Monday, October 5, 2015

Recap: "Back to the Future" Intro

First and foremost, NewtCave readers, thank you all very much for giving me as many views in two years as Markiplier gets in an hour. And I truly do mean that; every single page view means the world to me. You guys are the reason I do this. And today, "this" refers to taking a trip back into the past to look at a story about... taking a trip back into the past.

And to those of you who are wondering why I'm covering this movie in particular when I'm supposed to be writing a comic superhero blog (allegedly)....

Hey, it's October of 2015. I'm basically obligated by internet law to talk about it. And the 150,000 View Anniversary gives me a great excuse to shake things up.

Great Scott!
Usually, when I write these little introductions, I talk about the numerous scriptwriters and directors that a particular property ended up in before we got the final product. But today's film wasn't an adaptation of existing characters, it was the brainchild of a single man. And another man, but initially a single man.

Robert Gale as flipping through his dad's yearbook back in 1980 and idly wondered, "If I had been in high school with my own dad, would we have been friends?" And from that simple idea, with a little help from Robert Zemeckis, the rough outline for a film was born.

I say "rough outline" because the finished product was much different than it originally would have been. Originally, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis wrote the tale of a young punk who sold bootleg VHS tapes with Professor Brown. The professor would invent a time machine out of a refrigerator, powered by an atomic explosion. The young punk would be sent in the fridge back to 1955, where he would meet his own parents and ensure that he would be born. And when a second explosion sent him back to the future, he would find a version of 1985 that looked like what the 50's thought the future would be like. Flying cars, food pills, and all that.

Pff. Learning things from one of those newfangled "com-put-ors"? As if.
Anyone who's familiar with the film has probably noticed that this doesn't exactly sound like the finished product. Well, that's because a lot happened between conception and the final film

First of all, nobody would even humor the two Bobs until Zemeckis's Romancing the Stone did well at the box office.

Note: Romancing the Stone is unrelated to the Doctor Who episode where a man's girlfriend ends up as a slab of cement.
I apologize for any confusion.
The two Bobs showed the script to Disney, but they thought it was too raunchy, what with Lorraine unknowingly falling in love with her future son. So they showed it to Columbia Pictures. They thought it wasn't raunchy enough.

Once Romancing the Stone became a hit, the two Bobs went back to their old buddy, Steven Spielberg, who helped them create a couple box office flops. With his help, Universal Pictures took a liking to the story. As long as a few changes were made.

Shemp Einstein, Prof. Doc Brown's pet, was originally a monkey, not a dog. At one point, the fridge was to be powered by Coca-Cola. And the fridge itself was changed into a car because old-timey refrigerators were held shut by a mechanical catch, not a magnet. Kids accidentally locking themselves in the fridge was a fairly valid concern. And yes. This was Spielberg's inspiration for having Indiana Jones survive a nuclear explosion in a refrigerator.

If only they had switched out the fridge for a DeLorean here, too.
But a certain head of Universal named Sid Shenberg, who was responsible for many of the changes to the movie (including changing the name of Marty's mother to Lorraine, Sid's wife's name), wanted to change the very title. Thanks to a few scenes where Marty McFly is mistaken for an alien, he wanted to rename the film "Spaceman from Pluto." Thankfully, Steven Spielberg sent him a letter thanking him for the "joke memo," and Shenberg didn't have the guts to admit that he was being serious.

But probably the most famous behind-the-scenes aspect of this movie is the casting.

For Doc Brown, names like John Lithgow and Jeff Goldblum were thrown around. Christopher Lloyd nearly passed on the film, but his wife convinced him that the script was better than it seemed. And if he had been reading a script talking about putting a monkey in a fridge... well, no wonder he wanted to pass on it.

Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, and other actors were signed on to their various roles with little incident. (About the most exciting thing was recasting J.J. Cohen, the original Biff, as one of his cohorts, "Skinhead") But that brings us to the famed "What If?" story Back to the Future has to offer.

Because they had worked together before, Lea Thompson and Eric Stoltz were brought in. But in reality, the filmmakers only wanted Lea Thompson. Michael J. Fox was their first choice for the role of Marty McFly, but he was busy with the popular sitcom Family Ties, where one of his co-stars, Meredith Baxter, was already on leave for her pregnancy.

A few scenes were shot with Stoltz, but the filmmakers decided that he was too caught up in the horrific philosophical implications of changing the past and kind of sucked the fun out of everything. So when a deal was struck to acquire Michael J. Fox (including a 6 PM to 6 AM shooting schedule), Stoltz was given the boot. At the cost of three million dollars to redo his scenes.

The two major indicators that you're in an alternate reality.
1: There are blimps in the skies. 2: Eric Stoltz is in Back to the Future.
Actually, you know who auditioned for the part of Marty? Johnny Depp. The filmmakers didn't even realize this until Bob Gale looked back through the cast notes and saw the name.

It's very rare to find somebody with a negative opinion of this movie, but such people exist. In general, though, this film is considered a masterpiece. It made $300 million at the box office, becoming the highest grossing movie of 1985, and received near-universal acclaim. It won the Hugo, a Saturn, an Academy Award for Sound Editing, and many more nominations. In 2007, it was placed in the National Film Registry and in 2008 it was ranked as the #10 sci-fi film of all time by AFI.

But... surely this movie could benefit from a classic NewtCave examination with a hefty dose of nitpicking?  Let's see.

Coming up in Part 1! A dad, some defeatism, and a DeLorean!


  1. One of these days, you will have to make non-Marvel/DC recap about actual superhero...

    Although...The Doctor saved the world few times, has inhuman power and access to amazing gadgets, no one knows his name and often wears bizarre clothing.

    What is exactly definition of superhero, seeing that its somehow covers guys like Dr Strange, Elektra, Punisher or Howard the Duck?

    1. "Superhero" originally covered the costume-and-powers guys, with Batman-types as "pulp heroes". But these days, everything gets lumped in as a "superhero."

      Oh, and don't worry. I have a few ideas regarding non-Marvel/DC superhero posts. ;)

    2. Then again, I really shouldn't count Howard as superhero just because Collector says so.

    3. Oh, I don't know. He considered the Agents of SMASH to not be worth collecting at first, so he showed SOME sense.

  2. I'm assuming the "blimps in the sky" is a reference from Fringe? Love that show.

    1. Fringe, Doctor Who, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow....
      Blimps show up all the time in alternate realities.

  3. Well thanks to the new Lego Dimensions game we have both Doc. Brown and Doctor Who in thee same universe together. What more could a guy want?

    1. Ghostbusters in the same universe. And they made it happen.

    2. Now if only the game was, y'know, affordable.

      - That One Anon