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.
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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, the bare bones of this idea were eventually used by Steven Spielberg 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 Zemekis 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 collar bone 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 film makers 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...
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.