For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – 80’s Fantasy Films., here’s a review of Back to the Future (1985) by Simon of Moustache Movie News
Thanks again to Jeanette of The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Keith of Keith Loves Movies and it is Spy/Espionage Films.
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of April by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Keith!
Let’s see what Simon thought of this movie:
This month on Movierob’s Genre Grandeur the topic is our favourite 80’s fantasy movies. Well when I heard this, the choice was obvious…Back To The Future! The story of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), a teenager who after accidentally being transported 30 years into the past inadvertently prevents his own parents from meeting. Now with his mother infatuated with him instead of his father and is own existence in jeopardy, he has just one week to set things straight and get back to the future. And the adventure didn’t stop there, Back To The Future spawned two sequels, an animated TV show, rides at Universal Studios theme parks in California, Florida and Osaka and a multitude of video games.
Click here to check out all the other reviews in this month’s Genre Grandeur.
Back To The Future (BTTF) is an important movie for me. Not only is it the first movie I remember watching as a kid, I was born in 1985, two weeks after that fateful weekend in October in which the movies – part of them anyway – are set. It’s a fair bet that BTTF has a lot to do with me being a movie geek. I’ve watched these movies many times both as a kid and (for lack of a better term) as an adult. One of my fondest memories is lying on the living room floor of my childhood home with my dog watching BTTF.
The script for BTTF is used as the model of ‘The Perfect Script’ by the University of Southern California Film School. Robert Zemeckis still thinks it’s the best thing he has ever written. Writer/Executive Producer Bob Gale first came up with the idea when he found his father’s high school yearbook and discovered he was Class President. Gale had little to do with his own Class President and wondered if he would have been friends with his father had they gone to school together. Later he shared the idea with Zemeckis, who suggested adding the mother who claimed that as a teenager she never kissed a boy when in reality she was quite promiscuous. The 1950’s were chosen as a destination time for several reasons; they marked the birth of rock n’ roll and American teen culture, and it’s the time period a 17 year old in 1985 would have have to travel back to in order to meet their parents at the same age.
The pair originally sold the rights to Columbia Picture, but in 1981 when they turned in the script, the executives felt it was too light compared to other teen comedies and shelved it. Over the next few years the script was rejected by every major movie studio for exactly the same reason, except for Disney who felt the story of a mother falling in love with her son – even in these circumstances – was inappropriate for a movie produced under their banner. Eventually Zemeckis and Gale turned to their friend Steven Spielberg for help. Something they had been reluctant to do because Spielberg had produced their two previous projects, both of which had flopped. But after Zemeckis had some success with Romancing the Stone he changed his mind. So BTTF was now in the hands of Amblin Entertainment and after some bartering in which the rights were swapped for that of another project, BTTF moved from Columbia to Universal.
Universal exec Sidney Sheinberg did have a few changes he wanted to make. And he actually had a few good ideas, like changing Emmett Brown from a Professor to a Doctor and his pet from a chimpanzee to a dog. But the some were (excuse my language) FUCKING AWFUL! For starters, Sheinberg didn’t like the title and wanted to change it to “Spaceman from Pluto”; apparently there had never been a successful movie with ‘Future’ in the title. It’s the same title he wanted on the Peabody boy’s comic book from the scene where Marty crashes into their barn. I get the feeling he really liked that title! He also wanted Marty to introduce himself as “Darth Vader from the planet Pluto” in the scene where he tricks his father into asking his mother out to the dance. Once again Zemeckis turned to Spielberg for help, who convinced Sheinberg that they thought he was joking which embarrassed him into dropping the idea.
