Back to “Back to the Future”
In previous articles, we’ve talked about average, run of the mill topics, like a giant marshmallow man out to destroy the universe, or a horde of evil little green monsters attacking a small town on Christmas Eve. But now, suspend your disbelief and take a trip back in time, back to 1985 – with brief stop overs in 1955, 1989 and 2015. So stay with us dear reader, or it could cause a time paradox, unravel the space time continuum and destroy the universe. Celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film classic, Back to The Future.
In the early 80s, screenwriters Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis had a tough time making a go of it in Hollywood. Previously, the duo had written two films, the 1978 Beatlemania comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand and 1980’s Used Cars – starring Kurt Russell – neither of which been a box office success. They’d also written the screenplay for the 1979 war comedy 1941, directed by Steven Spielberg, then famous for hits such as Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 1941 was a flop, labeled by critics as Spielberg’s Christmas turkey.
While visiting his parents, Gale was sorting through boxes in the basement and, to his surprise, discovered his father had been president of his graduating class. Gale wondered, “If I had gone to school with my father, would he and I have been friends?” Gale pitched the concept to Zemeckis, and the duo decided to make the screenplay a time travel story.
In a nutshell: local crackpot scientist Doc Brown invents a time machine in which his friend and protégé 17-year-old Marty McFly accidentally travels from the 1980s to the 1950s, where he inadvertently interferes with his parents’ first meeting, thus potentially altering the course of history and jeopardizing his own existence.
If they don’t meet and fall in love, Marty will cease to be, so he finds himself playing matchmaker between his parents. This scenario is complicated by his teenage mother developing a crush on him, who she believes to a teenager named Calvin Klein.
Originally, Doc’s time machine was originally going to be an old refrigerator, but Zemeckis and Gale decided to use a car instead. Their logic was if you’re going to have a time machine, it should be mobile. They chose the DeLorean for its resemblance to a flying saucer.
They finished an early draft of the script in 1981 but found the project hard to get off the ground. It was turned down by most of the major studios for being not being risqué enough like other popular comedies at the time, such as National Lampoon’s Animal House, Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Porky’s. Disney rejected it as being not family friendly since the plot involved a teenage mom developing a crush on her son.
In 1983, Michael Douglas hired Zemeckis to direct the action adventure comedy, Romancing the Stone. A box office hit upon its 1984 release, the film’s success helped Zemeckis secure a deal with Universal Pictures to direct what would become Back to the Future.
Actor Michael J. Fox, a star on the hit TV series Family Ties was Zemeckis and Gale’s first choice to play Marty, but weren’t originally able to cast him because his TV shooting schedule would conflict with Back To The Future‘s. Eric Stoltz (Mask) was cast in the role instead. Much of the film was shot with Stoltz, but Zemeckis still felt he wasn’t right for the part, and let him go. Zemeckis and Gale came to a compromise with Family Ties creator and producer Gary David Goldberg that enabled Fox to star in both both Family Ties and Back to the Future.
Fox worked on Family Ties during the day, while most of his scenes in Back to the Future were shot at night. Best known for his role on Taxi, Christopher Lloyd was cast as Doc Brown after John Lithgow passed on the role.
The film broke new ground by using the same actors to play Marty’s parents at the ages of 47 and 17, a move made possible by the magic of make-up. At the time, both Fox and Lea Thompson – who played Marty’s mother – were both 23, and Crispin Clover – Marty’s father – was actually 20.
Fun fact: Glover guest starred on a second season episode of Family Ties as a friend of Fox’s character, Alex.
Released in July 1985, Back to the Future was the number one film for eight straight weeks. Would Marty and Doc have future adventures ahead? Only time would tell.
At the ending of Back to the Future, Doc whisks Marty and Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer away in a flying DeLorean to the future to save their offspring. Because the film’s creators were unsure if it would be a hit or not, they’d written the ending as a joke, with our heroes more or less riding off into the sunset. The “to be continued” tag at the end of the film was not added until the VHS release of the film in 1986. Upon the film’s huge success, Universal Studios wanted a sequel.
Released in November 1989, in Back to the Future II, Marty, Doc, and Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer time traveled from 1985 to the year 2015.
In the movie, filmmakers made both extreme and pedestrian predictions about what life would be like in the year 2015. Now that we’ve arrived, what did they get wrong and what did they get right? See below for my take on this!
In 1990, Back to the Future III landed in theaters. A fun but forgettable film, it failed to generate the success of its’ predecessors.
It’s 2015? What do you mean we’re in the future?
Now that we’ve actually arrived in 2015, what did predictions did the movie Back to the Future get right, and what did they get wrong?
On the “correct” list, Miami now has a baseball team. At the time, Florida didn’t have a Major League baseball team but now has two, the Florida Marlins and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Video conferencing also came to be, as well as video advertising replacing many regular billboards. If you go to Sunoco, you can watch gas station TV while you fill up. Nostalgia themed restaurants exist (such as Café 80’s featured in Part II), we have advanced video game technology and we can watch multiple television channels simultaneously.
What was not correct? They failed to predict cell phone technology. In the film’s version of 2015, pay phones are still everywhere like in the 80s. New Pontiacs no longer roll off the assembly line as the company has been defunct since 2010. We don’t yet have hoverboards or flying cars.
In the DVD documentary for Back to the Future, screenwriter Bob Gale said he and others of his generation had been promised flying cars by the 1980s. Disappointed that failed to materialize, he put flying cars in his version of the future 2015. He also stated the filmmakers didn’t want to depict the future as a bleak, depressing place as in many science fiction movies.
“We wanted to show a future that was a nice place,” Gale said. “If there was anything wrong with it, it was the people living there, not the technology.”
Story by Chuck Brutz for Pennsylvania Bridges