Caseen Gaines, author of Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon, leads this year’s deluge of commentary honoring the Back to the Future trilogy’s 30th anniversary with a wide-ranging and lovingly crafted retrospective on the development, production, and long afterlife of the 1985 time-travel classic. Built upon extensive interviews with cast, crew, studio executives, and even Huey Lewis (who wrote the movie’s famous theme “Power of Love”), the book explores the treasure trove of trivia usually reserved for hardcore BTTF buffs.
Like the futuristic DeLorean itself, Gaines flies over lots of fascinating territory, dispelling myths (no, hoverboards still aren’t real), revealing production snafus (how a stunt almost turned deadly), and explaining the curious case of casting Marty McFly. We Don’t Need Roads benefits from the detailed recollections of the trilogy’s co-writer Bob Gale and director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis, but not from the onslaught of clichés and Entertainment Tonight-style copy Gaines unfortunately succumbs to. (It pains me to say this as a longtime BTTFhead.) Nevertheless, equal parts celebration and exposition, it’s a well-informed ode to a beloved series that casual moviegoers will enjoy as much as dedicated cinephiles.
For a college class in winter 2008-09, we had to make a “zine” on a topic of our choice. Mine was called The Movies: Take Two. It aimed to “take a different look” at all things movie-related using crowd-sourced haikus, six-word summaries, and some of my own comparative film analyses to cast some of my favorite flicks in different lights. Usually zines are handcrafted to look purposely shoddy, but since I’m not very crafty I decided to make mine in Adobe InDesign. I still tried to create the haphazard look, but keep it clean at the same time.
I’ll post the other pages some other time, but today as part of The Simba Life’s weeklong fête of Back to the Future Week, I’m sharing the part of the zine that honored the 1985 classic, albeit in an unorthodox way. Enjoy my reverently rendered irreverence.
To celebrate Back to the FutureWeek, I’m posting a story I wrote for my school paper in 2008 about my hopeless devotion to the time-bending trilogy.
If I were asked to name what I think are the greatest films of all time, I might throw out a few high-brow titles like Rear Window or Casablanca or Taxi Driver. But if I had to name my favorite film, one that makes me love movies and makes me love being alive, it would be Back to the Future.
A silly overstatement, right? Not in the least. I first saw Back to the Future in middle school. Since then it has become my comfort movie. Everyone has one. Everyone has a movie they watch because it reminds them of their childhood or makes them feel happy. My sister watches Seven Brides for Seven Brothers because it got her through the grieving process after our grandma died. I watch Back to the Future because, like all those classic Disney movies, it reminds me of the goodness of my youth. Plus, it is simply a good movie.
You don’t realize it the first few times you watch it, but Back to the Future is an incredibly well-written movie. There are so many subtle things you don’t notice until you reach the BTTF-nerd status as I have. For instance, the mall is named “Twin Pines Mall” in the beginning. Then, after Marty, played by Michael J. Fox, comes back from the future, it is named “Lone Pine Mall.” This is because he ran over one of the two pine trees in Mr. Peabody’s front yard. (Remember when I mentioned the nerd status? I wasn’t kidding.)
The writing, especially the dialogue, is exceptionally smart, given that the movie was a big-budget blockbuster when it was released in 1985. The Doc Brown character, played by Christopher Lloyd, has many of the funniest one-liners as the eccentric scientist from the 1950s. He wonders what Marty’s strange suit is and Marty tells him it’s a radiation suit. He responds, “A radiation suit? Of course! Because of all the fallout from the atomic wars.” Later, Marty says his catchphrase “This is heavy” again and Doc wonders why: “There’s that word again: ‘heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the earth’s gravitational pull?”
The acting, as well, is spot-on. But did you know that Michael J. Fox was not originally cast as Marty? Eric Stoltz, who played the drug dealer in Pulp Fiction, was cast first and even filmed a few scenes, but the director Robert Zemeckis fired him (thank God) once Fox found room in his filming schedule for his popular sitcom Family Ties. Christopher Lloyd as Doc and Crispin Glover as George McFly were perfectly peculiar in their roles and Tom Wilson as Biff Tannen created one of the all-time greatest movie bullies.
But any movie can have clever writing and good casting. What makes me love it so? Honestly, I don’t know. The original music score is wildly fun and the 1950s sets are great bits of nostalgia, but they are just parts of the whole. It just has that X-factor that won’t let me forget how much I love to sit in a darkened room and watch a story unfold. This particular story just happens to zip around the space-time continuum with a slightly insecure, “Johnny B. Goode”-playing teenager and his lovably loquacious scientist friend.
If I can’t explain why I love the Back to the Future trilogy so much, I can simply show you. In addition to the posters from all three movies hanging on my wall, I have three different DeLorean die-cast, 1:18 scale model cars (one from each movie) and a pen and a key chain I bought from Universal Studios after taking the now-defunct BTTF ride. Yet my nerdness runs deeper: I also have a copy of the letter Marty writes to Doc which I made myself in junior high pinned to my bulletin board at home. Yeah, that’s right.
But the most amazing experience I’ve had with Back to the Future had nothing to do with the movie itself. When I was in eighth grade, my dad met a guy who owned a real DeLorean and asked him to dress up like Doc Brown, crazy wig and all, and cruise down my street and into my driveway. He leaped out of the car and yelled, “Chad, you’ve got to come back with me! Back to the future!” I jumped in the car and we drove around the city like crazy time-travelers. It was an otherworldly experience. (I now realize I never thanked my dad for. Thanks, Dad!)
To me, Back to the Future represents the incredible power of cinema. I feel like I take in the world through my senses when I watch it. I know that sounds crazy, but I can’t describe it any other way. I know that every one of us has a book or a movie or a song that has an invisible hold on our hearts and souls. Mine just happens to rock along to “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. I wouldn’t have it any other way.