||Universal City, CA
Let's begin our tour at Universal Studios an integral location in the making of Back to the Future. As I believe most of you know, the town square, including the famous clock tower, stands in Universal's backlot. Now, I know the film doesn't begin here, but I would like to start this journey by describing the disappointment that was my first visit to this location.
Admittedly, it wasn't something I was greatly excited about. You see, I'm not really much for theme parks. But, I was on a mission. After all, I couldn't omit the one location that is easily viewable by thousands a day. So, I resolved to enter as a paid-in-full guest and merrily made my way to the Backlot Tram Tour with the sole intention of photographing the center of the Back to the Future universe, the Hill Valley courthouse.
Halfway through the tour, my somewhat ancient Pentax ME threatened to give out on me, which proved to be the beginning of a theme for this adventure, getting even worse later at Doc's mansion. The cock that's the film-advancing lever for those of you with an inclination toward prurience locked halfway through a roll of film. With a panicked haste, I manually wound the roll back into its cartridge (that's the only way you can do it with an ME) and loaded another roll. But, it didn't matter, because shortly thereafter, I was being instructed to disembark from the tram, at which time I realized we had skipped over the most important section of the lot entirely!
As it turns out, the town square was scratched from the day's tour due to a television commercial filming in the area. The best I could do was find a spot overlooking the Universal property and shoot the clock tower from there. (Let that be a warning to you; the backlot is active and you may not get to see the Back to the Future square should you decide to visit.) I did, however, manage to salvage one Back to the Future related item: The fiberglass threshold marking the entryway to Lyon Estates. They've been stowed on the backlot for years and appear to be a somewhat permanent installation, although they are in disrepair (and on this occasion, unprotected from nearby construction).
I spent the day pining for the courthouse, teased occasionally from various, elevated vantage points while trying to enjoy the rest of the park. And I hate to say it, but the rest of the park also was a disappointment. The special effects show wasn't really as cool as it should have been; the Backdraft show was a mediocre film short about the making of Backdraft, followed by a really loud pyrotechnic show that teetered on the edge of cool, but was sadly anticlimactic; the E.T. ride was a long wait for a lame, alien version of It's a Small World; and I regret to report that the Back to the Future ride wasn't all that exciting, either.
Luckily, the Jurassic Park ride was pretty good, although far too short. But, it did merit a second trip through the waiting line. Other than that, the whole park seemed to be merely a large, expensive tribute to Stephen Spielberg and Ron Howard. But, I hear good things about the one in Florida.
Incidentally, if you're worried about seeing the clock tower on this tour, don't worry it gets much better.
Next: The DeLorean