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.