In early drafts of the script, the time machine was built into a refrigerator. There was even a big finale planned involving a nuclear testing ground, although this was ultimately deemed too expensive. However, Steven Spielberg eventually used the bare bones of this idea in the opening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The refrigerator idea was dropped in favour of something a little more mobile; also Zemeckis had started to worry about children locking themselves in refrigerators after seeing the movie. The DeLorean DMC-12 was picked as the time machine because it’s gull wing doors and general appearance made the joke about the Peabody’s mistaking the car for a UFO believable. The result of all this is a love affair with a car generally regarded as one of the worst cars of all time. I am guilty of this myself, the DeLorean is the reason for my love of cars and I would love to own a DMC-12, especially one made up to look like the time machine. Three DeLoreans were used during production, and according to cast and crew they regularly broke down. During an interview on the 2010 DVD, Michael J. Fox commented on how cramped the cab was thanks to the props that had been built in and that he would repeatedly catch his arm and knuckles when shifting gears. Still, given the amount of people around the world who have built their own time machines, love is blind I guess.
By far the biggest problem that plagued BTTF was one of casting. Thanks to his commitment to the show Family Ties, Michael J. Fox – the first choice to play Marty – was unavailable. So the role went to Eric Stoltz, but after several weeks of filming Zemeckis was convinced he wasn’t right for the role. According to the director, Stoltz’s performance – although very good – wasn’t comedic enough, he was also uncomfortable on a skateboard and didn’t share a similar personality with the character like Fox did. Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen) felt Stoltz was too intense, Wilson suffered bruising and almost a broken collarbone during the cafeteria scene, despite requests for Stoltz to rein in his performance. Wilson planned to get him back when filming the car park scene (outside the dance) but Stoltz was gone by then. When told Stoltz had been let go, Christopher Lloyd asked “Who’s Eric?” – Stoltz is a method actor and insisted on being called Marty during the shoot. A deal was eventually reached that allowed Fox to work on both Family Ties and BTTF. The decision to re-cast the role in favour of Fox cost the production $3 million in reshoots.
Despite a troubled production period – Zemeckis called it “the film that would not wrap” – BTTF went on to become the highest grossing movie of 1985. According to Box Office Mojo, it is estimated to have sold over 59 million tickets in the US. Released in the US on the 3rd July 1985, it enjoyed 11 weeks at number one. In August it was knocked off the top spot for one week by National Lampoon’s European Vacation only to be back up there the next. At the 58th Academy Awards, BTTF was awarded the Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing.
So what makes BTTF such a perfect movie? Well firstly it’s a fun-filled, action-packed adventure. Thanks to an incredible script BTTF is thrilling from start to finish. Every member of the cast delivered brilliant performances, and those playing teenagers are actually convincing as teenagers. Even by today’s standards BTTF looks great. All of the 32 effects shots hold up, in fact right now filmmakers are striving to get back to this golden era of practical effects. Everything is beautifully shot, the locations look great, and who can forget that Clock Tower set? If it were open to the public, it would be a dream destination for fans from around the world! Then there’s Alan Silvestri’s iconic soundtrack, I can’t imagine there are many people who wouldn’t recognise it. It was Silvestri who recommended Huey Lewis and the News, who provided two amazing songs for the movie; ‘The Power of Love’ and ‘Back in Time’. And lets not forget that incredible cover of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ by Mark Campbell (vocals) and Tim May (guitar solo). But most of all, it’s relatable; the idea of travelling back in time to meet your parents at a young age is fascinating! Who wouldn’t want to go back and see if their lives were as hard as they all seem to claim?
And the adventure didn’t end there…
In 1986 when BTTF was released on VHS, “To Be Continued” had been added to the end of the movie. Zemeckis and Gale had never intended to make a sequel, the flying DeLorean was meant to be a joke. But BTTF’s commercial success meant the studios wanted a follow up. Zemeckis agreed to return if Fox and Lloyd did the same. When they agreed, Zemeckis met with Gale to begin developing a script. Eventually it was decided to make two sequels and to shoot them back-to-back.
This time Marty, Doc and Jennifer travel to the year 2015 to sort out a problem with the next generation of McFlys. While there, an old enemy steals the time machine in order to change their future. Now Marty and Doc must return to the past to put things right, but first they need to find out when the timeline was changed.
Bob Gale wrote almost the entire first draft of Part II alone while Zemeckis was shooting Who Framed Roger Rabbit. BTTF’s ending later became a regret for the pair. They both agreed that had they planned to do a sequel they wouldn’t have put Jennifer in the DeLorean because it required them to come up with a story that included her rather than an entirely new adventure. When Claudia Wells decided not to return due to her mother’s ill health, they decided to reshoot the ending of the first movie with Elisabeth Shue in the role.
Originally the plan was for “Old” Biff to travel to 1967 to give the Almanac to his younger self. During their mission to re-acquire the book, Marty would once again bump into his parents – who are now hippies – and endanger his own conception. However, Zemeckis felt this was too similar to the original, later stating that time paradoxes provided a good opportunity to view the events of the first movie from a different perspective. When negotiations with Crispin Glover over salary broke down, his role was rewritten so that George was dead in the alternate 1985. Jeffrey Weissman was hired to replace Glover as well as re-using footage from the first movie. Glover sued the production over the use of his likeness; the suit was settled out of court for $765,000. The Screen Actors Guild later changed the rules, preventing the reproduction of an actor’s likeness in this way.
At the time, BTTF Part II was one of the most groundbreaking projects Industrial Light and Magic had ever worked on. It was one of their first uses of digital compositing. Several scenes in the movie utilise this technique, the most complicated of which was the dinner table scene in 2015 that featured three characters played by Michael J. Fox in the same shot. The biggest challenge of the movie proved to be the look of the future; Production Designer Rick Carter wanted to create a future different to the one seen in Blade Runner. According to Gale, they tried to make the future a nice place. But with no script to work from, the only brief Visual Effects Art Director John Bell and his crew had to work with was that the movie was set thirty years in the future and “something called hoverboards” were involved.
Zemeckis apparently dislikes movies that attempt to predict the future, making the 2015 portion of the movie his least enjoyable to film of the whole trilogy. The decision was made to try and make their version of the future funny rather than scientifically accurate, hence the inclusion of flying cars – something they knew wouldn’t exist only thirty years in the future. That being said, they did make several accurate predictions regarding technology in 2015:
- Unmanned Drones
- Flat Screen TV’s
- Video Conferencing
- Tablet Computers
- Head Mounted Displays
- The popularity of 3D Movies
Carl Sagan has described Part II as the best time travel movie ever made. Despite this, the movie does suffer from some serious plot holes regarding the creation of the alternate 1985. But because it’s in keeping with the style of the first movie, those plot holes are easy to overlook. Plus it’s great fun to see the events of the first movie from a new angle and this incredible alternate timeline inhabited by wildly different versions of the characters we know and love, like a Donald Trump inspired Biff and a shotgun toting Mr Strickland. I also think it was a wise decision to bump Doc up from what was essentially a supporting role in the first movie to a more primary role for the sequels. To me BTTF will always be the best of the three movies, but Part II is still a lot of fun. It was the 3rd highest grossing movie of 1989, won the BAFTA for Best Special Visual Effects and was nominated for the Academy Award, but lost to The Abyss.
After the DeLorean is struck by lightning, Doc is sent back through time to 1885 and Marty is left stranded in 1955. Or is he? Once again Marty must enlist the help of 1955 Doc in order to rescue…the other Doc from the Old West and get back to 1985.
The idea for Part III came about while shooting the first movie. Zemeckis asked Fox what time period he would like to visit, Fox chose the Old West. This time round the focus shifts to Doc because both Zemeckis and Gale felt they had done all they could with the McFlys. When shooting began on Part III, Gale and part of the crew were still involved in postproduction on Part II. Over a three week period at the beginning of the shoot, Zemeckis would do a full day of shooting in northern California, fly to Los Angeles and review the day’s edits before getting a few hours sleep and flying back to northern California to continue shooting Part III.
