Today is Nov. 5. If you’re a fan of Back to the Future, you know today is the day that Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) accidentally went back in time to this date in 1955 in the fictional town of Hill Valley, Calif. Marty’s friend, Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) punched the date in his time circuits before getting killed by Libyan terrorists as the day he got the idea for the flux capacitor.
If you know anything about the plot, I’m not going to go into great details. Fleeing the terrorists, Marty goes back to 1955 and as a reflex tries to save his father, George (Crispin Glover) from getting hit by a car but instead attracts the eye of Lorraine Baines (Lea Thompson) his mother. So, the whole plot is about a man trying to make his parents fall in love. The notion of a son playing matchmaker for his parents is a universal one. It’s been done so over before and since then, this is a nice twist.
The movie also poses the question, if you knew something about someone that could change their future, would you tell them? Marty has to first convince the 1955 Doc that they know each other and then has to grapple with the notion of telling him his fate. If we knew when we were going to die, what would we do to prevent it? Or in the case such as 12 Monkeys or The Terminator movies, isn’t avoiding the future unpreventable.
Now, I’m not going to get into the countless fan theories and contradictions that have been exposed over the years. Some are valid, such as why don’t they just use the DeLorean hidden in the cave in the third movie or why does the elderly Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) even bother going back to the 2015? Also, why does the alternative 1985 that Marty wakes up in the first movie only affect his family and Biff’s life? This also has led to other fan theories that we are actually watching an alternate 1985 at the beginning of the first movie. Surely if neither Biff nor George work at the factory or wherever, two other people must have their jobs. For Biff to have a grandson, Griff, in 2015, who is in his late teens or early 20s, then Biff has a child never seen. Did he have the child at the beginning of BTTF or at the end?
I mean, I could spend hours and multiple posts talking about all of what is never mentioned in the trilogy. The fact that BTTF has been referenced in other major blockbusters such as Avengers: Endgame and has been so popular the mere site of the actors together generates so much love and admiration shows its legacy. Lloyd popped up in a joke in A Million Ways to Die in the West, spoofing his character.
Supposedly, director Robert Zemeckis and producers Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg and Neil Canton have made a solid pact never to do a reboot/remake nor a fourth movie. There was a short-lived cartoon series that ran in the 1991-1992 season on NBC. And the ride at the Universal Studios was one of the best I’ve been on at the park.
What’s most interesting is that the trilogy was intentionally never planned. The movie was supposed to be a one-and-done movie. And considering all the problems the production had, it was no surprise everyone wanted to do something else. Fox, who was still doing his TV show Family Ties made more mature movies like Light of Day and Casualties of War. Zemeckis made the brilliant Who Framed Roger Rabbit with Lloyd appearing in a major role.
As for the problems, they’re nothing as bad as problems that plague other movies. Gale and Zemeckis had a rough time getting the movie greenlit but that’s typical. No, Fox wasn’t the first Marty. Fox’s contract with the abovementioned sitcom limited his abilities to do movies. Fox had only been able to do Teen Wolf because production went on hiatus as Meredith Baxter-Birney had to go on maternity leave.
No, Eric Stoltz was selected to play Marty. This led to Wilson being cast as Wilson was taller than Stoltz and they wanted a taller actor to play a bully to Marty. This meant Melora Hardin was hired to play Marty’s love interest Jennifer Parker. Hardin, who was being considered after Claudia Wells (who played the role in the first movie) was unavailable, found herself let go when Stoltz was fired after five weeks, because she was relatively taller than Fox. Incidentally, Wilson wasn’t the first choice to play Biff either. J.J. Cohen was considered but he was the same height as Stoltz, leading to the hiring of Wilson. But Cohen was left in the movie as one of Biff’s goon along with actors Casey Siemaszko and Billy Zane.
Rumor has it, they had filmed almost all the movie with Stoltz but after five weeks realized that Stoltz was taking the role of Marty too seriously. While it was supposed to be a comedy fantasy, Stoltz wasn’t getting the part right. It took Spielberg to talk with Universal Pictures executives about working out a deal to get Fox on the set. This also meant they had to work out a plan with his Family Ties contract.
Thankfully, since many of Fox’s scenes were filmed at night, they were able to shoot night scenes while Fox was working on the sitcom during the day. Also interior scenes could be filmed at night as well. Day shoots took place on weekends. This production schedule was very hard on Fox who had little time to rest. Some reports claim he actually at times was so tired, he would be carried around while he slept from set to set.
But in the end, it worked out well for Fox and the rest of the cast and crew as BTTF has mainly become the movie of which they’re mostly associated. Wilson has reportedly gotten tired of being asked so many of the same questions, he passes out copies of his replies to the FAQ he receives.
