Future Past: An Ode To Back to the Future

There is an amusing scene in 2006’s Clerks 2 where characters debate which is the best movie trilogy…Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings. One’s opinion on that particular issue likely comes down to several factors but is largely a generational divide (as are many pop culture discussions). However, as an 80’s child I must opine that too often another trilogy is erroneously left out of the dialogue.


A few days ago there was a significant fictional anniversary. In 1989’s Back to the Future Part II Marty McFly travels 30 years into the future (the film is set in 1985)…to October 21, 2015. As a teenager that date seemed so far away to me, as I’m sure it did to most everyone else. Typical high schoolers don’t really appreciate life’s special moments or understand the passage of time, but as one grows older those things become clearer and more valuable. As BTTF Day (as it came to be known) drew closer the past few months the anticipation grew and special events across the nation were planned. The cast & crew started popping up here & there in interviews, commercials, etc. And fans like me were reminded just how magnificent the Back to the Future trilogy is.


bt1In case y’all need a refresher, 1985’s BTTF is about a young man named Marty McFly who inadvertently goes back to 1955 in a time machine constructed out of a DeLorean by his eccentric older pal Doc Brown. It is there that Marty meets his parents as teenagers, accidentally messing up their first meeting. He must repair the damage before he can return to the present in 1985. In Part 2 Doc & Marty travel ahead three decades to save Marty’s future son from doom. 1990’s Part 3 finds Doc & Marty in The Old West in 1885, where they must prevent Doc from being shot & killed, which sounds a lot darker than the film actually is in its completed form.


Most of the focus in the days leading up to BTTF Day 2015 was about how accurate Part 2 was in predicting the future of bt22015, which is now our present day. I admit it is a fun analysis. We don’t have flying cars or real hoverboards yet, but we do have flat screen TV, fingerprint technology, video conferencing, drones, a MLB franchise in Miami, hands free gaming, 3D movies, & Google Glass. The two most ubiquitous technological wonders of our time…The Internet & smartphones…are nowhere to be found in BTTF 2. And though they had a great season and had started to get people excited about a possible huge twist of fate, the Chicago Cubs aren’t going to sweep the 2015 World Series as mentioned in the movie. Ironically they were swept out of the National League Championship Series on BTTF Day. So the answer to how accurately Back to the Future Part 2 predicted the future is a mixed bag at best, but I think we’re missing the point.


bt3What I have been reminded of the past few weeks is the awesomeness of the trilogy as a whole. A few years ago when I did my 100 Favorite Movies series I ranked the BTTF trilogy at #32, and in retrospect that seems a bit low. It probably should’ve been atleast 5-10 spots higher. Oh sure one can break it down and say that the original film was the best and Part 3 was the weakest, but that is somewhat unfair. I think we have to look at the trilogy as a whole and understand just how consistently good it is throughout. As a writer I’d do just about anything (within the law) to conceive such a remarkable premise. It is the time travel story to which all others are compared. On top of that the films were blessed with terrific actors & cool music. The stars aligned just right, and all the ingredients combined to make movies that…well…stand the test of time.


Marty-McFly-Stoltz-FoxAs BTTF Day approached I read a wonderful “behind the scenes” book george-mcflyscalled We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy. Most fans of the movies know that Michael J. Fox actually replaced the original Marty McFly…actor Eric Stoltz…about a month into production. We are also aware that Crispin Glover, who played Marty’s father George McFly, didn’t return for the two sequels, that the filmmakers tried to conceal that fact, and that there was some controversy about all of that. Those stories are covered in depth in the book, as well as so many other cool anecdotes. It’s a really fun, interesting, & easy read that I highly recommend to all BTTF fans.


zemA documentary was released on Netflix on BTTF Day called Back in Time, and it lightly touches on somedeloreans of the same points as the book, as well as interviewing several “superfans” who’ve done things like start websites dedicated to the trilogy, play in BTTF cover bands, participate in various BTTF themed events to raise money for Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s charity, & restored Deloreans into replica time machines. The documentary isn’t quite as comprehensive as the book, but it too is fun, interesting, & a great way to spend a couple of hours. It will be out on DVD soon.

bt4Of course on BTTF Day I celebrated in the best way possible…by heading to the local cineplex to watch the entire trilogy on the big screen. I briefly pondered the idea of staying home and watching the movies on TV, which would have been quite easy thru the magic of Roku. However. I don’t go out that much. I’m far from Mr. Excitement. And I realized that this was a once in a lifetime event. We may never again have the opportunity to see the entire BTTF trilogy in a theater. I wasn’t going to be doing anything else fun that night anyway, and I can watch the movies at home anytime & have multiple times over the years. So on 10/21/15 I spent more than 7 hours inside a dark theater eating popcorn & candy and drinking a vat of cola while enjoying movies that were a memorable part of my youth. The theater was about half full, and one family decided to bring their brood of very young children, among them a toddler in a stroller who intermittently cried at various intervals throughout the evening (at one point one of the parents briefly exited with the child and there was an audible smattering of applause behind me), but despite bt8that distraction it was an enjoyable evening. I was reminded of a crisp winter night in 1991 when my friends Greg, The Owl, & a couple of others sat in an historic theater in Huntington, WV watching Hook, starring Robin Williams & Dustin Hoffman. We had the entire theater to ourselves that night and may possibly have been intoxicated. I don’t recall exactly. At any rate, as I sat in a slightly more crowded theater on BTTF Day I did miss my friends. Their presence would have made the night perfect.


Jennifer-Parker-Wells-ShueDuring the same week that BTTF Day was arriving the biff2powers-that-be at Disney decided to release the final trailer for the upcoming & highly anticipated Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, and sadly I feel like that kind of stole a bit of thunder from Back to the Future. It’s nobody’s fault and Star Wars is an epically brilliant franchise that I dearly love, but BTTF is brilliant as well and deserved its day in the sun. I read a blog that was humorously critical of the commercialization of BTTF Day, but I really didn’t mind any of that. Back to the Future earned all the attention it has received lately and probably should have gotten even more love.


bt6So now the future that fans of the trilogy have anticipated for many years is in the rear view mirror. That bt7future is the past, which is strangely sad in a wistful, nostalgic way. Yet what we are left with is three films that have entertained us for almost three decades and will continue to do so. Young folks might not “get it” in the same way that we didn’t really understand some of the movies & music our parents enjoyed, but quite honestly that doesn’t matter to me. Each generation has their own unique stuff that they treasure for different reasons. The Back to the Future trilogy holds a special place in my heart and always will. I’m glad I was around to witness “the future”. I’m happy that I went to the theater to watch the movies. And I look forward to the real future, one that, as Doc Brown points out, hasn’t been written yet. Tomorrow is another day and I’ll do my best to make it a good one. Thanks for the memories BTTF…until we met again.

 

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