11 July 2020

Universal Studios Hollywood CA, USA

Earlier this month Netflix added the first two BACK TO THE FUTURE films to its programming. I had not seen these films since their original theatrical release. The first movie premiered in the Netherlands on 12 December 1985 (US: 3 July 1985) and the first sequel on 22 December 1989 (US: 22 November 1989).

New York Street, Universal Studios Hollywood, 8 October 1996
When rewatching the films, I recalled our first visit to the United States in 1996. At that time we made a tour of the Southwest, starting and ending in Los Angeles. On one of the last days of our vacation we visited Universal Studios Hollywood, a theme park that opened in 1964 and is closely linked to the film studio where movies are produced. One of the attractions is the Backlot Tram Tour, a behind the scenes tram ride along permanent film decors with names like New York Street, Little Europe and Six Points Texas.

Most streets, facades and buildings are being reused and can be seen in multiple films and series. One of these sets is Courthouse Square, a random square with a courthouse building as there are many in American cities.

Six Points Texas, Universal Studios Hollywood, 8 October 1996
The set was built for the 1948 film An Act of Murder and has since been used for over a 100 different productions, including To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Gremlins (1984), episodes of Knight Rider (1986) and more recently Bruce Almighty (2003) and Saving Mr. Banks (2014). The square can also be seen in the music video "Why don't you get a job?" by The Offspring from 1999.
On Google Maps Courthouse Square can be viewed as it was photographed in November 2015.

An Act of Murder, 0:00:11 / To Kill a Mockingbird, 1:07:48
Gremlins, 0:05:48 / Knight Rider, season 4, episode 20, 0:14:20
"Why don't you get a job?" - The Offspring, 0:01:34
Bruce Almighty, 0:32:43 / Saving Mr. Banks, 0:08:58

Back to the Future, 0:10:07
The best known movie that was filmed here is Back to the Future from 1985. In the same year Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels 30 years back in time with the time machine that Doc Emmet Brown (Christopher Lloyd) built in a DeLorean. This American sports car was produced in the early 80's and stood out for its gull-wing doors. Courthouse Square can be seen several times in the film as Hill Valley, first in 1985 and later in 1955. When Marty ends up in the 50's he walks around the town's square in amazement.

Although we were here more than 10 years after filming the first movie, the sets did not appear to have changed much. Yet during a major fire on 6 December 1990, large parts of the sets on the square were burned to the ground. Only the facades of the courthouse and those of the north side (to the left of the courthouse) were still standing, coincidentally the sets we had photographed. One year after our visit, on 6 September 1997, the north side was destroyed in a fire. It was immediately rebuilt.

Back to the Future, 0:36:52
Courthouse Square, Universal Studios
Hollywood, 8 October 1996

The clock tower plays an important role in the film. In 1955 lightning strucks here at night. The electricity that is released here is Marty's only chance to travel back to 1985. The lightning strike would stop the clock for at least 30 years. During our visit, the clock stood at five to six.

Back to the Future, 1:40:45
Courthouse Square, Universal Studios
Hollywood, 8 October 1996

The success of the first film was followed by two sequels that were shot back to back. The second part, BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II, starts where the first movie ended. Doc returns from the future to 1985 to take Marty to the year 2015 where his son is about to commit a crime.

Back to the Future Part II, 0:11:10
Courthouse Square can be seen again, next to 1955 and 1985 now also in 2015. The clock is still stopped at four minutes past ten. The square has been given a pond and in the movie theatre Jaws 19 is playing. When Marty walks across the square the north facade is clearly visible. Cars have been given a totally different design and can fly. One of the designers is Tim Flattery who has a number of photos and original designs on his website. While watching the film I immediately recognized the red-and-black car parked at the Texaco gas station.

During the Backlot Tram Tour, we drove past a number of film vehicles, including this car that can only be seen for four seconds in the film. To the left of this car seems to be the DeLorean, no idea if it was the intention at the time to take a picture of the time machine from the moving tram...

Back to the Future Part II, 0:11:50
Backlot, Universal Studios Hollywood, 8 October 1996

Back in 1996, the theme park had an attraction based on the film called 'Back to the Future: The Ride'. Visitors are seated in a DeLorean that moves along with what can be seen on the large IMAX screen. In the 15 minute film, Doc Brown and Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) from the original films return and a time travel through different areas is made. The attraction closed in 2007. Below are two pages from the park guide and two postcards.

Park guide Universal Studios Hollywood
Postcard Back to the Future: The Ride
Postcard Back to the Future: The Ride

Many thanks to website theStudioTour.com for information about Courthouse Square.

Screenshots © Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment