Friday, March 9, 2012

Back to the Future

“Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?” That’s right, last night’s Throwback Thursday was the 1985 classic Back to the Future. And thanks to Essex Cinemas, I’ve now finally had the pleasure of seeing Back to the Futureon the big screen for the very first time. So many years have gone by since these movies first entered my life (we’re almost in the once futuristic world of 2015) and I have to say I was racking my brain trying to crack this story. How do I talk about a movie that spawned two sequels and an animated series, as well as spanned my entire childhood or maybe even longer, and hope to do it any kind of justice? I guess the only thing I can do is start at the only place that makes any sense: the beginning.

Much like The Goonies, the first time I watched Back to the Futurehad to do with my father and a VHS tape. Do you remember the time before digital streaming and DVR? Where it seemed like everyone had a large collection of long running VHS tapes that had several different movies on them? I do, that’s how I was able to watch some of the classics from my childhood, such as the previously mentioned The Goonies, as well as other cinema gems like Back to the FutureReturn of the JediBill & Ted's Excellent AdventureFlight of the NavigatorThe NeverEnding StoryWho Framed Roger Rabbitand the list goes on and on. If it wasn’t for a pretty hip Dad and VHS player, I might’ve missed out on a lot of the movies of my youth.

I don’t remember going to the movies (as in the theater) a lot as a really young guy. Matter o’ fact, my first real movie theater memory might be when my Mom brought me to see Disney’s the Little Mermaid, but thanks to TV recorded VHS tapes and Mom & Pop video rental stores, I never really missed out. I remember going to one of these video rental places and seeing the large cardboard standup of Back to the Future with Michael J. Fox standing next to the DeLorean staring at his watch long before I ever remember actually seeing the movie.  I don’t think it was until years later that I finally saw Back to the Future (I could be wrong) but I don’t really remember watching it until I had moved back to South Burlington (around 1988) and met one of my best friends, Mark (more on how he fits into Back to the Future…in the future).

Back to the Future was a movie that was clearly over my head when I was a kid. I remember looking up to Marty McFly - how could I not? He played guitar and he skateboarded (by hanging onto cars, no less). Seriously, between Back to the Future and Gleaming the Cube, I’m lucky that as an over-adventurous youth I didn’t get killed trying to copy that same behavior (man, if only real life was more like the movies). But coolest of all, Marty drove a time-machine made out of a super stylish DeLorean (by a show of hands, who doesn’t still want one?). The part that I was missing as a kid though was the way writer/director Robert Zemeckis beautifully crafted the storyline together, dropping hints of exposition throughout the opening scenes and giving us (the audience) all the information we needed to follow Marty and Doc Brown on their adventure through time. To be fair, the movie was released when I was five and I’m sure a lot of things went over my head at that age (and still do now). Maybe that’s why the original movie, although leaving an impression, didn’t leave as large of one as the sequel. I might’ve just been too young for Back to the Future when it was first released, but that meant by the time Back to the Future II came out I was just old enough to be completely blown away.

I would wear the pair pictured upper left-hand corner,
Mark would wear the pair on the lower left
Although I don’t remember what format I first saw Back to the Future II in (Mom, Dad a little help here) I do clearly remember the Solar Shades Pizza Hut movie tie-in. Mark (told you his mention would make sense) had several different pairs of the quasi-futuristic glasses. I don’t think he had the four different versions, but I know he had a couple pairs each of a few of them (the ones he would let me wear are pictured in the upper left-hand corner and the ones he wore are pictured in the lower left). Like its predecessor Back to the FutureBack to the Future II was awe-inspiring. Instead of being thrown into the past, this time Marty found himself cashing in on the promise Zemeckis made at the end of the first movie and traveling into the future. Hill Valley in 2015 offered a cool glimpse into our own possible future. Yes, we might not have Jaws 19 playing in hologram, but we do have a flood of 3D movies, which are close. And who in 1989 would’ve predicted that they’d stop making sequels and just remake everything for a younger audience? So yes, it’s true we might never see Jaws 19, but there’s a really good chance we’ll see a 3D Jaws remake by 2015. But it wasn’t the promise of holographic movies that excited me about the future and it wasn’t even the self-lacing Nike Air MAGS. No, Zemeckis’ future drove me crazy for one reason and one reason alone… The Hoverboard. I clearly remember sitting on the swings and talking for what seemed like days with Mark and my other friends about how much we couldn’t wait for the future to happen and how we were all going to own Hoverboards as soon as they were released. Unfortunately, twenty-three years later the closest we’ve come to having Hoverboards is the movie prop replica from Mattel. But hey, it’s one step closer to the real thing and they still have three years to perfect it, right? In the following two years, the Back to the Future Trilogy would be complete and we would also see the addition of a Back to the Future Cartoon on the CBS Saturday Morning lineup. Although I was a fan of the third movie, at the time it didn’t hold a candle to the second one. I didn’t want to be a cowboy, I just wanted my hoverboard, and really: was that too much to ask (fingers crossed for 2015)? As for the cartoon, it honestly was kind of forgettable. More than watching it, I remember having one or two of the McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and fighting with my brother over who got to play with Einstein in the time travel train.

