Back to the Future

July 3, 1985

There was only one movie in 1985 that was bigger than RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, at least box office-wise, and it was considerably bigger. It would inspire two sequels, a cartoon and a movie ride at Universal Studios, though you could argue that its cultural impact was smaller than RAMBO’s merely because it couldn’t really be copied as much. How would you imitate something as high concept and specific as BACK TO THE FUTURE?

Its success surely comes from a combination of factors – the zippy direction of Robert Zemeckis, the unusual squeaky-voiced-nerd-who-carries-himself-as-a-rock-star appeal of Michael J. Fox (after MIDNIGHT MADNESS and CLASS OF 1984), the heart-pumping score by Alan Silvestri, the comic support of Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson and Lea Thompson – but all of that hangs on the ingenious premise: kid gets sent back in time to his parents’ high school days and endangers his own existence when his mom gets eyes for him instead of his dad.

You could imitate Rambo’s commando-rescuing-forgotten-P.O.W.s idea, but also just its setting, its main character, its type of action. With BACK TO THE FUTURE… I don’t know. It might’ve influenced PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, which came out about a year and a half later and has a woman who faints at her 25th high school reunion and wakes up back in 1960, but that just doesn’t involve the same kind of stakes. You can’t really make that lightning hit the same place twice. You can only go back in time to see the same lightning strike again.

Ethics require me to disclose that I am a bit of a BACK TO THE FUTURE heretic. I’ve never been as cynical about it as I was THE GOONIES, and I think I rewatched it more times than that one back in the VHS days. And I would consider myself a Zemeckis fan. You think I forgot about Roger Rabbit? P-p-please! Not to mention I’m one of the few proponents of his mo-cap trilogy (POLAR EXPRESS, BEOWULF and A CHRISTMAS CAROL). I saw them all two times theatrically! Three for POLAR EXPRESS because of a re-release! I saw THE WALK in the theater. I rented ALLIED. And I’d do it again!

But BACK TO THE FUTURE is one of a handful of ‘80s movies that I loved at the time, then felt out of step years later when I realized that some of my friends (not to mention my The Ain’t It Cool News colleagues and that READY PLAYER ONE guy) hold them in the same sort of regard as they do STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

BACK TO THE FUTURE didn’t imprint on me as powerfully as those did, so I find myself nitpicking it more than is generally considered socially acceptable. At the time, of course, Marty McFly was older than me, so I accepted him unquestioningly. He plays electric guitar, he rides a skateboard, he holds onto the back of cars (even a cop car!) to get around, he wears sunglasses and has headphones around his neck and wears his collar up, he gets to school late and has a cute girlfriend (Claudia Wells, ALIEN ARMAGEDDON), the principal hates him, and he’s prone to Michael Knight/Dukes of Hazzard shit like unnecessarily jumping over things or sliding across hoods of cars. In 1985 all that stuff meant he was cool.

35 years later I find my attention wandering beyond that basic vibe and fixating on other little quirks. Like, he lies to his family that he’s “going camping with the guys,” but other than his band The Pinheads (who we never see him talk to off stage), I don’t think there really are any guys. It seems like he only has one actual friend, an old man who to his knowledge is a total crank, who seems to be notorious in the town, who mysteriously disappears for days and allows him access to his house when he’s not home, and who he’s willing to go meet in a mall parking lot late at night on short notice without being told what it’s about. I’m not trying to imply anything sinister or sleazy here, I’m just saying wouldn’t it be weird if you knew some teenager who spent most of his time with a local sixty-something nut, or vice versa?

(According to Wikipedia, “Zemeckis and Gale found it difficult to create a believable friendship between Marty and Brown before they created the giant guitar amplifier…” I guess that wasn’t enough to sell me on it.)

The things that bother me a little are things I really should just accept, because they’re required by the plot or to set up jokes. Like, he’s a teenage boy who carries a photo of his siblings in his wallet (he also has a larger version on his bedroom wall). But it doesn’t seem like he has a really close relationship with them or anything. It’s odd! And he’s a guy who realizes he has traveled to 1955 and is trying to keep it a secret, but he just can’t stop himself from saying that he’s seen this live TV episode before, or trying to order a Pepsi Free. I hate that joke! If our hero needs to be incompetent at time travel secrecy, must he also be some fuckin weirdo who prefers his Pepsi without caffeine? For me, that’s a bridge too far. I’m against it.

But it’s a tight, fast-paced movie, where the mechanics of the plot are so carefully orchestrated that his personality doesn’t matter that much. He just has to be the guy who goes into action to save the future (with one rock ’n roll break, which Zemeckis almost cut since it didn’t add to the plot!) – get his mom (Thompson, previously in JAWS 3-D, ALL THE RIGHT MOVES, RED DAWN and THE WILD LIFE) to stop crushing on him, and start crushing on his dad (Glover, after MY TUTOR, RACING WITH THE MOON, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER, TEACHERS and the Trent Harris short The Orkly Kid), get Doc to understand when he will be killed in the future, and also get into the DeLorean and execute the plan to have it hit the right spot exactly as the clock tower is struck by lightning so he can get back to 1985. Each of these things goes through various suspenseful stops and starts until everything comes together.

I think that’s why people I respect have called it a perfect script, and it was nominated for the best original screenplay Oscar (losing to WITNESS). It’s such a clever concept, with lots of cool little ideas within it – the car as time machine, the photo fading to illustrate the future changing, Marty’s lucky stroke of knowing exactly when and where lightning will strike. (I was shocked to read that the whole clock tower thing was a late addition after a refrigerator-time-machine-powered-by-a-Nevada-bomb-testing-site idea wasn’t working. It seems like such a central part of the premise!)

It’s meticulous in not only foreshadowing (Marty talking about being history, or having no future), but setting up all the necessary pieces: showing us Marty’s parents in 1985, what they tell Marty about how they met, and what they were like when they were young, that the principal (James Tolkan, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE) and the bully Biff Tannen (Wilson, NINJA TURF) were in his dad’s life when he was young, who the mayor of the town (Donald Fullilove, voice of Michael Jackson on the Jackson 5ive cartoon) is now, why Marty knows about the lightning, and when Doc invented the flux capacitor…

It requires a huge amount of coincidence to work. Marty’s parents have to meet and Doc has to invent time travel and the lightning has to strike all within a couple of days, and all three topics had to be separately discussed with Marty at random the day before he left. And that’s okay, that’s stylized, that’s part of the fun.

But I think the reason I get a slightly sour taste from this – not a flaw in the movie, just a personal thing – is the way the premise limits the types of change that can happen in the lives of these characters in 30 years, whether in the version of 1985 that Marty struggles to protect, or the “improved” altered timeline. As a kid I had no reason to question its romanticization of suburban life. But as an adult I see that George and Lorraine met in high school, got married and had kids, stayed in the same small town, where they are still bullied by the same local asshole, she constantly tells her kids about things that happened in high school, their son goes to that same school, harassed by the same principal, and at the end we learn that he will marry and have kids with his high school girlfriend too.

Now that I think of it, it tends to bother me when all the adult characters in a story knew each other as kids. The example that comes to mind is the director’s cut of GREEN LANTERN, though I think the less silly MYSTIC RIVER might qualify. My kneejerk reaction is to think it’s childish storytelling, because that’s how I probly assumed things worked when I was a little kid. But maybe it has more to do more with having grown up in the suburbs and having more disdain for it than nostalgia. Sometimes I wish I still talked to the people I grew up with, but the idea of all of us staying in that area, and not having gone out to find different places and meet different people, is unbearably depressing.

As I approached the ending this time I started to vaguely remember the discussion about it in the comments here when I reviewed TIMECOP last year. And yes, it does bother me that part of the happy ending result of George learning to stand up to Biff (through the medium of rape rescue) is that they have money for a nicer house and cars, Marty’s siblings have corporate jobs and Biff – who seems to be nice now – is their sniveling, meek servant. I think Zemeckis mitigates it with the sequels, but I believe those were some sincere Reagan era materialistic values shining through right there. (But at least George’s money comes from a creative endeavor.)

I have a few questions, none of them important. Is there really a way to plug a camcorder into a 1955 TV? Why did Marty wake up with his pants off – was Lorraine actually supposed to be doing something to him? How was he able to go to school – was he registered?

It has been noted that it’s weird that Zemeckis has Chuck Berry receiving “that new sound” from Marty and Elvis Presley learning to dance from Forrest Gump, two silly history jokes that can be seen as taking away black people’s credit for creating rock ’n roll. But to be fair, Chuck only learns from Marty what Marty already learned from Chuck. So I guess the question I have this time around is: was rock music changed along with the timeline? Does Chuck Berry learning from a kid playing his own song rather than coming up with it himself lead to a watered down rock ’n roll? A xerox of a xerox? Marty is very talented, but what if he still ruined music? Was that covered in part 2? I guess I’ll find out when I get to it again.

Trivia: Marty’s vocals were provided by Mark Campbell of Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, a.k.a. the band that was playing at the Olympics concert when Richard Jewell found that bomb.

Having said all that, BACK TO THE FUTURE is an undeniably unique movie, and I’m glad the entire rest of the world enjoys it. I already listed a few of the things I like about it, but I’d like to emphasize how good Thompson is as Lorraine, since I think people talk about her less than they talk about, say, Doc Brown. The joke of “your mom talks like a prude but she was actually super horny in high school” is… I don’t know… “it is what it is,” I guess. I don’t think it was meant as slut-shaming, but if it was, Thompson would’ve voided that by making Lorraine so easy to side with, and she also makes it really funny/uncomfortable when she looks at Marty with barely contained lust. I think she has the funniest line, too, when everyone is scandalized by the rock ’n roll and she politely says, “Marty, that was very interesting music.”

Also I want to mention that it has a hell of a logo, establishing the tone and even the speed of the thing right at the top. According to Art of the Title, credited title designer Nina Saxon “created the shimmering, vibrant and animated final mark” based on a drawing from an unknown artist in Universal’s advertising department. Having rotoscoped laser beams in STAR WARS before transitioning into title design, Saxon had the optical skills to develop a trademark process she called “painting with light.” Art of the Title says she has an “ability to design effective and vibrant title logos” and “was able to approach title design with fresh eyes and usher in a new era: the branded blockbuster film.” Those include many Zemeckis movies, and more importantly the aforementioned TIMECOP.

BACK TO THE FUTURE was originally planned for a May release, then moved back to August, I think because of delays related to replacing Eric Stoltz in the lead. Extremely positive test screenings inspired them to rush and get it ready for July – a wise move. Since it was the number one movie for eleven weeks (not consecutive – it took week 4 off for NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION), it’s hard to deny that it was the movie of the summer, even if it’s not the one I cherish most.


Summer of 1985 connections:

The opening scene, in which timed devices turn on Doc Brown’s coffeemaker, TV and toaster, and open cans of dog food and stuff, is the second Rube Goldberg device of the summer, following the one in Mouth’s front yard in THE GOONIES. Both movies were produced by Steven Spielberg, have posters painted by Drew Struzan and FX by Industrial Light and Magic. (COCOON also has the ILM connection, but not the Struzan or the Goldberg.)

I believe George McFly is the second peeping tom hero of the summer, after Steve Guttenberg’s character in COCOON.

When Biff and his friends crash into a manure truck it’s kind of like when Rappin’ Hood’s friends crashed into the garbage truck in RAPPIN’.

There’s a joke about how ridiculous it sounds for a person in 1955 to hear that movie star Ronald Reagan becomes president, just as James Cameron’s RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II script had with people who have been P.O.W.s since Vietnam.

Surprisingly, despite being set in both 1985 and 1955, Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale (TRESPASS) do not bring in the Cold War themes we were seeing in so many movies earlier in the summer. Instead of commies the international threat is Libyan terrorists armed with uzis and willing to come to god damn Hill Valley to build a nuclear bomb.

Pop culture:

I would like if the 1985 scenes had more of a time capsule feel, but they’re mostly just dated by old food wrappers. Marty does have a poster of Huey Lewis, an in-joke since he also provided two songs and a cameo. Marty also carries a home recorded tape of guitar licks that says “Edward Van Halen” on the label. But most of the references we see to movies and albums are in the 1955 scenes (a sign for “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” in front of the record store, CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA on the theater marquee).

Stuff that maybe didn’t age so well:

It’s fucked up that part of Marty’s plan is to pretend he’s trying to rape Lorraine so George can heroically rescue her! The fact that it’s his mom almost distracts from the repulsiveness of a protagonist who’s meant to be a nice kid planning to put a girl through that. And the prevalance of the “maybe that girl will notice me if I see her being raped and come rescue her” seems very icky now. Note that we also saw a version of that in the previous week’s release PALE RIDER.


Ah, you know, READY PLAYER ONE homages the DeLorean, and every once in a while Doc Brown in a commercial or something. But as a “franchise” it was mosts prominent in the late ’80s and ’90s. In 1986, Spielberg suggested the idea of a ride to Universal Studios, inspired by his friend George’s Star Tours at Disneyland. A couple years later they tried designing a rollercoaster, but figured out that it’s hard to translate cinematic stories into the medium of rollercoaster. So they did more of a Star Tours. You get in a DeLorean and watch a movie that has you flying through various time periods chasing Biff.

FX legend Richard Edlund spent a year making the film, but during construction delays at the park Universal decided to ditch what they had and hire Doug Trumbull (SILENT RUNNING) to do a whole different one, not even using any of the elaborate models Edlund’s crew had built, let alone his footage.


The ride was open in Florida from 1991-2007, in Hollywood from 1993-2007, and in Japan from 2001-2016. It has been replaced by The Simpsons Ride and Despicable Me Minions Mayhem.

Reportedly Peyton Reed (director of BRING IT ON and the ANT-MAN movies) was one of the writers of the ride film – he would also direct live action sequences for the cartoon, which aired in two 13-episode seasons on CBS in 1991 and 1992. Christopher Lloyd played Doc Brown in live action to introduce the episodes, but the character was voiced by Dan Castellaneta in the animated parts. Thomas F. Wilson and Mary Steenburgen (from part III) did voice their characters, and James Tolkan had a guest appearance, but not playing Principal Strickland. In an attempt to make the show educational, most episodes also had a live action segment with Bill Nye (from Seattle’s regional comedy show Almost Live!, before he had his own show) as Doc Brown’s lab assistant. I assume his friendship with Doc is based on more than guitar amp access.


July 3rd was also when RED SONJA came out. You can read my review written in 2011, but I’ll add a little Summer of 1985 context here. Producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted to make a female-oriented CONAN THE BARBARIAN type movie using this Marvel Comics character sort of based on a Robert E. Howard character. When CONAN co-star Sandahl Bergman turned down the title role to play the villain, Laurentiis wanted Laurene Landon… until he found out she’d already done the similar (and honestly better) HUNDRA. (What did he know her form, then?) Two months before filming he saw 6’1” model Brigitte Nielsen on the cover of a magazine, flew her out for a screen test, and gave her her first acting job, with fresh-off-of-THE-TERMINATOR Arnold Schwarzenegger in a supporting role! By the end of the year Nielsen would be married to Sylvester Stallone and playing Ludmilla Drago in ROCKY IV.

Nielsen didn’t get good reviews as Sonja, but personally I think she’s cool and likable in the role. It won her the prestigious Golden Raspberry Award for Worst New Star, which has also gone to Lou Ferrigno, Sofia Coppola, Janet Jackson and Dennis Rodman (for DOUBLE TEAM). Despite entertaining turns by Nielsen, Schwarzenegger, Ernie Reyes, Jr. and Paul L. Smith, plus a score by Ennio Morricone, the movie clearly can’t hold its own with CONAN THE BARBARIAN. Still, I think it’s a decent Saturday afternoon type of movie. There aren’t enough watchable Amazonian warrior princess movies to scoff at this one, in my opinion.

But it did not have a major impact on the movie summer. They didn’t push it with merchandise – any potential for cool Brigitte Nielsen and Ernie Reyes, Jr. action figures went unfulfilled – just a Marvel Comics adaptation. It made back less than half of its budget at the box office and, though at least remembered for its novelty, has not gained much better of a reputation over the decades. Schwarzenegger has called it his worst movie.

As long as we’re talking about it I should quote from that July, 1985 Cinefantastique I keep mentioning, since it has a RED SONJA article too. There’s nothing too exciting in there, so I’ll just mention that while discussing its filming at De Laurentiis’ newly refurbished Stabilimenti Cinematografici Pontini it mentions that, “Later this year at the studio David Cronenberg will direct TOTAL RECALL, a $22 million science fiction project from a script by Dan O’Bannon, based on a book by Philip K. Dick.” That movie didn’t happen for a few years, of course, when Schwarzenegger convinced Carolco to buy the rights, and filmed it in Mexico with Paul Verhoeven and two or three times that budget. But they kept Cronenberg’s addition of mutants, including Kuato, on Mars. So that was an important contribution to society that happened around Summer ’85.

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167 Responses to “Back to the Future”

  1. Having just recently watched I can confirm that it’s impossible for me to ever not like it. Plus, the score gets in my head at least once a week.

  2. God this one is a stone cold classic. Absolutely up there with the best of the ‘80s movies. Vern, you compare it to STAR WARS and RAIDERS (both movies I’m also an avowed fan of), but one of the things that really makes BTTF special, to my mind, is that it *isn’t* about war or fighting in the way so many popular ‘80s movies were. Now I’m commenting on this site, so obviously I love a good action flick (or even a bad action flick), but as I get older, I find it refreshing to watch an adventure movie where combat and killing isn’t a main focus of the piece.

    Anyway, good review as usual. One thing about Marty’s “plan” to get his mom and dad together being uncomfortable in this day and age- in its defense, I think the plan was always (from a script perspective) meant to be bad and dumb. Just on the face of it it doesn’t make sense because Marty *knows* Lorraine wants to fuck him, but he refuses to even consider how this might impact his plan. Of course, he finds he can’t go through with it anyway when the moment comes (of course he can’t, he should have thought of that beforehand), so the whole thing is moot anyway.

    Also, while I agree there’s some ‘80s materialism around the idea of the McFlys altered future having more money and such, but I think that’s just an outgrowth of the main point, which is that because George stood up for himself, he gained self-confidence and that led him to build a better life for himself than he had before, all because of this one turning point in his life. I always liked that element of the movie, highlighting how one moment in a life can change everything going forward.

    Also, as a student of film badassery, I would honest to God put the moment where George refuses to leave Biff and Lorraine alone in the car as one of the best badass moments in movie history. Just the dawning realization on George‘s face about what’s happening, and his quavering voice growing stronger as he realizes he’s not going to be cowed this time- I love it. Everything we learn about all three characters is building to this one moment, a moment where, for George, the easiest thing in the world would be to just walk away- but he doesn’t. What a fucking triumph.

  3. Inspector Hammer Boudreax

    July 1st, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    I feel like the trope where the older guy is always hanging out with a much younger sidekick comes up a lot in newspaper comics. I mean, aside from maybe the dude he commutes with, Dagwood Bumstead’s only friend in Elmo, who is even younger than his own teenage son. And Mr Wilson hasn’t killed Dennis the Menace yet, so I suspect he likes the abuse.

    The Libyan connection here has long bothered me. They’re just portrayed as bloothirsty clowns who are also somehow a legit threat. Plus, as you know, after this and January 86’s IRON EAGLE, in April America did go ahead and bomb Libya. I mean, say what you will of the politics of RAMBO, but his opponents have records of being able to take America on. After Vietnam, I guess we had to go around fighting the likes of Libya, Panama, and Grenada to get our groove back.

  4. My 11-year-old just worked through the trilogy. Yeah, part 1 is a stone-cold classic that belongs on that pedestal. The sequels don’t quite carry their own weight, but they’re worthwhile. As Kurgan notes, Crispin Glover is fantastic. Exactly the kind of weirdo we need more of.

  5. I have an incredible fondness for all three movies, going back to watching them in early childhood and being mesmerized by the DeLorean (kicking off an early, brief obsession with cars) and the time travel aspects. In the years since I can appreciate it for everything else it is lauded for, and have no problem saying this might be my favorite blockbuster franchise of them all. The first one is special enough to where I can say it’s obviously the best, but the sequels stand on their own a lot easier than some I can certainly think of.

    That all said, there are things to nitpick at. As always Vern can find things I really never considered to give a 2nd look at like the picture with him and his siblings (maybe would have made more sense if it was a smaller picture you’d find in a wallet inserts, but I don’t know if those would have even existed in 1985). I never quite understood why Doc placed himself and Marty in front of the car’s path at the mall, unless his plan B was some spectacular homicide-suicide pact killing himself, his loyal companion and perhaps the last human being he had any meaningful contact with.

    Vern, I would contend in one way this was influential to movies from then on, is just how much it references outside pop culture. Not to say that movies before this lived inside their own bubble, not at all. The Marty McFly character is written as cognizant enough to reference his world in 1955 in a few key scenes like “Darth Vader, from the planet Vulcan” and in part III when he moonwalks in the saloon.

  6. For what it’s worth, I did actually have a photo of my siblings in my wallet in high school, though it was one of your more formal posed photographs. I’m not quite sure *why* I kept it in my wallet- I guess I just thought it was what you did. Regardless, I’m more than willing to forgive its slightly odd presence in the film since it doubles as such a fantastic visual barometer for how Marty’s mission is going.

  7. 1 is a perfect movie. 2 Is a really really great movie, I love the jumping around stuff, and it throws ideas at the wall so fucking fast. 3 is good but after the craziness of 2 it seems like a let down…too small, not funny enough. I feel like the ideas needed to ramp up even more.

  8. I totally agree with Kurgan…George standing up to Biff is one of the best badass scenes ever. That’s why this movie is so great. It goes beyond comedy…the drama is great. And the action and suspense of the clock is insane.

    Ever seen any of the footage with Eric Stoltz? Kind of shows it really matters who you cast, the movie was clearly a dog with him in the lead. He had no zip.

    I’m gonna answer Vern’s questions! I kind of doubt you could plug a camcorder into an old tv, but also totally buy that scene because remember who does it…the mad genius. He figured it out. Marty’s pants…don’t know! How he was able to go to school…you never see him in class though, do you? He just walks in. You see him in the halls and in the cafeteria, when he;s just another studewnt and who would notice.

    I never knew the part about the clock being a late addition. Just shows what great reverse engineering can do, you just have to go back and add the clues. Once for this production I was helping on they knew how this fight would end in a very specific way, so when writing it I know they kep going back and adding all the things in that allowed it to happen that no one ever thought about. I thought that was cool.

  9. 2 and 3 are quite different from each other, but I think they benefit from that. 2 is where a lot of Zemeckis’ own nit-picking of his earlier movie comes to fore, giving Marty the weakness of losing his cool at being called “chicken” and the temptation of the sports almanac ending up causing so much havoc. In that way it is a revocation or an answer to the critics about the charges of materialism at the end of the first movie. It’s personified in the literal Trump-ization of Biff in the alternate timeline.

    On the other hand, 3 is a deep breath of fresh air from all that. If they just amped up all of the jumping back and forth, it could have lead to a very confusing movie. By taking as much of the plot from the first into a Western setting and reversing the chemistry of the two leads where it’s Doc acting on his emotions and Marty being the more reasonable one, it was a more charming way to end the series. I think it helped a lot that they were filmed at the same time too.

    Getting back to Biff, I think he might be the most heinous villain in a family-friendly movie I’ve ever seen. A misogynistic violent bully, and taken a step further by becoming murderous in the 2nd one. Tom Wilson really brought a lot to the role physically and even having some funny moments of his own, humorous in a way that doesn’t belie the danger he poses. He’s not as memorable in the third one, but it’s admirable that he did all the horse riding and some of the stunts (I think) required.

