Back to the Future Day. It’s finally here.
We’ve probably all fallen for those fake screengrabs posted on Facebook and Twitter over the last few years, the ones saying ‘THIS is the day Marty McFly arrived in the future’, the ones where the year has been modified to read 2012 or 2013, but today is the real thing. The screengrabs are real.
Today is the future. Tomorrow it will be the past.
As someone who saw Back to the Future Part II at the cinema as an eight year old and was enthralled by its first-act vision of a future that really wasn’t all bad (compare this to other films set in the future, where it’s pretty much a given that it’s a dystopia), the fact that we’ve finally come to this date is a big deal. 26 years have passed since I first saw this film and I’ve seen plenty of others set in the future before or since, some of which have presented a future that has already come and gone. I didn’t really acknowledge the passing of future to past for the likes of Predator 2 and The Terminator, the latter famous for dating 1997 as JUDGEMENT DAY, and the former for being entirely set in that same year. Since both depictions of 1997 were far from happy, I was just relieved that Bill Paxton was still alive and that the world hadn’t been nuked by some computer that year. 2001? 2010? Great films, but in the end they’re just years to me. We still haven’t arrived at Blade Runner‘s 2019 or The Running Man‘s 2017-2019 (those are the years according to wikipedia) futureworlds, but even though the former is the best film ever made (and the latter the 35th), I don’t think anything’s going to hit me as much as today’s date.
The fact that Back to the Future Part II‘s future scenes will be, from tomorrow, set in the past, has really hit me. Seeing the film back in 1989, I was genuinely excited as to what the future might bring. It’s weird to discover that director Robert Zemeckis found the 2015 scenes to be the least interesting to develop– he didn’t want to get bogged down in predictions for one thing. For the rest of us mortals though, the future stuff was where it was at. As we’d already seen the first film’s Hill Valley town centre in both 1955 and 1985 incarnations, to see it fully updated for the future almost felt like seing your own town in the future. Obviously, this won’t mean much for casual or one-time Back to the Future viewers, but for us fans, who’d come to recognise the little nooks and crannies of that open space, the exciting newness yet familiarity of the 2015 sequences were a thrill. It helped that certain jokes, characters and set-pieces were cleverly duplicated from the original, none more obvious that the skateboard chase, now refreshed to hoverboard status. Oh God, did I want a hoverboard when I was younger. They just looked like the coolest thing ever. Remember, I was eight, and I think for some people of that age, the sight of seeing Michael J. Fox fly around town as he desperately tries to escape the clutches of utter nutter Griff Tannen and his gang was the equivalent of seeing Superman fly eleven years earlier. Okay, so the Hilldale sequences were far from glamourous (though to be honest, I was stupid enough to read Elisabeth Shue’s horrified delivery of ‘I get married in the Chapel O Love?’ as something far more upbeat when I was a kid), but the bright, colourful locale of the town centre had already worked its magic. I loved the flying cars. I loved the Pepsi Perfect emerging from the counter. I loved the fact that the doors to the Cafe 80’s did that weird sound effect thing everytime they opened (not as good as the ‘Moooo!’ effect on the doors in Clerks II, but nothing is). I loved the fact that the likes of Wild Gunman, a game where you ‘have to use your hands’, was seen as hopelessly old-fashioned. I loved the incidental details, like the skyramp in the background, or the projected TV screens, the pizzas that cook in three or so seconds, or the floating welcoming sign, and of course Jaws 19. Also, self-tailor made jackets which also dry themselves? Power laces? I was thinking of starting a one-day fashion craze where everybody wears their pockets inside out, but never got round to it.
For all my life, all of this stuff has been set in the future, but today that ceases to be. It’s not that I’m disappointed that we don’t have flying cars, though I am relieved that the Jaws series mercifully stopped after the fourth one. However, there is something about Back to the Future Part II‘s future-ness that meant that it could still hit me today in the same way as it did when I was eight. Setting it in 2015, as well as making sense in regards to the film’s logic (we went 30 years back in time, so why not go forward 30 years?), also made it exciting for us viewers, because it was a future we could eventually live in ourselves. Deep down we probably knew that our 2015 wouldn’t be that much different from our 1989, but it was still distant enough (come on, it was the next century!) that the possibilities for change were plausible. And yes, a fair few things depicted in the film have actually come true, but the mundanities of everyday life still remain. Of course they do. To be honest, there were mundanities in Back to the Future Part II‘s future vision, but there were hoverboards. Oh why couldn’t we have at least got hoverboards?
No, I just feel a little piece of my childhood has finally been laid to rest with this date. Okay, I knew we weren’t going to catch up with what I’d seen on screen, unless Steven and Max Spielberg really went to work on those Jaws sequels, but that’s beside the point. That film was still the future. And now it’s not. We’re all getting older, and we all know that, but little dates like this hit that point harder than maybe the filmmakers ever imagined they would. But that’s because the likes of Back to the Future are wonderful, special, magnificent things that made a massive impact on my childhood. That particular screening of Back to the Future Part II remains one of my favourite ever cinema visits – it was one of the first ‘dark’ films I’d ever seen, it was probably the first film I’d ever seen on the big screen that was set in the future, it was definitely the most complex and brain-scrambling plot I’d seen in a film to date and it was the first to end on a cliffhanger. All big deals for me. But now whenever I sit down to watch it, there’ll now be a twinkle of amusement and yes, a bit of sadness that it’s now entirely set in the past. It’s on the same level as Back to the Future Part III now. Things will never be the same again.
Still, I don’t want to get bogged down in sadness. I’ve acknowledged it now, so let’s concentrate on the celebration! Recently, the good people at this site (aka me and Mark) recorded a series of fan audio commentaries for the Back to the Future trilogy that delves more into our love for these films in far greater detail. It’s the fact that we only recorded these commentaries the other day that I won’t be attending my local cinema’s admirable screening of the entire trilogy tonight (well that and it doesn’t finish ’til late, and I have to get up for work tomorrow!). They are being screened on UK TV though, so I’ll most likely dip into that and remain amused at all the little cuts for language that are most definitely going to be made. Oh remember when PG films got away with all those ‘shits’ and ‘assholes’ and ‘son of a bitch’s. Good times.
Happy Back to the Future day!
PS: To listen to our commentaries, please click on the link to the right – commentaries can be listened to direct from the site or downloaded for free as an mp3. They were recorded whilst watching the UK Region B Blu-Rays from 2010.
PPS: I’m an idiot. I always thought that weird sound effect whenever the doors of the Cafe 80’s came from the doors themselves. Obviously they come Griff’s bionic implants. The same sound is heard when he turns to Jason Scott Lee after the ‘unless you’ve got power!!’ line, so why did I never put two and two together!