, James Cameron:
From there you and the various members of the group you were assigned to must compete on the streets of Iron City to earn credits like an average citizen. How is this done? Well telling you would take the fun out of things, wouldn’t it? Let’s just say that if you’re going to do this, go with a group of close friends and your best competitive spirits.
“We really aim to engage all five senses with the projects we work on. We try to sometimes even engage a sixth sense… But above all else, we want people to have fun when they come and participate in something we have created,” stated the representatives from iam8bit, who worked directly with the film’s production designers to ensure the aesthetic of the movie’s dystopian future was retained. They also worked with Eric Meyer, a game designer at Squanch games, and a technology company called Teller to design the activities of the experience and the badge system issued to guests.
“For us ‘Passport to Iron City’ was very much an evolution of what live entertainment could be… this is a very special, bold approach for what experiences should be. Experiences should be very tactile. We like people to touch and feel and smell and taste. Not just see things,” Continued the iam8bit team.
At various points during the experience guests will be asked to smell things, feel things, and put their keen observation and listening skills to the test. Immersion is key, and the film and game makers want you to listen and learn everything you can about the civilization unfolding before your eyes through the characters you interact with, the street art on the walls, and the things you hear in passing conversation. It’s an experience where the sharpest information retention at the mention of a casual fact about the universe you’re being immersed in could pay off big time. The experience also encourages you to play with your fellow competitors, pushing teams to interact with other teams for a hefty point incentive.
The final minutes of the experience culminate in an appropriate and rowdy gambling session based on one of the biggest action set pieces in the movie – the motorball sequence. The excitement builds high as every group, fully bought in to the world and experience at that point, goes nuts, screaming and hooting for the players that will make them the most lucrative (we, the Blue team, lost by the way 😢). It makes you feel like you’re in some sort of futuristic bar on a busy sports day, hollering at a game in progress with other barflys.
Each session lasts about a little over an hour, but the time flies by swiftly as you find yourself scrambling to do as much as you can before the clock runs out. At the end, everyone takes home their badge and a collectable coin to commemorate their visit into the future. But more importantly, and of more significant value, the greatest thing every participant will be taking home will be a glimpse of the future — not just within the mythology of the film — but a real life glimpse into the future of what immersive live entertainment could be.
The “Alita: Battle Angel – Passport to Iron City” Immersive experience opens in Los Angeles on January 23, in New York on January 26, and in Austin on January 29. Tickets can be purchased here.
See you in the future!