  10. Part 2 definitely takes bigger risks and has the weird factor going for it, but it’s also a bit more gloomier and trashier and kind of an unwieldy mess. Mostly, that’s a compliment. ;) As you say, it gets points for creative risk-taking. Part 3 plays it safer and is similar to Part 1 in that it more-or-less stays put in a particular time (not entirely, but for most of the running time). It’s certainly more episodic. I dunno. I like them both. Part 2 is a more intellectually and attention span-challenging watch that is always at some risk of exhausting the audience or collapsing under the weight of its timeline machinations. Part 3 is more of the comfort watch that plays it a bit safer, which does put it at some risk of being a letdown. On the other hand, you can say that it is somewhat risky in terms of having the nerve to go sideways into a whole other genre and milieu, spend more time with doc.

    Interestingly, I guess some of the shit I’ve been talking over in the TERMINATOR: DARK FATE thread is applicable to the time travel aspects of this one. Part 1 is a good, self-contained story that doesn’t really need a sequel–until Doc insists that it does at the very end, of course! Obviously, the films leave open the possibility of further adventures, but I feel that time travel is a conceit that is easily exhausted. Once you play that card, it doesn’t take long before the whole thing seems kind of pointless and anti-climactic.

    Then again, I guess you could say the same thing about the slasher who won’t die and always comes back for the sequel–“Sorry, not sorry, guys, I’m back!” I think the difference, though, is that the-slasher-won’t-die thing becomes a trope unto itself and part of the fun. In contrast, the fixed timeline that just won’t stay fixed starts to wear a bit. As with TERMINATOR, I think it’s the ponderousness of it all, whether it’s Doc always freaking out about disrupting the timeline and fixing the timeline or with the Terminator resistance or the machines just always sending some fucking dueling set of things back in time to do some shit with a Connor and we’re just doing nothing but sending fuckers back in a huge jumble of criss-crossing timelines to save the world just long enough to contrive the next bullshit reason that didn’t work to justify a sequel. I think you could have a good serialized, episodic approach to time travel (is this what JOHN CARTER was supposed to be?), where everybody just looks the other way on the repercussions of time travel, and the person is just like Indiana Jones or THE FUGITIVE tv show or Bill Bixby’s David Banner, just wandering through time doing adventurey shit.

  11. Little off-topic, but Skani that’s actually what I liked best about the tv show TIMELESS (which only lasted like two seasons and an abrupt “movie”-length special to wrap it all up)- they go on time travel adventures every week, but unlike, say, QUANTUM LEAP, their goal isn’t necessarily to fix history, which leads to all sorts of stuff like in the present day, instead of the “Salem Witch Trials” in American history, it’s the “Salem With Riots” now, because they got into a big gunfight with bad time travelers in front of the locals.

    Back on topic- BTTF 3 is basically the definition of “fun but inessential”. It’s a cast and crew looking around and saying hey gang, we all have fun together right? Let’s tie this off with a fun little romp for everyone, come on, y’all get to dress in cowboy gear ride horses. I’m never mad at it, but BTTF would be equally as excellent and influential if it was only the first movie. I will say, though, that “Mad Dog” Tannen is probably my favorite of Tom Wilson’s performances in the whole series. After two movies he’s still somehow almost unrecognizable under all the mustache and grime and rootin-tootin cowboy accent.

  12. re: Marty and Doc Brown… I don’t know, isn’t there something a little gay panic/misandry about assuming that an elderly man who has a sweet, mentorly relationship with a, what, high school senior?, is probably or even possibly trying to sleep with him? Would people have the same side-eye about an elderly woman and a high school boy? An elderly woman and a high school girl? I don’t know, it just seems ironic that folks seem quick to go after the ‘implications’ of Marty ‘inventing’ rock and roll, without interrogating why they feel threatened by two grown men being friends.

  13. A big hole in the universe has been closed by Vern finally reviewing this one.

    I often wonder why this movie has such towering status with millennials – they seem to love it even more than the people who were old enough to have actually been alive as kids when it came out. What is it about this movie that seems to speak to them so hard?

    Maybe it’s the lack of a generation gap – unlike the generations immediately preceding them, they seem more likely to be buddies with their parents (which is what the Marty / George relationship ends up being) and other older people. The Marty / Doc friendship seems to make more sense to the younger Bernie Sanders-loving demographic than it did to older generations. And I’m told it was a partial inspiration for RICK & MORTY.

    Or maybe it’s just the fact that it’s a fun, breezy, clever, light-hearted, fast-paced movie that sums up most of what people love about 1980s movies. Maybe it was just a reliable babysitter for a lot of people growing up.

    There’s actually a kind of genius to the way that it maintains such a pleasant, wholesome tone even when entering territory that could be unpleasant or disturbing in the wrong hands. Many people have pointed out how strange it is to consider that by the end Marty now has completely different life memories than the rest of his family. And it’s a movie where a woman is sexually attracted to her son, which sounds like something that would happen in an NC-17 movie starring Chloe Sevigny or somebody, but somehow Zemeckis makes it work.

  14. The ultimate tragedy of Franchise Fred is that no matter how many sequels they make to every other franchise in the world, he will never get the one sequel he truly wants: Back to the Future IV. So he spends his life celebrating all the sequels he can find, knowing they can never truly fill the hole that has been missing since 2015, the real year of the future, when there was no Back to the Future IV where they go back in time to 1985.

    Does that qualify as some sort of badass juxtaposition?

  15. Kaplan- I don’t remember now where I read this, if it’s in the script or an interview someplace or what, but I believe the backstory they don’t get into in the movie is that Doc Brown has always kind of had a reputation as the town crazy guy and when Marty was like 12, he snuck into Doc’s garage on a dare. He got caught but thought that all Doc’s science stuff was neat and Doc was flattered that this kid thought he was cool, so he basically started paying him to clean up the lab and be his assistant and stuff, and their relationship has just continued since then.

    I think it’s probably just as well they don’t get into that in the movie since it’s not really necessary and would drag the pace at the beginning, but I do think the idea of Marty being Doc’s paid assistant (who of course is fond of Doc, and vice versa) makes more sense in terms of what we see them doing together in the movie than them just being age-gap pals who hang out and have fun.

  16. Kaplan – I tried to be clear that I was NOT trying to imply there was some sexual thing between them when I wrote “I’m not trying to imply anything sinister or sleazy here, I’m just saying wouldn’t it be weird if you knew some teenager who spent most of his time with a local sixty-something nut, or vice versa?”

    Because it would be! I just think it’s interesting that as a youth it didn’t seem strange to me at all, but now I kept thinking, “Wait a minute, are they gonna explain that he has an internship for community college credits or something?” It’s true, though, that explaining it wouldn’t necessarily be an improvement.

  17. To me, it kinda goes hand in hand with the whole fantasy conceit of the mad scientist who makes a time machine out of a Delorean with plutonium stolen from terrorists. Obviously, the whole thing is just this side of a fairy tale, so why shouldn’t he hang out with some high schooler? That’s pretty much what wizards do in these things, hang out with naive young farmboys who are about to meet their destiny.

    And apologies if that came off too accusatory, but I think it is at least a little legitimate to ask “where’s this discomfort coming from?”, if there’s not an obvious source for it.

  18. I’ve got to add on to George knocking out Biff is a great bad-ass moment in movie history. Yeah it’s not followed by some clever one-liner and it doesn’t include any sort of bloodshed or cool weapons, but it is a simple enough action for us to relate to when the bully gets his comeuppance. What’s a little overlooked is that the moment actually made Biff’s life for the better too. Yeah he’s washing the McFly’s cars, but he owns the business that does (established in the sequels) and dresses more current than the loud outfit he does when we first see him.

    Furthering the discussion of this being an action film, I think the three major chase sequences hold up with any of the more violent and legendary action scenes of all time. In reality the DeLorean had a spotty reputation as a car (and Zemeckis said it gave him the most problems on the set) but it looks so good on screen and felt like a perfect foil for a time machine, it really added to the overall shine this has. The music plays a big part in this as well too of course. Silvestri took what is a very broad story and made it bigger yet more palatable through his contributions.

  19. When this movie came up, I always used to quote Harlan Ellison’s STARLOG interview from that November.

    STARLOG: Great movie, isn’t it?
    ELLISON: Piece of shit.

    Well, I guess I’m still quoting it. But I do like this quite a bit more than I used to. The script can be hokey, but the clockwork plotting is genuinely impressive, and Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover are just fantastic. Wish they’d had Glover back for the sequels.

  20. Matt: yeah but that’s Ellison’s opinion on every movie.

    Still funny

  21. It will never not amuse me, that one of the greatest family movies ever, involves terrorism, date rape and near-incest. Also it’s one of these movies that I wouldn’t put into my “all time favourite” list, but damn, every time I watch it, I’m amazed by how great it is. While some aspects of Marty’s 80s coolness are now a bit cheesy and some of the more obvious time travel jokes are a bit tacky, there is zero unnecessary fat and everthing just fits together to well.

  22. I never thought I’d see the day when Vern would go out of his way to manufacture such spurious reasons to take a universally beloved and objectively well-crafted film down a peg.

    I’ve never felt closer to you, big guy.

  23. Fred- Can’t tell you if it was any good or not, but there was a PS3\Wii (originally online) game which followed on from III. Bob Gale was involved, Fox doesn’t voice Marty (he does have a cameo) but Lloyd and Wilson did return. From what I can tell it’s an interactive novel, so you could probably watch the cut scenes on YouTube and get the gist.

    I think it says something that at the time critics preferred the matinee throwback antics of III over the time travel shenanigans of II, and that the consensus has since reversed, but I’m not quite sure what that is.

  24. I think it probably says that Boomer critics were more into nostalgia than post-modernism, which is exactly the opposite for the extremely online millennials who are now controlling the conversation. Through that lens, the western stuff is outdated and irrelevant to modern interests or experience, but the alternate universe mindfuckery is perfectly inline with contemporary sensibilities.

    For the record, I’ve always felt III was a near-total waste of the premise, especially after II showed us all the crazy shit that could be done with it. It’s got some good moments but it’s clear that the level of inspiration started and stopped at “I used to play cowboys and Indians as a kid and this might be my only chance to make a western so I’d better take it.” You get the sense everybody was bored and just wanted to shoot a bunch of dudes on horses. How you gonna close out your time travel trilogy and not even TRY to get a dinosaur in there? Unconscionable.

  25. onthewall2983 is on the money with Biff, he’s an excellent villain. I love the perfect balancing act they play with him between hilarious buffoon and genuine, menacing villain. Wilson is so fantastic in that part.

    The action scene where Marty’s on his skateboard and they’re pushing him into the truck (that seems like it would kill him) and then he runs up over the car and lands on the skateboard on the other side is easily one of the best action beats of the 80s, from ANY movie. And probably one of the best ever. It’s so great.

  26. Oh also…I never really thought about the movie being materialistic in the end. I guess in a way it is, but seems to me it’s just putting the ideas across in shorthand that George made something of himself without taking ten minutes of explaining. I like that he did it with his creativity and not being a banker. And he’s not mean to Biff…he calls Biff out for being a liar (and he’s right), but he’s not a jerk about it.

  27. Don’t forget that Gale and Zemeckis wrote 1941, a movie that attempts to turn the trauma of Pearl Harbour into comedy. Near incest, date rape and terrorism aren’t gonna scare them off. Indeed Zemeckis turned the ongoing trauma of segregation and racism into a great comedy, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, and Vietnam and its aftermath and the AIDS pandemic into whatever FORREST GUMP is. Although Zemeckis may not be the first artist we think of when someone talks about camp, much of his work embodies Susan Sontag’s dictum “The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.”

