Back to the Future II: What came true?
October 21st, 2015: It’s a date that’s burned into the memory of most adults thanks to a thousand Facebook memes. It is, of course, the day that Marty McFly, behind the wheel of a time-travelling DeLorean, punches into the control panel during the movie Back to the Future II, instantly arriving in a world very different from the one he left behind in 1985.
The plot unfolds thus: Having rushed to the future to save his wayward son, Marty is overwhelmed by the technological and societal advancements 30 years on – some unwittingly caused by himself during his adventures in the first film. The few scenes set on this date – including hoverboards, 3D sharks and some interesting fashion choices – have become burned into the world’s consciousness in a way few films could ever dream of.
The first Back to the Future movie and its two sequels have had a deep and lasting impact not just in film but in all forms of popular culture, and the genuine love for the trilogy has endured so powerfully that even now, three decades on, new books are still being published about it. The most recent of them is Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History, by Michael Klastorin. It’s an exhaustive account of the entire franchise from someone who knows it inside out. Klastorin first became involved in the Back to the Future world as a production publicist on the second and third movies, where he spent every day on set. He even appears in the third movie, as a townsperson who greets Marty with a cheery “Good morning, Mr. Eastwood!” in 1885.
The obvious time for the book to be released would have been the 30th anniversary of the first movie’s release, which was in July of this year, but Klastorin picked the release for now, on the eve of arguably an even more iconic date.
“I wanted it to be the most comprehensive chronicle of all the movies and the franchise itself,” he tells ShortList. “The amount of cooperation I got from everybody was great, so I could say what exactly was shot when, where and then interview everyone involved. It all started with a chat with [film co-writer] Bob Gale, and ten minutes after I got off the phone with him, he sent me a list of a dozen people ready to talk to me. Universal were tremendous, I got to look through every single photo that was taken of all three films. Everyone I contacted was so generous with their time.”
The fact everyone involved with the franchise was so eager to help gives an idea of the chord the story struck not just with the film-going public but with those behind the cameras as well. “It’s such a combination of things,” Klastorin says. “As Michael J Fox will tell you, it’s inspirational, and people show it to their kids who show it to their kids and fall in love with it. It keeps growing. It’s one of the few franchises that, even though it starts to take place in 1985, never feels dated.”
Due to the fact the trilogy covers so many universal topics – from the wish-fulfilment of being able to edit your past and future, daydreaming about crazy gadgets, and the wrench of letting go of things you love – it’s no wonder the films are as popular today as they were when they were first released. The first installment, made on a budget of US$19 million, brought in US$373 million worldwide. Lego Back to the Future sets were released in 2013, a video game was released this year and a new, US$105 vinyl set featuring the movie’s soundtrack are proof that consumers are as engaged as ever. One superfan, who wasn’t even born when the first film was released, has put together a film-accurate DeLorean and stuffed it with props from the film.
For the 30th anniversary of the first movie, the core cast was reunited at London’s Film & Comic Con, to rapturous applause and an audience of thousands. Back to the Future, with its complicated time-travelling mechanic, also opened the floodgates for accessible science fiction films. Star Trek and Star Wars had an unfortunately geeky stigma attached to them, but Back to the Future – with its hyper-cool leading man and manic pacing – let audiences know that these high concepts could be executed in an engaging way, leading to future sci-fi blockbuster classics like Jurassic Park and The Matrix and in more recent years, Christoper Nolan’s Interstellar.
“The original characters have also endured; you can’t do Back to the Future without Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson, says Klastorin. “Michael very generously and graciously wrote the foreword for the book and he talks about his youth and people yelling ‘Hey McFly!’ across airports! And how he will forever be proud to carry the name: Marty McFly.”
It could have been a very different story, but for some high-profile changes to the cast. Klastorin says originally the head of the studio, Sid Sheinberg, was set on casting Eric Stoltz as Marty, despite the rest of the crew believing Michael J Fox was the man for the role. However, Fox was too busy filming his smash sitcom Family Ties to take the job. Eventually the filmmakers were told: It’s Stoltz or the movie’s off. Bob Zemeckis, a young director back then, went along with it and filming began. However, Stoltz wasn’t quite working out.
By this point, filming had been delayed for so long Fox was able to shoot the movie simultaneously to his TV series (which is why there are so many night shots in the first film). Footage of Stoltz in some of McFly’s scenes still exists, which is surreal. Incidentally, Sheinberg was also dead against the name, claiming that nobody would go to see a film with “Future” in the title.
Michael J Fox wasn’t the only late addition to the film. Arguably the most iconic star of the movie was a stainless steel car with gullwing doors called the DeLorean DMC-12. Klastorin reveals, “In the first couple of drafts of the movie, the time machine was a stationary device, referred to as a ‘refrigerator’. For their third draft, they made it mobile as they spent so much time putting it on dump trucks and driving it around.”
As for the car itself, it’s fair to say Klastorin isn’t a fan. “I don’t believe I would ever own one,” he laughs, “They were not particularly good cars – I’ve been in them, I’ve been driven in them, they’re very cramped. I believe there’s a gag reel somewhere of Michael and Christopher Lloyd hitting their head on the door when they’re getting out of the car.”
This summer saw a beloved franchise resurrected to box office success but critical disdain in the form of Jurassic World, the fourth Jurassic Park movie. But with general concerns over the lack of new ideas in Hollywood, how long will it be until Back to the Future IV is announced? Klastorin is happy to pour cold water on any rumours.
“Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale have gone on record to say they will do everything in their lifetimes to keep that from happening. There shouldn’t be a Back to the Future IV. They did what they wanted to do in those three movies as a complete tale woven intricately together. There’s no need to wring more money out of it.”
A treasured piece of pop culture that’s guaranteed not to have its legacy tarnished with an unnecessary sequel? Great Scott!
WHAT CAME TRUE
Ever signed for something on an iPad? So did Marty, when he signed an electric tablet for a member of the Hill Valley Preservation Society.
Skype or FaceTime calls are second nature now – but in 1985, the notion of seeing who you were talking to was still pretty far-out.
Marty passed up the chance to see Jaws 19 in 3D but today we have become inundated with sequels that use this same technology.
Okay, Lexus are meant to be close – and you can buy replica, non-floating pink boards – but the replacement skateboard is still bound to the earth.
Double ties are still yet to grace the world’s catwalks, although Nike are nearing completion on a range of Marty’s auto-lacing Hyperdunk sneakers.
One thing the movie got wrong was predicting that faxes would still be a part of life in 2015. Luckily for us all, we’ll never be sacked via a printer.