The Crew with Monster Squad Director Fred Dekker at Monster Mania '07
Fast forward to 2007 and Back to the Future was once again playing a role in my life, but this time in a most peculiar way. My friend Covino and I were discussing Back to the Future actor Crispin Glover (George McFly) and his experimental film What is it? which neither of us had seen, but from the trailer alone knew we had to. A quick Internet search later and we discovered that Glover was bringing his film to Cherry Hill New Jersey for Monster Mania 7 and not only would we get to see him present his film but they were also hosting a reunion of one of our other favorite childhood movies, The Monster Squad. Always a fan of killing two birds with one stone, we headed off to Monster Mania to see The Monster Squad on a big screen as well as to see Crispin Glover and What is it?. This was my first opportunity to hear Mr. Glover speak and, like me, other fans of Back to the Future were very curious about his role as George McFly (actually, if you ever see What is it? you’ll see there is a slight Back to the Future reference, but I won’t spoil it). And there at Monster Mania was the first time I heard about the Back to the Future/Back to the Future II controversy. According to Glover, when the producers of Back to the Future were looking to shoot the sequel, they approached him about replaying his role. Glover was interested, but they couldn’t come to an agreement over the amount to pay him, offering him much less than he felt he deserved for the role. After Glover walked away from Back to the Future II, the producers then hired a different actor to play George McFly, but not as himself; as Crispin Glover playing George McFly. This new actor, wearing prosthetic make-up and a mix of archival footage from the first movie, was used to disguise the fact that Glover was no longer in the sequel. When Glover found out, he sued producers and ultimately won the case changing the way an actors likeness can be used in movies today. It was nice to hear Glover say though that he and Robert Zemeckis still have a good relationship and announced he had a role in the Zemeckis movie Beowulf, which was released that same year.   

From Left to Right: Travis J. Kehoe & Marty McFly 
Which brings us back to the present day and the first time I got to watch Back to the Future on the big screen. With all of my previous exposure to the film, I never had a chance to experience it the way it was meant to be experienced. I can tell you that from the opening scene where Marty plugs his electric guitar into Doc Brown’s oversized amp and the slowly building static sound drew me to the very edge of my seat in nervous anticipation; I was hooked. Much like Marty was launched across the room when he first strums his guitar, I was ready to be rocketed from my chair by the wall of sound that is the T-Rex theaters surround sound. It was awesome and I, along with another 399 of my closet friends (that’s right, sold out show), was transfixed. It was so cool to hear the thunderous applause when Marty (on his makeshift skateboard) outruns Biff in his ‘46 Ford Super De Luxe, unwittingly sending him and crew crashing into a nearby manure truck (a theme that is later repeated across the sequels). Later on, when George McFly finally stands up to Biff, the audience exploded in appreciation again. You just can’t experience this feeling watching the movie alone at your house or even with a group of friends; you have to be at the movies to really feel the excitement. And even though Back to the Future is now twenty-seven years old, I think visually it still held-up, although there were some special effects that high definition was not so kind to. For example, most of the aging make-up became a lot more noticeable when held up to a HD lens; it was not hard to notice where the real skin stopped and the fake latex wrinkles started. The other scene that stands out was when Marty is starting to disappear and he holds his hand in front of his face, clearly a blue screen trick that didn’t enhance with the transfer. That being said, Back to the Future was still a great Throwback Thursday movie and if anything made me wish I could immediately watch the sequels again, something that I might just have to go and do right now.

Although it’s been more years than I like to admit since I first popped my television recorded VHS version of Back to the Future into my VHS player, I have to say it’s a movie, no, more than that a trilogy, that has really stood the test of time. Maybe Huey Lewis said it best with “that’s the power of love” because talking about the Back to the Future movies he would be right. I loved watching these movies growing up and the packed theater last night was proof that I wasn’t alone.