    Not that I thought any of that in 1985, but I remember being thrilled by BACK TO THE FUTURE. I’m never quite sure what my wife was doing in the ’80s, but she surely wasn’t going to the same movies as me. So she didn’t see this until I showed it to my kids. This and DIE HARD are the two movies like that that totally delivered on my promise to her that “this will blow you away.”

  28. Just had to have another look at the ending on Youtube…okay that IS pretty damn Reagan 80s.

  29. Yeah, Part 3 was so dull. It was frequently ABC’s Saturday Night Movie only a year or two after its release, if memory serves. That strikes me as a very fitting destiny for it now.

    I haven’t seen Part 2 in at least 20 years but growing up I thought it kicked Empire Strikes Back levels of ass. It was the first time I saw “dark alternate timeline” done in a movie and like Majestyk says, it left a lasting impression.

    Also Vern, you sum up Michael J Fox’s 80s persona very elegantly at the beginning of this review. I’ve never seen it put quite like that but you nail it. I also appreciate your notes on the script’s maybe-unintended depiction of Marty as a strange, socially isolated, almost solipsistic young man. If the movie had taken place in real life he’d have been way more Gary Numan than Michael J Fox. I kind of want to see that version now.

  30. @Borg9 I like the idea of Zemeckis as camp a lot. Re GUMP, it’s that exact aspect of the film that makes me want to believe there’s a satire of baby boomers buried somewhere amidst the nostalgic, sentimental bullshit… not that I’m curious enough to go digging for the remains

  31. That is a really good summation of Fox’s appeal. Being a tiny little nerd with delusions of coolness, I so identified with him in the 80s that it took me until the mid-2000s to realize that Lea Thompson was a fox because I so associated her with being Marty McFly’s mom that it never even occurred to me to think of her any other way.

    Then I watched that scene with the panties in HOWARD THE DUCK for the first time as a grown man and I got over it.

  32. Just jumping in to second the observation that Crispin Glover absolutely demolishes his part here. I watched this again a few years ago and was struck by his line delivery — his dialogue probably reads quite generic and straightforward on the page, but Glover’s off-kilter rhythm and anxious breathing makes everything he says sound hilarious and strange. And it doesn’t come across as showy at all — it’s totally organic to the character. More than anything he seems tortured and sincere. I love it.

  33. I think Michael J Fox’s natural charisma plays well against kind of an interesting element of the script, that Marty is sort of a more-advanced George in high school. Presumably he’s not a complete outcast- he does have a girlfriend and a band, after all (perhaps those are “the guys” he claims to be camping with), but he also clearly has the same kind of fear of rejection that George does (recall that they express the same concern about not being able to handle rejection vis a vis their demo tape and short stories respectively). Marty is, on the surface, more charismatic and likable than George, but still struggles with the same deep insecurity and it’s only by helping his father overcome that aspect of his personality in the past that he’s able to overcome it himself.

    That’s why MJF’s presence is so crucial to the movie- he has that natural spark and charisma that just makes him fun to watch, and the contrasts between him and his dad stand out so much more because of that. With, say, Eric Stoltz in the role, Marty and George are too similar and the movie sinks. Seriously, look up some video of the Stoltz footage sometime if you haven’t- there are moments where it’s hard to tell it isn’t actually Crispin Glover.

  34. THE REWATCHABLES (Bill Simmons’ movie podcast) did a BTTF episode a few weeks ago, and one of the guys said watching Stoltz in the role is like watching a Smiths fan walk around in 1955. Caseen Gaines wrote a really good book on the franchise and from the sound of it, he was not getting along with a few cast members (Tom Wilson particularly) so on top of him not clicking with the material it seemed to play itself out in other ways too.

    That Fox was able to strike the iron while it was hot and film both a starring role in a major movie, and one on a sitcom at the same time is damn-near heroic on his part. The part was so perfect for him it would have been a tragedy if it produced anything less than a great movie around it. He added the physical comedy necessary to make a presence against what Lloyd and Glover were doing on their own, and made things like the big action sequences pop. Nobody else could sell the moment the car starts up before the lightning strike necessary to get him back to 1985.

  35. I know in the 70s the antenna input was a bare wire you screwed in. I’d wager you could cut the lead off the camcorder cord, strip it to bare wire, and fasten it down.

  36. “Many people have pointed out how strange it is to consider that by the end Marty now has completely different life memories than the rest of his family. ”

    I always bring this up with BTTF, but – what happened to that Marty?? There’s a Marty that grew up rich with successful parents. And we see that Marty – we see him at the end of the movie from afar, when “our Marty” comes back and watches “that Marty” get into the Delorean at the Lone Pine Mall. But then what happens to that Marty when he goes back in time?

  37. One of the many ways I know BTTF is a great film is that even its plot holes are fascinating. I’d even argue that they even make the movie better because they give your brain something to chew on.

  38. Last time I saw this in a theater (2018) a little girl screamed “Yay!” when George punched Biff. That was my greatest experience with this movie. I was her age when I first saw it, with my 2nd grade girlfriend.

    There was a time when it concerned me that violence was the key to George’s success. Like you can’t go around punching all the rapists and killers. But I think you’re right, whoever said it above. It’s George Sterling himself that he’s not going to be bullied anymore. A punch is relatively harmless. He didn’t kill or permanently injure Biff. The sequels show Biff didn’t really change. George just stopped taking his crap.

    I should watch a long play of the game for all my whining about BTTFIV. There are also comics I should read. I bought some but there’s some barrier like my brain only processes movies. (Theres even more Supergirl comics for how much I love that character but I waited 30 years for a tv show instead.) I do watch the ride on the dvd and I watched some of the cartoon.

  39. Oh and Glover agreed about the financial success. That was the source of his feud with Gale. He’s not wrong.

    Vern I thought about marrying the high school girlfriend too. It’s shorthand for they’re not going to explain the next decades of his relationship history, but yeah for most people marrying their high school sweetheart isn’t ideal. Maybe in the new 1985 both Marty and Jennifer have the maturity to part ways in college and remain friends.

    I bought clothes from original Jennifer Claudia Wells. Wish I could still afford to shop. More so I wish I still fit into most of the stuff I bought ten years ago. She came to my birthday party in 2010 so that made Franchise Fred’s year!

  40. Probably makes up for having no BTTFIV honestly.

  41. I have to commend Zemeckis and Gale for not budging on doing a fourth movie. It was never really meant to be a franchise to begin with, but done so for the sake of the way the joke at the end could be spun into something else. The 2nd film is really Bob and Bob writing themselves out of knotty plot problems like what to do with Jennifer and not having Crispin Glover, with the third fulfilling their dream of doing a Western. The fact they turned out to be good on their own is as miraculous as the fact that the first film became a classic despite the obstacles they faced first in getting it greenlit and later when they had to replace it’s star.

  42. My family got our first VCR for Christmas 1985. This was among one of the first movies we rented. Between the cliffhanger of this one and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK my dad told my mom she wasn’t allowed to pick out the movies anymore.

  43. Honestly, the criticism of the ending was always a headscratcher to me. “Oh no, the parents lived happily ever after, George became a successful writer, their kids have good jobs and none of them has to worry about paying their bills, because their parents got their shit together.” is a pretty weird complaint, considering that they are all living the lifes we wish we had and in terms of extreme happy endings, is still a pretty realistic one.

  44. I’ve always felt that there are a lot of missed opportunities in the story by making Marty the squarest kid in America. Imagine the culture clash if he had been a punkrocker, a metalhead or a goth. As Mojo Nixon sings: “Michael J. Fox has no Elvis in him!”

  45. I mean, have you seen the Bobs? Probably the two squarest guys who ever existed. Can you imagine the cringe that would occur if these two dorks tried to make Marty a punk? I’d say we dodged a bullet when they imagined what a cool, rebellious 80s teen would look like and they stopped at “Uh, he rides a skateboard, I guess?”

  46. CJ, re: the happy ending, I agree that some of the tsk-tsk’ing at the ending is excessive, but I think they do lean more into the “prosperity gospel” kind of ending. He could have been a modestly successful but confident and engaged English teacher. More realistic and less of a “greed is good” message. I do think it contributes to some illusions and questionable values around wealth and its role in happiness.

    pegsman, some of that is probably anachronistic and would have made him maybe less accessible to a wider audience. I mean, isn’t it the same reason Chris Pratt and Will Smith get those big action roles and keep playing the same slightly snarky but mostly square dude?

  47. There is an alternate universe, with dozens of thinkpieces about how the ending of their BTTF version isn’t happy enough, because after all that trouble Marty went through, his only reward is his family being average.

  48. I know, I know…It’s the same mentality that’s behind elevator music and John Hughes stabbing us in the back with Ally Sheedy’s makeover in BREAKFAST CLUB. I’m not a big fan of “what if” theories, either. But in the mid eighties our heroes were Otto and Bender and Venkman, so why does this dork get to represent our time?! Just imagine the confrontations with Biff & Co if someone like Duncan had George’s back: “I’m here to kick your ass, and you know it, and everybody here knows it, and above all, you deserve it. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that this party is about to become a historical fact.”

  49. CJ, fair, but I’m not here to engage the entire actual or imagined multiverse of thinkpieces. I’m not speaking about what would have disappointed some other actual or imagined constituency. I’m directly engaging the values that the film promotes, which are that a comfortable life as a small-time celebrity in the 1-2% is (a) realistic for the average stiff and (b) a key ingredient to a happy and successful life. It’s neither, so, that element is at best a distraction.

  50. I like Marty’s averageness, personally. Granted, he’s too white and cis and hetero to be a contemporary hero, but in his time and at that state of cultural consciousness, I think he’s pretty relatable. And even though he is personally square — in the sense of his personal look and style? — he is not a bro, or super-intelligent, or super-popular. He’s pretty average middle class and seems to mostly dance to the beat of his own drum. Maybe that’s a cop out in the sense of him being designed to alienate the fewest people (at the time), but he does have a distinct personality and some moxie and he’s not obviously portrayed as a conformist or the prom king. Part of what attracts young his-mom to him is that he has a certain self-assurance about himself in the sense of doing his own thing and being into the things he’s into. Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that what I personally like and relate to about Marty is that he’s not an obvious trope as far as the dork, the brain/geek/hacker, the goth, the jock, the rage-against. Is he even really a “Mary Sue”? He’s just a guy who has his own things he’s into and his own quirks (his hot-headed and impetuous qualities) without making a splash about it or falling into some tidy trope. He likes the things (guitar) and people (doc) he likes, and he has a certain decisiveness and toughness about himself, but he’s pretty relatable as opposed to being unstoppable. He’s gotta use his wits, stay on the move, and make tough choices that require a balance of courage and prudence.

  51. While the ending is kind of 80s, at the same time they aren’t crazy rich. They have a Beemer and dress alright, but they’re not living in a mansion.

    pegsman, I disagree about having more culture clash. If Marty was a punk the whole movie would be about culture clashes and that’s not really what it’s about. This is really more of a windup movie, full of plot and movement, we don’t need a scene of them making over a punk to fit in as he complains. And we definitely don’t need more of a badass character for the lead…what makes the suspense work is Marty is just a regular dude more or less, we know Biff could kick his ass. We don’t need a guy who hangs out at CBGB and isn’t scared of getting into a fight and even likes it, and then licks the blood off the street. No, what they did was exactly right for this story.

  52. While the ending is kind of 80s, at the same time they aren’t crazy rich. They have a Beemer and dress alright, but they’re not living in a mansion.

    pegsman, I disagree about having more culture clash. If Marty was a punk the whole movie would be about culture clashes and that’s not really what it’s about. This is really more of a windup movie, full of plot and movement, we don’t need a scene of them making over a punk to fit in as he complains. And we definitely don’t need more of a badass character for the lead…what makes the suspense work is Marty is just a regular dude more or less, we know Biff could kick his ass. We don’t need a guy who hangs out at CBGB and isn’t scared of getting into a fight and even likes it, and then licks the blood off the street. No, what they did was exactly right for this story.

  53. Well, if you have a BMW you’re either fairly rich or your over-leveraged. My problem with all of this shit is, who needs a beamer? I don’t know, I’ll give you a pass if you are a car geek specifically, but all of that conspicuous consumption shit is a huge turn-off for me personally.

    Also, staying with this issue of the McFly family’s ending, and since pegsman mentioned John Hughes… I heard this term a few years ago that was used in the context of Nancy Meyers films: “affluence porn.” Basically, how a lot of the feel-good “adult contemporary” comedies just sort of nonchalantly imply that the “everyperson” family has a giant house and a kick-ass jobs an architect, advertiser, or corporate executive of some kind. Or even if they’re not, they still somehow have a giant house, all kinds of discretionary income to take kick-ass family vacations and have nicer new cars. Good examples would be anything non-indie that Steve Martin did from the late 80s onward (HOUSE SITTER, BRINGIN DOWN THE HOUSE, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, FATHER OF THE BRIDE, list goes on) or all things John Hughes (including the Steve Martin character in PLANES, TRAINS…).

    There’s this odd juxtaposition going on where we’e supposed to view Steve Martin’s character (in pick any of these films) or the McCallisters (in HOME ALONE) as just a relatable middle class family, but then it’s like, wait, what the fuck? What relatable every family has a house like the McCallisters and can fly an entire family to Paris for a two-week vacation? What everyman is an architect with the discretionary income to build his own dream house and let it like vacant (HOUSE SITTER)? What everyman has all the money to have the house and pay for all the shit Steve Martin does in FATHER OF THE BRIDE?

    John Hughes — who, of course, worked in advertising before film — had a huge and enduring impact on the American psyche by implying that any normal family could and should be able to have these things. That they are just the modern 1980s to eary 1990s Normal Rockwell experience. Paying for a $50K wedding and having a $1M home and working as an architect or engineer or ad man and having it all is just a typical average thing that we should relate to and expect. Um, no, that’s not what life is for most people. I guess it’s fun as movie magic and escapism to imagine living the way the other 1-2% live as if it were just normal, average life — the opulence of the McCallister family house and vacation, the opulence of the UNCLE BUCK family house, or FERRIS BUELLER whose dad is an ad guy and who’s best friend’s dad owns a fucking Ferrari! Growing up, the message that sent me as a lower-middle class kid with a dad who worked as machinist and a mom who worked in a grocery store, was that (a) I was living a pretty shitty life, and (b) selling people shit (being an ad guy) and having all kinds of awesome shit was the American dream, and (b) this sort of John Hughes lifestyle is just what it means to be a moderately successful middle class person.

  54. Also, pleese parden my grammer mistakez. I know how speling an contraction’z work.

  55. I grew up in the North Shore area of Chicago in the same area John Hughes made his movies. I lived in a suburb kinda like the BTTF suburb. All these movies are relatable to me.

    I think the reason why BTTF works for people even if maybe they can’t relate is how low stakes it is. The whole movie really is about one family trying to fix things for that one family. We can relate to wanting to change things. Too many movies now try to involve these huge stakes. I want to see more that aren’t so high stakes.

  56. Skani- I’m pretty sympathetic to your general argument about John Hughes movies (though in the case of HOME ALONE, at least, I don’t think the audience is meant to think of the house as a normal everyday house, since Joe Pesci becomes obsessed with it specifically because it’s the nicest house on the block, but that’s beside the point).

    I definitely think there was a casual assumption of a moderately high level of wealth in a lot of the famous “family” movies of the time, and I assume it’s due to some combination of unconscious bias on the part of creators and not wanting to have to spend a bunch of time explaining away money concerns vis a vis the plot. I guess that kind of tends to be true across media- unless part of the premise of the show is that the main characters have less money (like ROSANNE or BOB’S BURGERS), it’s often just assumed it’s not gonna be a problem for purposes of storytelling.

    On that note, I think it’s more defensible in BTTF just because they’re trying to convey a *lot* of information in regards to all the ways that night changed the McFly’s life in, like, a minute or two of screen time. Sure it’s not ideal, but I don’t think Hollywood had a lot of cultural language for “successful self-fulfillment” in the ‘80s that didn’t involve a Beemer or something in some way, regretfully.

  57. Sternshein, that is awesome for you that you grew up on that area, but if the internet is to be trusted, the HOME ALONE house is worth around $1.6M, while FATHER OF THE BRIDE house is worth ~ $2M. That is super not-relatable to my childhood or current standard of living or most people in the midwest:

    Median Sales Price of Existing Homes in Midwest Census Region

    Graph and download economic data for Median Sales Price of Existing Homes in Midwest Census Region (HOSMEDUSMWM052N) from May 2019 to May 2020 about Midwest Census Region, median, sales, housing, price, and USA.

    . John Hughes movies (many of which I still enjoy) are a case study in the socilogical concept of relative deprivation:

  58. Kurgan – those are all fair and good points, and in the case of BTTF, I can accept the shorthand/narrative device convenience theory: basically, the goal of compactly and visually communicating just how much things have changed. I get it. I still think they could have done fine — better! — without it. I think it is mostly about filmmakers who are super-wealthy and possibly have never been anything but comfortable, and I think the audience colludes in it as part of the escapism (I want to imagine a cooler, better life than my own). I do think there is a middle ground between the hardscrabbleness of MENACE II SOCIETY or even ROSEANNE on the one hand and the “I’m bored, let’s go drop $2000 at Nordstrom (or whatever)” of Nancy Meyers or John Hughes on the other. And it’s not just any one film, it was totally pervasive.

  59. This was one of the very few movies I actually saw in theaters growing up, the Star Warses being the others (and that is about it). I don’t remember anything about my first viewing but I have probably seen it ten times and it is pretty great every time. The second one I really didn’t like and only saw once. I should try again, it gets way more love than I can reasonably assume can be given a truly bad movie.

    I recently watched (as part of a BLM month assignment at work, yes I have the luxury of spending my working hours getting “woke”) a low budget Spike Lee produced time travel movie called SEE YOU TOMORROW. It has some black kids who invent proton accelerator backpacks that travel through time instead of shoot lasers, and their science teacher is MJ Fox in a brief cameo. It is a pretty limp combination of BTTF and THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, with not much of the imagination of either one. It deals with police violence against black kids in poor inner city neighborhoods, and the dead ends for these people and how they are trapped without an easy way out, etc. So it is pretty topical, made in 2019 before the recent protests but obviously inspired by other slightly less recent events. Unfortunately it really doesn’t live up to its premise, has a lot of extremely dumb stuff, and it is going to lose a lot of its younger audience due to incessant cursing and racial epithets (I wouldn’t let a kid under 15 watch it…) and older audiences will be bored, having seen far better movies about the same subjects. Also the ending is not so much a cliffhanger as a cop out. I guess it is notable mostly for its heavy handed social commentary and timeliness, and the fact that it was made by black filmmakers. In that respect it is far better than a Madea movie but still pretty disappointing.

    Reading some of the user reviews on IMDB that were written 6+ months ago however and you would think this movie was the downfall of civilization and black people just need to quit whining. I doubt the last 3 months have changed any of those people’s minds, and the recent protests have probably solidified their views as some of our leaders repeatedly encourage and celebrate police violence against “THUGS”. They are probably the types who think the term “white privilege” is a personal attack. Whatever. This is not a good movie but obviously it hits a nerve among a certain type of people.

    Anyway, remember in BTTF when the young black kid who works at the soda shop and probably can’t even use the white people’s bathroom (it is 1955…) becomes the mayor in 1985? That is some good stuff.

  60. As part of BLM movie month I also watched THIRTEENTH , about the amendment that freed the slaves, and continual state-sponsored efforts to keep them at the bottom rung of society (Jim Crow, etc). I could only make it halfway through before it made me too angry.

    Also SORRY TO BOTHER YOU which is really fucking good and weird as shit.

  61. Well the Home Alone house is also in Chicago. It IS a very nice house, but shit I have friends who live in half a million dollar houses and they don’t look like much. They’re very nice, but just normal houses. Living in the midwest is totally different, I’ve also lived in West VA and you could buy close to a mansion for a few hundred grand.

  62. Muh, I don’t follow the point. Absolutely, if you’re living in DC, NY, LA, bay area or whatever, things are crazy expensive. And, absolutely, if you have a very good white collar job and an advanced degree (or are a successful entrepreneur), you’ll know someone who has a $1M house. That does not mean that’s a realistic standard of living for the average bear or that it is something to aspire to do with the money one earns. In any event, according to Zillow, Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metro median house is ~$242K, while it’s $412K for Evanston. Then and now, these houses I’ve cited are for people who do very, very well. They are anywhere from 2 to 10x the median.

  63. Well my basic point is not every movie has to be relatable to you. In fact during the Great Depression people didn’t want to see movies that reflected their shitty lives. Hughes was the yuppie 80s, Spielberg was the more typicals person’s 80s movies (if you want family movies at least).

  64. Of course, not every movie needs to be relatable to me, but these are the mainstream A-list tentpole studio comedy/dramedy/action comedy films of the 1980s and early 90s. This is a pervasive phenomenon.

  65. I think a lot of John Hughes movies are about “regular” people. Or, if they do have wealthy characters, they’re about wealth disparity and different social classes. All of the Molly Ringwald movies showcase this. PRETTY IN PINK is blatant in the poor girl/rich boy can they make it fantasy. 16 CANDLES doesn’t focus on it, but again it’s a rich boy and middle class girl dynamic. BREAKFAST CLUB is all about the different levels of class distinction and money coming together.

    I would agree that Hughes’ movies do show success and middle class life to be aspirational, but that’s the 80s for you.

  66. What do you think Eric Stoltz would be like as Marty?

  67. That’s funny. I’ve never seen any of those films (no, I’ve never seen BREAKFAST CLUB). Maybe my taste in John Hughes movies says as much about me as it does about him. :) I should check out those other films.

    PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES maybe gives you a bit of that “two sides of the tracks” dynamic with John Candy and Steve Martin’s characters. But, to the extent that a film like this actually acknowledges that we’re not all advertising executives, Candy’s Del is presented as a slovenly, obnoxious buffoon and essentially as a drag and an obstacle. Of course, he’s hilarious and a “lovable loser,” but the film sets up Steve Martin as our primary protagonist — we’re following his journey before and after his encounter with Candy, who is essentially an unwelcomed diversion whose ultimate purpose is to help us Steve Martins maybe loosen up a little bit and be more thankful for our beautiful wives, homes, and careers as advertising executives

  68. Skani, Eric Stoltz is kind of a blank for me, though I’ve watched some of the side-by-side comparisons of his stuff to Michael J. Fox’s. The only things I know I’ve seen Stoltz in are FLY II and PULP FICTION. I liked both films at the time, though he was not super memorable.

  69. Oops, I meant to address that to Felix…not, um, me.

  70. Yeah I’m not a big Hughes fan but class issues were a pretty big part of his work. And it’s not like you can do a movie like Home Alone and set it in a trailer, or even a moderate sized house. I also think Skani has the wrong takeaway from Planes…the film had to have Martin as the main protagonist because he’s basically the straight man (even though he gets to do a lot of comedy) and Candy’s character has the mystery to him. It’s why you can’t really do a movie with Beetlejuice as the actual lead. Although there COULD be a version of Candy as the lead but it’s a waaaaay different and less funny movie. But I never thought (and it’s been awhile) that Martin needed to be more thankful for his stuff…he’s been working the whole movie to get home, he WANTS to be home. It teaches him to think more of others and maybe not be such a snobby asshole.

    Stoltz is such a nothing of an actor to me. Not even awful, just a big bland whatever. Go to Youtube and check out clips, it’s clear the movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well with him…Fox was dialed in to what that movie needed.

