“Nope” is, maybe more than anything else, a movie about making movies.
Sure, it’s ostensibly about a brother (played by Daniel Kaluuya) and a sister (played by Keke Palmer), reeling from the mysterious death of their father while trying to keep their family business afloat and — oh yeah, being menaced by a flying saucer hiding in a cloud outside their farmhouse. But the family are the descendants of a Black man who starred in the first moving images, their family business is horse wrangling for movies, and it says something that they aren’t trying to destroy or report the UFO that has been hoving around their property; they’re trying to capture it on camera.
And that’s just one layer to this uniquely satisfying summer blockbuster. Their ranch is also next door to a Wild West theme park, Jupiter’s Claim. Owned by Steven Yeun’s character, Jupe, Jupiter’s Claim is loosely inspired by a hit movie from his early career as a child actor. Both Jupe’s Hollywood history and his theme park end up playing a central role in the film.
All of this is to say that it is particularly fitting that the fake theme park from “Nope” has just become part of the real theme Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood. If you take the Universal Backlot Tour, the centerpiece of the Universal Studios Hollywood experience and one of the single greatest theme park attractions ever, you’ll see something new: Jupiter’s Claim, in all of its old-timey glory, is now a permanent addition to the tour, alongside the Bates Motel from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and Steven Spielberg’s crashed airliner from his Tom Cruise-led version of “War of the Worlds.”
Jon Corfino, an executive at Universal Creative (Universal’s answer to Walt Disney Imagineering), said that the process of transporting “Nope” to the backlot began while filming was underway last year.
“The timing just happened to be magical because we are always talking amongst ourselves and trying to figure out if there are great opportunities and we learned that Jordan was shooting up in Agua Dulce and went up there and met with him,” Corfino said. “It was an incredibly exciting time because of being able to be on set and then, of course, we had to understand what was happening in the movie Jordan was very welcoming.” Corfino said Peele was “very enthusiastic” about the prospect of part of the movie joining the Universal Studios Backlot Tour.
Once on set, the team from Universal Creative had to pick out which set to bring to Hollywood. And honestly, there are a few good ones (we could see the Haywood family farmhouse sitting comfortably next to the Bates residence on the backlot). They quickly zeroed in on Jupiter’s Claim, the theme park established by the former child actor, where much of the movie’s action-packed third act takes place.
“We felt very strongly about this particular section of sets, because we felt it told a deep story and that’s really one of the pivotal sets from the entire movie from a story standpoint and it almost speaks to the meta of theme park within a theme park type of thing that Jordan was going for,” Corfino explained. But getting them to Hollywood was a different story.
As it turns out, the weather in Agua Dulce ended up helping the transition process. Because of the weather, “[the sets] were constructed a little differently than other sets, maybe on some other shoots.” In other words, they were tougher, more durable and treated for the outdoors. “Our team worked very closely with his construction team and basically we were able to disassemble them and then recreate them here,” Corfino said. “It was a pretty fast process actually.”
For the Backlot Tour experience, the new electric trams will actually drive through Jupiter’s Claim. To the left of the Jupiter’s Claim entrance, you’ll see a pick-up truck that has been damaged in a very specific way from the film and as you cruise through the set, you’ll see familiar objects – the giant balloon of Kid Sheriff that flanks the entrance and, towards the back of the town, the Star Lasso Experience, the latest attraction at Jupiter’s Claim that might also be hopelessly doomed. (You can actually buy Star Lasso Experience T-shirts at the Universal gift shop now too.)
And wouldn’t you know it (especially at night), the guests might encounter something a little otherworldly during their visit, which is aided by an appearance by Peele himself. “Jordan starts to explain things on the tram as we go through and there’s some little things that happen and some big dramatic moments as you maybe saw a little bit,” Corfino said. (I was at a party a few weeks ago before it opened to the public and I can attest, a saucer seemed to take an interest in the backlot.)
And if you go on the VIP version of the tour, you get an additional experience. “you’ll actually be able to get off and walk around a little bit and maybe discover a few more of the Easter Eggs that are up there,” Corfino teased.
But what Easter eggs, exactly? Corfino teased that there are QR codes hidden around Jupiter’s Claim that could relate to something, if you get close enough to scan them. But those hidden details relate back to Peele’s work as a filmmaker, one in which nothing is as it seems and everything has several layers of understanding.
“There’s nothing that is not there by design. There’s nothing that’s not there that relates to the story. There’s nothing that’s, Oh, just put that jar of candy over there. It’s there for a reason,” Corfino said. “There’s a lot of reinforcement of that story. Once you see the film then you can make the connection.”
Corfino said that Peele attended the same party that I did. When Peele walked through, he turned to Corfino and said, “Wow, this actually happened.” It did happen and the end results are pretty amazing.
There are few coincidences in Jordan Peele movies, and the timing of the Jupiter’s Claim experience and its versatility in being a drive-through attraction as well as one that guests can walk around in points in one direction: that this location will serve as a “Nope”-based section of Halloween Horror Nights, the annual, very spooky takeover of Universal Studios.
Corfino was mum but did hint that this could be the case. “Well, I’ll say this about that. If you take a look at what we offer on our tram tour and you take a look at what we offer on our VIP tour and you take a look at Halloween Horror Nights, anything is possible,” Corfino said. When I brought up that Lupita Nyong’o dressed up and scared guests a few years ago, as her character from “Us” in the “Us”-themed haunted house, Corfino admitted that he hadn’t talked to Peele or any of the actors about reprising their roles.
And while the transition from a working movie set to a really-for-real theme park experience at the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot, especially one that opened the same day the movie did (a first for the theme park) sounds daunting, Corfino said that the experience was anything but a “bad miracle.”
“This has really been almost a dream of ours because guests come here to want to get as close to that as possible and how can you get closer than opening day-and-date with an attraction?” Corfino said. “And you take a look at a director and a writer like Jordan Peele and people follow him as a filmmaker. This really presented us with a wonderful opportunity to do that day-and-date release, which again, we think it’s a real thrill for our guests.” It’s true, for guests from around the country (or across the galaxy), the “Nope” addition to the Backlot Tour is a next-level treat and a grand expansion to the storied attraction.