We still don’t have a clue what Nope is really about only days away from its release, but we can at least tell you all about one of the mysterious Jordan Peele film’s sets: a fictional theme park that’s been relocated to an actual Hollywood-adjacent theme park.
When Jupiter’s Claim opens on July 22 (the very same day that Nope releases), Universal Studios Hollywood visitors will be able to travel through the idealized, carefree Gold Rush town as part of Universal’s studio tour, the nearly hour-long tram ride that snakes through a mix of camera-ready backlot sets and theme park theatrics. Jupiter’s Claim falls somewhere between the two: It was actually used on location to shoot Nope and then rebuilt at Universal, and (if our pre-opening experience is any indication) will at least include a sudden wave of ominous sounds and flickering lights as you make your way through.
Based on our many rewatches of Nope’s trailers, the layout of Jupiter’s Claim here looks almost identical to its use in the film other than a missing building or two—and sans the mountainous Santa Clarita Valley backdrop where it was originally located (the scenery from Universal’s hillside studio is certainly no slouch, though). The film-to-theme-park transition of production designer Ruth DeJong’s set was apparently planned early on in the film’s production, and that really shows with just how fully-realized the whole town feels. Its saloon-style facades copy the sort of storefronts you’d expect to see in a restoration village: Signs advertise ice cream, candy, leather goods and a general store (to be clear, none of these are actual stores) as well as civic staples like a fire house, train station and bank.
For our visit, we ventured through on foot, so we can’t speak to what it’s like experiencing it with a tram’s-eye view. Also, Jupiter’s Claim was set up for a party filled with carnival games and very-into-it actors (both absent from the tram version) that rewarded us with “Jupe Jangles” that we could exchange for Nope merch—and, honestly, we’d pay unreasonable amounts of money to recreate the experience. Hopefully Universal will decide to stage something similar in the future for the public. Otherwise, it seems like the only opportunity guests will have to experience Jupiter’s Claim at a more leisurely pace is on a premium-priced VIP studio tour, which includes some on-foot detours across the backlot.
As we initially explored the faux frontier town, we kept wondering when that element of Jordan Peele subversiveness would let itself be known: Was this all a front for a commentary on the displacement of indigenous populations during the Gold Rush? The mistreatment of Chinese miners? An alien invasion as an allegory? Ultimately though, the set is just a set until we know whatever Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer-led plot ensues in the movie; it’s a colorful, overly cheery Western town filled with illustrated, winky facsimiles of Steven Yeun’s character, theme park owner Ricky “Jupe” Park.
It’s highly probable that Nope will add plenty of context to Jupiter’s Claim. But we visited when all we still know about the secretive film is that it involves a brother-and-sister–run ranch, people being sucked up into the sky and probably aliens. When Jupiter’s Claim opens to the public, Nope will be out, so we won’t waste too much time on parsing together what clues the set may have for the film (whether a mention of “we wish you well” hints at some ominous importance for the town’s well, or what to make of the crashed motorcycle, torn apart pig pen, collapsed rodeo stadium or the truck with a horse statue crushed into its roof). We will, however, at least call out the eerie, faceless dolls that are littered around the Star Lasso Experience—something we surely hope the film can explain to ease (or escalate) our nightmares.