  71. I can’t comment on the films Maggie mentioned, but I can comment on: FERRIS BUELLER, WEIRD SCIENCE, HOME ALONE SERIES, UNCLE BUCK, PTA, and CHRISTMAS VACATION, and they are all coming from the viewpoint of moneyed white collar people with nice things. Hell, even with CHRISTMAS VACATION, a central plot point hinges on whether “little guys” like Clark Griswold are going to get large enough Christmas bonuses to pay for the construction of an in-ground swimming pool and flying out the whole extended family to christen it. In those films, at least, if lower economic class people are presented at all, they’re presented as slobs and/or shabby people to feel sorry for.

  72. Actually, that is one of the really strange things about CHRISTMAS VACATION. The film juxtaposes the uber-consumeristic yuppie neighbors and the Scrooge McDuck-like Brian Doyle-Murray as these symbols of capitalistic excess that are presumably foils to everyman Clark. Except everyman Clark works as a product engineer at a big corporation and apparently anticipates a bonus large enough to defray much of the cost of an inground pool and plane tickets for many adults. A provisional Google search tells me that an inground pool will cost somewhere in the neighboorhood of $25-60K in today’s dollars! Yup, very relatable.

  73. THE BREAKFAST CLUB is definitely in part about class differences between the kids, albeit in kind of a maudlin way. I would have to probably say it’s my favorite of all the Hughes movies, if I absolutely had to choose one. To me it is a classic “teenage” movie up there with DAZED AND CONFUSED, BOOKSMART, CLUELESS. If you haven’t seen it it’s fully worth a watch imo.

  74. I understand that the ending is shorthand, and that it’s innocent. I just think the 35 years older me now feels a little different about that being the shorthand for happiness. But I’m actually less bothered by the money aspect than by Biff being in some sort of servitude to them, played for schadenfreude. The oppressed has become the oppressor.

  75. Yeah, I have no excuse on that one. I will rectify. I’ve seen FERRIS BUELLER 10 times easily, but never this.

  76. I mean you’re not wrong, but clearly Uncle Buck is the star of the movie. Sure he’s a slob but it IS a comedy and straight laced yuppies ain’t funny. I HATE Ferris Bueller, the movie’s basically about a rampaging sociopath who doesn’t care about anyone or anything except what it benefits him…although by the end he’s learned a lesson I GUESS, but the movie lets him skate. But don’t forget, the character we’re supposed to sympathize with because he’s essentially closer to is is his buddy who comes from a MUCH richer family. And his problem is his dad only cares about materialistic shit. So I really think it’s a little more nuanced than what you’re making it out to be.

    Plus if I recall, the money for Clark’s bonus was not going to cover the pool, but the deposit.

  77. I would also say the VACATION movies are more of a “regular” family. Sure, they’re middle class, but not rich. Other than the swimming pool business it all seems pretty ordinary to me. A family road trip in a station wagon to an amusement park while staying in cheap motels along the way screams “ordinary family”. And all the grandparents staying in one house, displacing the kids from their beds doesn’t seem like wealthy people behavior.

    If you do watch the Molly Ringwald collection, be prepared for some questionable stuff, especially 16 CANDLES. I know it’s totally problematic but I can’t help still loving it. I just accept that about myself. And, yes, it’s because of Jake Ryan.

  78. Haha, I think “servitude” is a little extreme for what happens! In the old timeline, Biff has spent decades degrading and abusing George- in just the moments we see in the original timeline, he’s unapologetically crashed George’s car while drunk driving, threatening George’s kids, leering about Lorraine, and demanding George do his work over the weekend. In the altered timeline, George chuckles after making sure Biff isn’t trying to rip him off from the job George hired him to do (rightly so, as it happens, because Biff *was* trying to rip him off) and speaks a little fondly of Biff and how ya always gotta keep your eye on him. That doesn’t seem that bad to me, as far as turnabouts go!

  79. Yeah what servitude? Biff literally owns a business for the kind of work George paid him money to do, and then was going to rip off George. Biff is STILL an asshole. If anything, George shouldn’t be hiring him at all but probably does because no one else will because Biff clearly sucks.

  80. It is a fair point about the Griswolds seeming normal in the earlier films and to some extent even in CHRISTMAS VACATION. I was trying to press my John Hughes thesis as far as I could. Clearly, it has its limits. Still, Clark has a pretty nice corporate product engineering job, and adding an inground pool is expensive business, and yet he’s still framed as the little guy. Either you’re building your designing food additives and getting ready to buy a $30K pool or you’re Cousin Eddie, apparently. So, I think the thesis has some juice even for this test case.

    I guess the less sinister view is just that Hughes wrote what he knew, and it resonated with people. But dude had an influence. And my jumping off point was that this “affluence porn” isn’t unique to Hughes (we see it even in BTTF), he was just one of its most successful purveyors. And it continued well into mid-2000s. Aside from the Nancy Meyers stuff, look at most things Steve Martin and Diane Keaton did, or things like YOURS, MINE, AND, OURS. The idea that these are just regular every-people says a lot about the warped messages we get. It became popular way back when to highlight how movies and TV and Barbies give us warped messages about female body image or whatever, but I don’t think you heard as much about how entertainment smuggles insidious ideas about materialism as success and capitalist success as the normative experience. There are great counter-examples, of course, like THEY LIVE.

  81. No, I think Vern is on to something about Biff, too. I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to see Biff get his comeuppance. There is something primally, satisfying about George being a famous and well-off author and Biff being lackey. It’s revenge. I think it’s cool to ask and think about how a film that is intended to be a feel-good adventure can be more redemptive all around vs. there being a clear need to have some winners over here and some losers over there. Can we sometimes end with no losers, where everybody wins at least a little by recovering or developing a bit more of their humanity. For the film to give them that Miyagi nose honk rather than a chop to the neck. I think that could have been an interesting path for Biff. Of course, the sequels might not have worked so well then.

  82. I mean, I guess that’s how I feel about it though- it’s not *demeaning* to Biff that he has a car detailing business that is hired by the guy he used bully in school. Sure it’s a little bit of comic irony for the sake of the movie, but I just can’t see how Biff going from legitimately dangerous attempted rapist to the knucklehead with the car wash place is such a punishment that we need to consider how he could achieve more equal justice from the movie’s outcome. At the end of the day, Biff seems like he’s doing just fine.

  83. Except, Skani, you’ve missed about half of what Hollywood produces…where a rich successful person…or even just driven regular person…learns not to be so materialistic and then stays in the small town or whatever. Of course it’s hilarious Hollywood made those movies since it’s clearly bullshit on their part since they don’t believe it, but whatever.

    But I grew up in suburbia, my parents were definitely not wealthy…my friends weren’t either but some were better off than me…and some of them had pools. I do tend to think you’re letting your own experience completely color your worldview. I mean it’s almost like a right winger argument where they argue this guy doesn’t need any help, he has a CAR, and isn’t it a little too nice of a car, why doesn’t he drive a piece of total garbage, and also sell his tv and stuff and then maybe we can help out with his unemployment benefits.

    As for not ending with losers…I mean, we are watching drams films, right? And using the BTTF example, Biff is a total piece of shit, and attempted rapist. Him getting to have his own business and not be in prison IS a honk on the nose ending. Miyagi may have given Kreese a nose honk, but in so doing, completely humiliated him and Kreese’s entire business was destroyed.

  84. Skani, I don’t understand what you were trying to say earlier with your graph of housing prices in 2019/2020 versus 1985 or the early 90s.

  85. I think the McFly house is worth around a million itself. I think the reason the family is able to afford the house in HOME ALONE is that literally everyone from the family lives there, sort of like a super-sized version of Charlie Bucket’s home in WILLY WONKA. Someone really guilty of the “affluence porn” tag is Judd Apatow. Or was, I haven’t seen his latest but it seems like he did a more blue-collar movie than anything he did before.

  86. grimgrinningchris

    July 4th, 2020 at 4:31 am


    Pardon if someone mentioned it already. But that TRex is a huge part of the ride (the story of which actually is considered canon) which was in development concurrent to the sequels being made, so I’m sure they figured that’s where they’d let the Dino’s live.

  87. onthewall – You’re suggesting that Uncle Frank is a full-time resident of Kevin’s house in HOME ALONE? I don’t think that’s right. I think they’re visting for the holidays and in anticipation of the trip to Paris.

    muh – if many or even most Hollywood films did not perfectly support my argument, it wouldn’t defeat my argument, because my argument is merely that a lot of mainstream studio entertainment smuggles in dubious ideas that affluence is the norm, is easily achievable, and that affluent people represent the everyperson with everyperson problems that should be relatable to any couple on date night or any family on family movie night. My thesis that a large proportion of these films smuggle in an insidious materialistic false consciousness that is neither realistic nor healthy. I’m not implying a THEY LIVE style conspiracy where literally everything does this completely and always and intentionally. I have seen STRIPES, like any other red-blooded American.

    stern – my point is that those houses from those films are houses that cost anywhere from 2-10x what the median house costs, therefore, they are houses that would be owned by relatively wealthy people. The problem may be that we assume only Jeff Bezos is wealthy when the median household income is somewhere in the range of $60K, and the median home value is somewhere in the vicinity of $220K. If you own a house valued at $1-2M, you are fairly wealthy even if you’re not cartoon billionaire wealthy. The difference in years does not really matter, because all of the numbers I’m using are contemporary (unless you’re implying that the value of the houses is somehow related to their movie landmark status, but I don’t think so, because they’re big mini-mansions already).

  88. And the point about Judd Apatow is a good one, and it underscores a few points I’ve already made. One, it isn’t only John Hughes films, and, two, that it isn’t only the 1980s. As I said, it’s more recent films from Nancy Meyers, it’s most films you could find Diane Keaton or Steve Martin (together or apart!) headlining in the 90s or 2000s. Again, there has to be a reason these films play well. Probably the audience wants to escape into the fantasy of living comfortably, where the biggest stress you’re dealing with is whether you’re going to pay $30K or $100k on your daughter’s wedding or the prospect of leaving your kid alone in your mini-mansion and forgetting to take him on the all-family 1-2-week vacation in Paris. These are a couple tiers above “first world problems,” though.

  89. More here:

    Crazy Rich Asians dared to make Asian lives aspirational. Its success could change Hollywood.

    Crazy Rich Asians’ crazy rich success could mean more stories about less crazy rich Asian-American people.

    “Ironically, the film’s success is linked to one of the most common criticisms waged against it: that the movie uses affluence to sell its diversity. To some critics, by celebrating the lives of only very rich and very beautiful Asian people, the movie failed to really capture the beating heart of Asian and Asian-American people. But even its biggest adversaries might agree that you don’t have to fully embrace the affluence porn or the upper-crust narrative of Crazy Rich Asians to understand that its success has the power to break down barriers.”

  90. Chris: I vaguely remember that. But as far as I’m concerned, if it ain’t in a movie, it ain’t canon. It’s merchandise. I’ve already been through this with STAR WARS.

  91. One of my least favorite movies but one I can’t look away from because it is so transparently awful is SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE, where Diane Keaton sits in a ten million dollar beach house on Martha’s Vineyard and suffers a horrendous case of writer’s block, while young doctor half her age (Keanu Reeves!) is trying really hard to date her and her daughter’s rich playboy boyfriend slowly falls in love with her. This movie is pure unadulterated past-middle age woman eye candy bullshit and it is hysterical. It so clearly wants the viewer to place herself in this understated and yet unrealistically affluent lifestyle but it can’t help turning the fantasy up to eleven.

  92. Yeah, you even see this in things like THE FAMILY STONE (Diane Keaton is kinda typecast here), which is a not-too-guilty pleasure of mine. They’re just a salt-of-the-earth every-family that happens to live in a $3M 5-bedroom, 3.5-bath colonial home that sits on about 1.5 acres. Like some of the John Hughes films, it gives us a fairly superficial, straw man critique of class and materialism by contrasting Sarah Jessica-Parker’s love-to-hate “rich bitch” character with the lovable fuck-up Luke Wilson character. The basic effect of these two characters and the contrast between them is to situate the rest of the family as “the normal ones” who essentially have struck the right balance between conscientiousness and non-materialism — whereas SJP is our example of too materialistic and Luke Wilson is our example of kind of a lovable fuckup. Like with HOME ALONE but maybe for different reasons, you can argue that a film like this needs a spacious and homey idyllic Christmas house, but it’s still kind of crazy the way the film invites us to gaze in on this home that I certainly could not afford as if this were just a modal American family.