BTTF made a lot of money which meant a sequel was inevitable especially since the ending set the door open for Doc, Marty and Jennifer going to the future. Production on both sequels were done back-to-back and while initially both weren’t reviewed favorably to the first one, I think they are just as great considering the story being told.
Part II begins with a trip to late October 2015 where Marty must pretend to be his son, Marty Jr., to prevent him from being arrested and his daughter, Marlene, from also being arrested. This leads to a run-in with Griff, Biff’s grandson, who is the one arrested after a chase on hoverboards leads to damage to property. But Marty screws things up when he purchases a sports almanac that Doc finds and junks when Marty says he plans on using it to make a few bets. Then the elder Biff overhears it and gets the almanac to benefit himself.
While I’ll admit the second movie doesn’t spend as much time in the future as the advertising made it out to be, there is a lot of interesting factors that it did get right. In the future there are flatscreen TVs. Miami, Fla. has a Major League baseball franchise and the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. There was a resurgence in 1980s nostalgia and pop culture. Even though it was mentioned more in the novelization, but paper money wasn’t heavily in use, which is why people use their thumbs. Homes became more automated. Video games are now played without using your hands.
Even the Surf Vietnam poster seen on the side of a building as a joke to both Watchmen and Apocalypse Now, Vietnam has actually opened it doors to tourism. However, the notion that the Japanese businesses would become more powerful in America didn’t happen. But people in the 1980s and early 1990s thought it would happen. There are still no hydrate machines for pizza and the hoverboards aren’t a thing, at least not like in the movie.
Despite what was said during interviews, parental groups didn’t keep them off the market. It was an joke that was mistaken for a serious comments. They used wires, trick photography and special effects for the hoverboards.
So, Biff gives his younger self the almanac which allows himself to become very rich and prosperous and even more corrupt. Some people have noted the similarities between Biff and Donald Trump in the alternate 1985. Gale actually said that was the case when they made the movie. Another nod to Watchmen but it might be seen as a change to the power that Biff had over the world was a headline in a newspaper indicating Richard Nixon has been nominated to a fifth term.
Some people have criticized the latter part of the second one as it has Marty and Doc returning to 1955 to get the sports almanac knowing they’re going to have to avoid contact with their others selves. There’s been a joke that sequels basically recycle the plot of the first movie. Jaws 2 just throws another shark off Amity Island. Home Alone 2 follows the same premise. So, here’s the twist, a sequel that revisits its first movie but does it from different angles. The only way this would be possible is through time travel.
It was a great idea but unfortunately by 1990, Back to the Future Part III opened with the least fanfare and made the least amount at the box office. But I feel it takes the trilogy to a conclusion. One of the biggest additions is Mary Steenburgen as Clara Clayton, a school teacher who was supposed to die in an accident, but Doc and Marty save her. Doc and Clara have an instant attraction as Doc is saved from being killed by Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen (Wilson) but Marty puts his life at risk.
While shifting from the future to the Old West may have turned off some audiences, by now, you feel the most comfortable with them. And while Doc has seemed like in a supporting role to Marty, here he takes center stage. Doc is being faced with the situation of affecting the future. While in the first one, there was nothing to worry about since he is shot and killed right before Marty goes back to 1955, wearing a bulletproof vest doesn’t change much. Clara was supposed to die in freak accident where the carriage she was using runs off a cliff. By saving her and eventually falling in love, he has changed Clara’s fate and what is around her, so he’s faced with the idea of staying with her or taking her with him, even though she may not believe he is from the future.
There’s also some great reactions from Marty as he sees Doc and Clara dancing or at the end when Doc saves her from falling off the train engine. You can tell Doc and Marty are good friends. Both Doc and Marty are given plot lines as Marty is having to learn to finally grow up and not let his emotions get the best of him. The end conversation between Jennifer (now played by Elisabeth Shue) and Doc over how no one’s future is written and they should make the best of it is him finally realizing that science can’t explain everything. He’s happy finally with Clara as his wife and they have two young sons, Jules and Verne.
The trilogy wasn’t without some controversy. Glover didn’t reprise his role as George McFly leading to a different actor Jeffrey Weissman to play the elderly George during the 2015 section and wearing shades and in the background during a scene in the third movie. What the filmmakers didn’t do was get Glover’s approval for likeness or use of archive footage that led to a landmark change in the Screen Actors Guild. Glover has since said him and Zemeckis have made Beowulf, but his main opposition is to Gale who he says was in charge of it all. Fox reportedly didn’t think it was a good idea to get another actor to wear make-up and prosthetics.
And as the years have passed, more fans have loved the trilogy more and more. Very few film franchises have a true trilogy. The Godfather is considered a duology with the third one as a coda. The Lord of the Rings are actually based on one huge book. The Star Wars franchise has gone from being a trilogy to a bigger franchise spanning over a dozen movies and TV series.
Forgive the pun, but it remains a timeless movie treasure.