The role of Clara Clayton is said to have been written with Mary Steenburgen in mind. She was reluctant to take the role, but she was hounded into doing so by her children who were fans of the original. Ronald Reagan was offered the role of the Mayor, but he reluctantly turned it down. Seamus was originally written for Crispin Glover who as previously mentioned didn’t return because of a pay dispute. ZZ Top, who provided a song for the movie’s soundtrack also made a small appearance as the band at the Town festival. When shooting halted due to a broken camera the band began taking song requests, this quickly evolved into an impromptu party. Later when asked if the camera had been repaired, Zemeckis pointed out that it had been fixed for a while, he just didn’t want to break up the party.
Hill Valley circa 1885 was built in northern California where a lot of the movie was shot. Ironically the Hill Valley set was destroyed by a lightning strike in 1996. Shooting also took place in Monument Valley; the drive-in movie theatre was built especially for the movie. The cast apparently found the remote locations very relaxing compared the previous shoots. Thomas F. Wilson learnt how to ride a horse and throw a lasso so he could perform all of his own stunts. During filming of the hanging scene, Fox was rendered unconscious when he was actually – and accidentally – hanged. Filming was suspended twice throughout, once for the death of Fox’s father and again for the birth of his son.
In order to create the spectacular climax he wanted, which involved a train pushing the DeLorean to 88 miles per hour, Zemeckis had to coordinate all of the actors, a live train and all the special and visual effects technicians. When asked if smashing the DeLorean would derail the train, the engineer apparently replied; “Are you kidding me? I’ve been waiting to do this my whole life!”
Part III makes for an interesting new approach to the western, contrasting brilliantly with the very high-tech Part II. It was the 6th highest grossing movie of 1990. Shifting the focus from Marty to Doc was a great idea, this time around it’s him having trouble with women and the Tannen family – although Marty does sometimes get in the way. Seeing Doc out of his comfort zone while Marty acts as the voice of reason is hilarious, especially when they start swapping catchphrases. Mary Steenburgen proves to be a perfect addition to the cast, she and Christopher Lloyd have great chemistry and it’s wonderful to watch their relationship develop while they discuss science and the writings of Jules Verne. But most of all, Part III is a fitting conclusion to an epic trilogy. Robert Zemeckis really did deliver when he said he wanted to make a thrilling finale. Every time you watch that train push the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour is just as exciting as the last.
At this point, BTTF isn’t just a trilogy of movies; it’s a major cultural phenomenon! Thomas F. Wilson carries FAQ cards with him, which he hands to eager fans to save him having to answer the same questions over and over again. These movies have certainly had a profound effect on my life, responsible for both my love of movies, cars and funnily enough cars in movies! It’s the reason I write a movie blog. Now it may not be the first movie trilogy to achieve this type of status, and it certainly won’t be the last, but there’s something special about BTTF and I think it has something to do with the car. You can’t visit Dagobah or Vulcan, you certainly can’t do it in an X-Wing or the USS Enterprise. And yes you can’t really visit Hill Valley. But you can visit some of the places used to portray Hill Valley and you can do it in the time machine, or at least a copy of it. You could even do it – although not any more – on a date relating to the movies. According to Bob Gale, on the 26th October 1985 fans showed up at the mall used to film the Twin Pines Mall location to see if a time travelling DeLorean showed up!
Take away the time travel element and Back To The Future is a very relatable, very human story. Given the opportunity to embark on an adventure such as this, I think most people would take it. I know I would, especially if it meant I got to drive!
I always give a rating at the end of my reviews, with this one I thought I’d break it down a bit.
Back To The Future – 10/10
Back To The Future Part 2 – 8/10
Back To The Future Part 3 – 8/10
Back To The Future Trilogy – 10/10
What do you think of the Back To The Future trilogy? Let us know by leaving a comment below or find us on Facebook and Twitter.