Classic Films And Super-Fandom: What’s The Future For ‘Back To The Future’?

With a last name like mine, it is almost inevitable that I'd have strong feelings about the franchise.

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There are three ways you can enjoy the Back the Future series. The first is the same as you would any other good film: laugh at the jokes, gasp at the surprises, then leave the cinema and move on with your life.

The second approach is a bit more in-depth. Perhaps you have the DVD box set on your shelf. Maybe from time to time you drop a “Great Scott!” into conversation. You are aware that a young Elijah Wood made a cameo in the second film.

The third approach, however, is not for everyone. It involves watching the films back to back. Multiple times. Then with the commentary turned on. Then with “fun fact” mode enabled. It means you watch it when it comes on TV, despite owning the DVDs. It means it hurts you to know that the filmmakers cut a DeLorean in half in order to get some of those internal shots.

You measure wealth by your ability (or inability) to purchase a DeLorean. You’ve wondered why, in that picture, Marty’s siblings and himself disappear piece-by-piece instead of instantaneously ceasing to exist.

You own a red puffer vest.

This is a space I’ve occupied from the age of 15 (with a last name like mine, this should come as no surprise), and my enthusiasm for the series has never wavered. Back to the Future has everything you could want from a film: it’s simultaneously a prom movie, a western, sci-fi, a rom-com and a buddy film. Beyond all that however, even when it was newly released, Back to the Future always managed to tap into our sense of nostalgia and our desire to know “what if?” (Incidentally, the question that spawned the entire thing came from writer Bob Gale, who, when looking at an old yearbook, wondered if he would have been friends with his father had they gone to high school together.)

I came to Back to the Future in a weird middle–ground: the era that Marty skipped over. I wasn’t there in 1985, and, back in the early 2000s, had no idea what 2015 would look like. In no scenario would I have been in high school with Marty McFly, and even if I had been we probably wouldn’t have been friends – I’d have been too busy watching time-travel trilogies to get involved with his “slacker” antics.

Despite being about as far from Marty McFly one can be without getting dinosaurs involved, his story still found me at the right time of life. At the heart of all the crazy costumes and catch phrases, Back to the Future is the story of a guy who lacks confidence in himself; a guy who is told by almost everyone around him that his aspirations are unrealistic, and who, without the interference of time travel, is facing a pretty bleak future.

In high school, when you’re standing on the precipice of making far-reaching choices about your life, watching someone break free via a time machine represents the ultimate in escapism.

Would The Trilogy Still Work If It Was Made Now?

Like any film, Back to the Future is a product of its time. It’s no coincidence that their version of 2015 looks like the ‘80s ingested some Star Trek and then threw up. Despite that, it stands up well – in part due to the fact that it takes place in four distinct times: two factual, and two predicted.

Had Bob Gale travelled forward thirty years before writing this film, it would naturally look quite different. Back in 1985, Marty apparently met Doc when he broke into Doc’s laboratory/home/elaborate dog-food-dispensary, and from there a friendship blossomed. The Marty McFly of today, however, would probably have to turn to the internet in order to build rapport with the neighbourhood eccentric. Even then, I’m not quite sure which category of Gumtree you’d need to click on to find someone asking you to climb into their dubiously modified car in an empty carpark in the early hours of the morning.

That car, incidentally, would not be a DeLorean; it would either be a Tesla, or one of those Jurassic World gyroscopes. Then there’s the whole thing where they would be travelling back to 1985 instead of 1955, and forward to 2045 — where the world would look exactly like this one except that all glasses would be purple and men would have glitter beards or something. Maybe there would be a whole lot of yarnbombing everywhere, I don’t know.

I’m not quite sure what the Marty McFly of today would look like, either. There is a high chance he would still be sporting his super fashion red puffer jacket (thanks a bunch for that, Uniqlo) – but perhaps he would be wearing a yellow T-shirt and a scared expression.

Back to the Future has a modern parallel of sorts; animated series Rick and Morty started out as a (somewhat NSFW) parody of the films, and ending up as a distinct show about an eccentric scientist with a school-age sidekick going on adventures through space (but not time). The tone is much darker and the humour quite different, but arguably it is the same premise, adjusted for today.

Of course it’s impossible to predict whether a film, book or television series would work if remade or reimagined outside of its original context (which is a shame because if there were a set formula we would all have been spared the horror of the Kath and Kim American remake). For me, if it has time travel, I’m there — but without the original actors, time cues, and alternative zeitgeist, you’d be left with a strange echo of an idea which may or may not stand alone.

Anyway: despite many false starts, today is the day we theoretically will be welcoming Marty McFly as he arrives to sort out his son’s mess. So, if you need me I’ll be weeping over my non-self-lacing sneakers as I wait in line to see Back to the Future part one on the big screen for the first time.

Elizabeth Flux is the editor of Voiceworks, and has been published in Film Ink, Metro, The Punch, and Lip Magazine. She tweets terrible puns @ElizabethFlux.