  93. grimgrinningchris

    July 4th, 2020 at 8:21 am


    Totally get that. And I’d have loved to haven them go prehistoric, even just for a scene or two.

    But even taking the ride out of the equation, I don’t think effects at the time (at least on the same level of plausible believability as the others in the series) would have allowed for it that to be a major part of the movie- when they were still a couple years from JP) and if it was a quick scene or two (which prolly coulda been pulled off) of the DeLorean going haywire and winding up briefly in random times (including prehistoric) it could have been seen as a Bill N Ted bite…

    I dunno. I love 3. Love that it’s a western and just a fun time with characters I enjoy spending time with in a setting no one could have or would have predicted after that first TO BE CONTINUED…

    88milage may vary, of course…

    Also, merchandise or not, the ride was MINDBLOWING when it first opened and set a bar for years later. And it’s a fun BTTF short movie (with a great-albeit not at all realistic- stop motion trex. on its own merits.

    (I do think the Simpsons ride was a worthy successor… love that too)

  94. I once coined a term for a certain type of horror/thriller they don’t really make anymore called Maid Movies. This used to be a common template for period horror, 70s TV movies, and other outdated formats. These are movies where whatever problems the main characters are facing (ghosts, Draculas, Bad Ronalds, what have you) are substantially mitigated by their wealth, as represented by the presence of a maid or similar servant character. If you or I had these problems, we would have to deal with them while still trying to make a living and pay rent or at the very least do household chores to keep our homes camera-ready, but these wealthy protagonists get to devote all of their time and resources to the film’s plot while the maid lets the audience know that none of that will ever be a concern. This is obviously a great boon to screenwriters who don’t have to worry about how the star is going to get to work now that a werewolf has eaten his car or whatever, but it does little to generate a feeling of reality or stakes for the vast majority of us who’ve never even visited a house that had a maid, let alone had one ourselves. Contrast this with the only genuinely suspenseful scene in the otherwise dull AMITYVILLE HORROR, in which the vague supernatural phenomena of the rest of the movie suddenly manifest in actual consequences via the inexplicable disappearance of a much-needed envelop of cash. That little moment packs more punch than all of the bleeding walls and demon pigs combined because it taps into real anxieties that actual people experience. Maid movies also betray their upper class origins by assuming that we will sympathize more with the rich employers than the servants, even though the servants are suffering through the same phenomena just to get a paycheck when the rich people could just fuck off to Bora Bora and leave all this shit behind whenever they feel like it. It’s the servants who are really trapped by the horrors of capitalism (and are often callously used as cannon fodder to amp up the stakes for the monied protagonists) but the movies do not recognize that. We’re supposed to care that some rich lady is going through when the poor maid has to walk into the same hellhole every day for minimum wage. Nowadays, it is common for horror movies, particularly ghost movies, to have some element of financial anxiety to them (which makes sense—what is a haunted house if not a bad real estate investment?) so Maid Movies have mostly fallen by the wayside in favor of the more insidious form of affluence porn Skani describes. It’s so insidious, in fact, that the characters in INSIDIOUS (a schoolteacher and an unemployed artist of some kind) buy two houses in the first hour without batting an eye. This is portrayed as an inconvenience rather than the life-ruiner it would be for the vast majority of the populace. The two CONJURING films at least pay lip service to the idea that a haunted house would be most devastating to those too poor to find new lodgings.

  95. Chris: The ride was definitely one of the coolest I ever went on and was certainly the best at Universal Orlando in 1991 when I went on it. I can’t speak to any particular qualities of the short film, though, since it’s something I saw once nearly 30 years ago while being buffered about by an animatronic Delorean. If they really want it to be canon, they should have put it in the box set so it can be viewed as part of the series.

  96. Back when one of my main life goals was to marry Molly Ringwald, I hated the way John Hughes wrote poor/rich characters (the scenes between Molly and Harry Dean Stanton excluded, but that was probably down to Harry). That’s why I was pleasently surprised when I read that the awful ending of PRETTY IN PINK was forced upon him by the studios, and that he wrote SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL as a response. And to all you Eric Stoltz doubters out there, I’m here to tell you that in that movie he’s one of the greatest working class hero kids of all time. To bad Molly said no to playing Amanda Jones. Or, as I thought at the time, “good” because I didn’t want to see her in another rich girl role.

  97. grimgrinningchris

    July 4th, 2020 at 8:50 am

    They actually had a crappy transfer cropped version on the Blu set. Prolly cuz it was shot to be shown on an 80ft curved IMAX screen and never meant to be shown on any standard theatrical or home platform. I do wish they’d figure out a way (and put the lil time and money into it) to restore it and reformat it at least…better.

  98. Well I’ll be damned. I guess I’ll have to check that out then. Thanks for the heads up.

  99. I really hate it when I see a movie and this guy is confronted by bad guys with weapons and he’s jumping out of windows and surviving and he knows hand to hand combat and I’m like how can I possibly relate to this man, if I jumped out of one window I could be dead, or at least in a hospital.

  100. Keep digging yourself in further, Muh, this is fun.

    The whole point of DIE HARD is precisely how insane all this action is. Nothing about the action in the film is intended to be relatable. Just like nothing about the central premise of JURASSIC PARK or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or JASON X is “relatable” in the strict sense of “is a thing that could happen in our present day world.”

    In BTTF, everything about the existence and nature of time travel is by definition not relatable, which is what makes it a fun “what if?” escapist high-concept premise. But the film itself only works if the characters and their emotional through lines *are* relatable. What make Marty relatable (to middle class white men, at least) obviously is *not* that he knows a wacky scientist and has access to a time machine. What is relatable is the emotional beats and relational stakes and those sorts of conflicts: his parents have a kind of crappy, compromised and middling existence, bullying of some form is in the ether, they’re not particular well-to-do, school’s a drag man, and he’d rather be doing other stuff (in his case it’s guitars, in another film it might have been smoke weed or play video games).

    Likewise, in DIE HARD, the action is not at all relatable: it’s a fantastical heightened reality. What grounds all of that and makes John McClane relatable (again, at least to white dudes and presumably to some others) is that he’s going through a divorce, wrestling with feminism and his diminished old school masculinity, and is not a musclebound superman or a former ninja and Navy SEAL. He’s living on a cop’s salary, separated from his family, trying to hold a marriage together, and dealing with the fact that he is fundamentally an old school “man’s man” but not a superman, living in a changing world where his wife is tough and independent-minded and the more successful spouse according to capitalism. What’s relatable is the human emotional relationship identity shit, not the high-concept high-jinks. The high-concept high-jinks are by definition unrealistic and unrelatable, which is why we need the character shit to be very relatable, which is what allows us to get invested in this fantastical shit.

  101. Well this affluence porn to me was never much of an issue because I didn’t really watch that medicore stuff anyway…who wants to watch a bunch of rom-coms? Nancy Myers basically makes mom movies. Hollywood does sell affluence horseshit, but saying that’s what it solely peddles…and I’ll stick with the 80 and early 90s because that’s the Hughes/Nancy Myers heyday, basically ignores all of Spielberg (and most of the movies he produced), Spike Lee, John Carpenter (talk about a bunch of working class stiffs), I guess Rob Reiner has some rich people but also decidedly many things about non rich, James Cameron movies were all about regular joes fighting against whatever, Martin Scorsese, Ivan Reitman was all about working dudes, Ron Howard wasn’t making movies about rich people. Michael Keaton wasn’t playing rich people until he did Batman, look at his output.

    So yeah, if you concentrate on a few mainstream pap filmmakers, you can get the outcome you want and make the connections you want to.

  102. And Majestyk nails it with the “Maid Film” construct. A film betrays its point of view and ethos with respect to issues of wealth, class, and consumption. PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES most definitely presents Steve Martin as our point of view to adopt, and it introduces Del as an interloper from a cruder class of person. Sometimes he comes in handy, mostly he gets in the way, but he’s always an interesting curiosity, and the film’s treatment of Del never rises beyond what I would call affectionately patronizing. Likewise, CHRISTMAS VACATION betrays its point of view by exposing us to caricatures of capitalistic excess (Mr. Shirley, Todd and Margo) and of white trash (Cousin Eddie and clan) so that we can see Clark and his family as ultimately being the decent, every-family. And, to Maggie’s point, they mostly are, and yet it is odd that even in that context, the central dramatic suspense throughout the film hinges on ho big Clark’s bonus will be, and it’s not because he needs that big bonus to avoid foreclosure or to help save the local whatever-whatever, but it’s to construct a swimming pool. And, finally, FERRIS BUELLER absolutely wants us to identify with Ferris as fucking awesome, and anyone who calls Ferris out on his entitled, spoiled, self-centered bullshit is portrayed as a wet blanket at best or more often as petty or even sadistic. Nevertheless, the point of view at all times is a relatively privileged one, where middle-middle-class people (Del), lower-middle class people (Buck), and lower-class or impoverished people (Eddie, bird lady from HONE ALONE 2) exist primarily as curiosities, cautionary tales, or colorful characters offering us teachable moments to remember as we make our way back to our lovely houses, beautiful families, and economically secure futures. Typically, the us being taught is an advertising executive (most John Hughes films) or other white collar professional (Clark is some kind of product engineer or middle manager), a moderately well-to-do-family or the child of such a family (Ferris, Kevin McCallister, Weird Science dudes). The middle-middle class person and below is almost always the other, and even when it is a more middle-classy protagonist like Clark Griswold, his chief struggle surrounds how to have an awesome vacation or whether his bonus check will be enough to support a fairly lavish recreational home addition.

  103. Muh, I think you are right about much of Steven Spielberg’s and Michael Keaton’s work. For the most part, I think they dodged that bullet. Yeah, I would say that a lot of Ivan Reitman’s and Rob Reiner’s films fall into the upper middle class perspective category. Even ANIMAL HOUSE was at a time when about 20% of white male adults graduated college, so, that starts from a fairly privileged place.

  104. I don’t know. Maybe your whole perspective of rich/middle class is different in America. I realized a while ago, to be specific when CLOVERFIELD came out, that I apparently have no idea what rich is. So many people complained about the “rich protagonists”, but there was nothing that made them look rich to me, except that, if you think about it, they apparently had a nice apartment somewhere in New York, which can’t be cheap. But my German middle class apartment of that time was bigger than theirs.

    My best friend owns a house. It looks really nice. Not a HOME ALONE house, but one could look at it and say “Damn, how can he afford it?” The answer was he bought it cheap(ish) and refurbished it over the course of more than a year by himself with the help of friends and family.

    The biggest headscratcher is maybe my girlfriend’s family. Nothing about them screams “rich”. Her mother was a nurse, her father a teacher, both are retired, they have five kids, but they live in a very beautiful house, down the road they own another house and one day they took me even further down the road to a lake and proudly told me that this is all their property too. But they are Canadians, so who knows what constitutes as rich over there.

  105. I really don’t see the problem here. BTTF took place in a middle class suburb. So what?

  106. The original point specifically about BTTF was made by Vern in the review (you can do a find on “Reagan era materialistic values”). His point is not that the McFlys are wealthy per se at the end of the film, but that the ending seems to send a clear message in various ways that the future turning out okay (or not) is synonymous with getting a kick-ass corporate job or having cool shit like memberships at the tennis club, a book deal, and a new truck for the lad.

    The broader issue I’ve raised is that a disproportionate number of family comedies, date night comedies, “chick flicks,” and dramas represent the lifestyles of upper middle class and stone cold wealthy people as common, normal, normative, deserved, and desirable–as legitimately earned and/or unproblematically retained and as synonymous with the good life. The films invite us to accept wealthy people dealing with wealthy people problems as unproblematic and relatable.

    Sometimes such films try to be in on the joke by having the characters laugh at their wealth and its excesses or by presenting a still-wealthier or equally wealthy but more overtly douchey antagonist or supporting character whose job is to provide a contrast to make the main protagonist’s own wealth and privilege seem more modest and palatable by contrast. And if middle-middle or working class people and situations are presented at all, they are presented as the outsiders, interlopers, or colorful supporting characters–lovable slobs, fast-talking street hustlers, or shabby put-upon people to feel sorry for, to serve as cautionary tales, or to be rescued by the people with the money. These films are full of black tie affairs, wacky vacations and destination weddings, corporate executives, successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, eccentric multi-millionaires with private planes and employees or servants, and white collar professionals (lawyers, doctors, ad executives, architects, film actors and tv personalities) who live in mini-mansions or mansion-mansions and who agonize over things like paying for $50-100K weddings, “making partner at the firm,” or building an inground swimming pool. These films normalize and romanticize consumerism, conspicuous consumption, and economic privilege as worthy, deserved, or necessary. They ask us to celebrate and root for the 1-5% and to view them as fundamentally deserving to be there and to view the overall economic structure as fundamentally unproblematic — as something to be sought after and celebrated. I don’t really think affluence, and especially conspicuous affluence, is something to be celebrated. And if it is sought after, it is something to seek after for the greater good, not to collect shiny shit to show off and enjoy or to be a conqueror of worlds.

  107. I see what you’re saying and I appreciate you taking the time to explain your point of view again.

  108. Still, what would be the less materialistic and therefore less cinematic ending be? Repeating the breakfast scene from the beginning, only that everybody is smiling this time?

  109. Robert Hartman

    July 5th, 2020 at 6:28 am

    George is a serene-looking guy grading English papers. His wife is harried but meaningfully engaged in something she believes in. His brother and sister, I don’t know what they’re doing, but it could be easy enough to come up with something — they’re playing chess and playfully busting each others’ chops about something. Instead of a new car, they bough him a used car that looks nice but is nothing special. Biff is watering is lawn and asks with sincere interest how Marty’s day went. etc., etc.

  110. Yeah, something like that could work.

  111. The problem is that Marty doesn’t really have nearly as much of an arc as George (one of the poster taglines claims it’s about him learning to be on time, and Parts II and III add his hatred of being called “chicken” and “yellow,” both of which have no real character basis in the first movie). And so, the film’s version of a happy ending is to just give him stuff – a new vehicle and yuppie suburban home life. It’s a pretty Reagan-era vision, but I’ll take the bad with the good. It’s maybe the most compulsively rewatchable blockbuster of the ’80s, and despite this criticism, it has perhaps the best screenplay.

    Also, maybe I’m misremembering, but isn’t there a scene in this or one of the sequels where Marty realizes his 1985 timeline has returned to stability because the homeless guy is still homeless? It’s a great movie, but good grief.

  112. I’m still baffled by how the extremely common trope of “main character goes through ordeal, winds up with money at the end” (seen in everything from BTTF, to THE JERK to NATIONAL TREASURE to the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL remake to KNIVES OUT) is an objectionable display of Regan-era greed in this specific instance. Is it because the universe seems to be indirectly rewarding Marty, rather than because Marty was directly chasing down treasure this whole time? It’s a Cinderella story, and if you have more generalized problem with the way Hollywood portrays wealth, that’s one thing and I’m sympathetic to that notion, but singling out BTTF as if it was alone in this weakness of using money=success” as an end-movie shorthand is weird to me.

  113. And Robert Hartman just wrote an ending to the movie that has no punch.

  114. I agree with Muh. What I like about shamelessly commercial cinema is that it shows us who we are, not what we want everyone to think we are. The ending of BTTF perfectly illustrates the mentality of the time it was made in and the people it was made for. Not in a million years would I trade that honesty for a bullshit moral that no one involved in this project actually believed in.

  115. ” the film’s version of a happy ending is to just give him stuff”

    That’s a pretty simplistic view of it.

    In the beginning, his family is only one step ahead from being trailer park trash. Their house is dirty, nobody is happy, one of their family members is a criminal, George never escaped his high school bully, but let’s assume for the sake of taste that in this timeline, at least Biff never tried to rape Lorraine, since without Marty, she wasn’t at that specific time at that specific place where it almost happened. Then later that night he sees his best friend getting murdered.

    By the end he not just saved Doc’s life, despite seemingly failing in several different ways at first, he pretty much fixed every problem his family had, after he almost accidentally whiped them out, just by coincidentally changing the one, tiny piece that made everything fall apart. (George never standing up to Biff.)

    And, sorry, but by now I have to say it bluntly: I think the whole “Waaah, they are all rich and successful now” extremely hypocritical. I get it, society wants us to be the “bigger person”, who is happy without money and consumerism and bla and bloop and ignore our dreams and just strive for what we already have, but come on. I know some of you here are writers. And I’m sure that some of you would kill for having a Marty that visits you in your teenage years, boosts your confidence and in the end makes you send your book to a publisher, without fear of rejection. Or living in a nice house, being able to buy your kids nice things or just god damn having a job that you like, even if you have to wear a suit and *gasp* make money!

    It reminds me of that one episode of WRECKED (A lose parody of LOST, about a group of plane crash survivors on an island), where they find a portable DVD player with just enough battery power for one movie and they try to decide if they wanna watch DUMB & DUMBER TO or SELMA. Everybody first picks the silly slapstick comedy, but then feels like they have to watch the acclaimed drama about important social issues, out of fear they would look dumb. (Side note: Too bad that WRECKED peaked with that episode and never got as clever or funny again.)

    Not everybody who drives a nice car, is automatically a “greed is good” yuppie asshole. As far as we can tell, family McFly 2.0 are good people, so there is really no reason to antagonize them like that and shit on the ending, because it looks “too materialistic” on the outside.

  116. It’s less an issue of the materialism itself (though that is pretty symptomatic of Hollywood movies of that time), but that I think it’s unearned as an ending. Like, you go through this whole process of restoring 1985 so now you win a new car. As an ending, it’s more earned in something like THE JERK, which is a movie about material status. I don’t see where I’m complaining about rich people being evil.

  117. Do you guys not remember that Marty’s main problem at the beginning of the movie was that Biff wrecked the family car so he couldn’t take Jennifer on a camping trip? Him getting his own ride at the end is just the payoff to that setup. Does it still glorify commercialism? Fuck yes it does! You ever seen anything American that didn’t?

  118. I guess I still don’t see the issue here. I think you’re giving BTTF way too much credit as being this evil piece of filmmaking because the ending isn’t some deep philosophical piece on the evils of being upper middle class.

    It’s also another example of that thing people do that assigns 2020 morals to a 1980s movie.

  119. Sternshein, not sure if you’re addressing me, but BTTF is one of my favourite movies. I don’t think it’s evil, by any means. It’s so close to perfect from a construction standpoint, that this stuff just stands out more.

    I’m pretty sure these criticisms were popularized by Zemeckis himself, who addressed his concerns with the ending on the DVD commentary. And I would guess that guy is richer than all of us combined.

  120. Yeah I mean if one of the only major complaints about your high school time travel adventure comedy is that, upon reflection, a fully just economic outcome is not achieved amongst all the characters, you probably made a pretty good movie.

    I will say, this discussion has made me do a lot of thinking about why I find some things ok in movies and some things objectionable. I think for me, a big part of it is whether the movie is really trying to, if not be “realistic” per se, than to at least “depict realism”, if that distinction makes sense- to me, BTTF isn’t trying to do that *at all*. Even its baseline version of “normal” is a teen hanging out with a mad scientist! So to me, the idea of a more subdued ending where the family is just *morally* enriched in some way kind of cuts against the high-energy, high-concept world we’ve been in this whole time.

    Also, I think it’s interesting just to note- there’s no version of the world where *Doc* becomes rich too. He always throws the family fortune away on the time machine. Now he just knows it will be a success.

  121. Well, if The Ride is considered canon, then Doc apparently got rich enough to start his own time travel institute. Maybe he made some key investments back in 1885 that paid off big on his return to the present.

  122. No Mr. Polermo, wasn’t addressing you.

  123. You could probably get legitimate investors for a time travel institute though. All Doc has to do is take his act on Shark Tank and boom- Mr Wonderful is in for $10 mil.

  124. CJ and Muh have vacillated a bit between ‘no, the ending *doesn’t* glorify consumerism* and *maybe it does, but it’s the right ending for the movie.* To me, the former argument is obviously wrong, but the latter is fair enough. I’m someone who didn’t grow up with BTTF, I liked and appreciated it when I saw it, but the ending left me unsatisfied for the same reasons it did Skani and Crispin Glover.

  125. JTS originally I said I didn’t really remember it as being Reagany, then as I said I looked at the ending again and said oh yeah, guess it kind of is. And don’t really care.

    And really it’s not about what should or shouldn’t be…but it’s the end of the movie, the whole concept is about how time travel changes shit, Marty gets to the end we don’t really want a subtle small change in our big broad comedy. I mean this movie isn’t about the small subtleties of life.

  126. It’s like The Butterfly Effect, both movie style and book. Some guy goes back and fucks up some small detail, I don’t want him to come back to his future and see that instead of a blue car he has a red car and he has a more boring job and now he’s behind on his rent.

    I want to see him come back and HE HAS NO BOTTOM TORSO or EVERYONE IS RIDING OCTOPI. What else am I there for?

    Anyone see that old tv show Sliders? “This is another parallel universe, but it’s exactly the same as ours but this guy is a history professor!” Fun!

  127. And also to Palermo, I really think he’s ignoring what everyone keeps saying…it’s not about “changed the future and you won a new car.” It’s that George would have never had the confidence to write a book, he’s probably been writing other stories or something that got them that stuff, and he can stand up to Biff and assert himself.

    I mean I have art friends who could be GREAT but they act like the old fucking George, too scared to go out and try it, too scared of failure. Fuck that I keep telling them, I fail a lot but I also win a lot cause if you throw enough shit at the wall something will stick. Makes me sad, you only live once, fuck it.

  128. Muh, granted that’s true about George writing his book. But it’s also part of why I said the film works a little better for George’s story arc than Marty’s, even though Marty facilitates things.

  129. Ferris Bueller is a perfect comparison. Ferris is there to facilitate Cameron’s arc.

  130. Yep, and that’s why I always said in that movie, Cameron is the actual audience identification figure. Not Ferris.

    While BTTF is a comedy, it kind of follows an action movie template as much as anything. It’s really about the forward momentum of the plot and locking things into place. And a lot of times, leads of action movies don’t have much of an arc. Indiana Jones? He basically goes from “hokum” to “oh it’s real,” but I don’t see that as any kind of character growth or anything. In the scene right before the Nazi meltdown he wouldn’t blow it up because he still was the same old dude. Seagal never had an arc. Predator, no arc. Steve McQueen didn’t have one in The Getaway, or did he have one even in Bullit? I don’t think he did but it’s been a long time.

    So in BTTF it’s like Fox is the action star and the arcs go to the secondary characters, all of which get one.

  131. I don’t think anyone’s saying that the end of part 1 portrays the McFlys as jerk per se. It absolutely does glorify capitalism and materialism, though, it does not need to, and it is part of a wider trend of doing so. Marty doesn’t need a brand new kick-ass truck to settle the matter of him needing a ride. In any case, for me, the thing is more cumulative. Honestly, the Marty’s truck thing is probably more obnoxious, but those various features work in tandem to achieve a holistic picture of success that I think is substantially capitalistic and consumeristic, and I still don’t see how it needs to be for it to be satisfying. Put on the glasses, Keith David! :p

    I’m having a little trouble buying — or maybe I’m just not following the point about Marty and Ferris as facilitator or audience identification point for George and Cameron, respectively. Cameron and George are definitely the inhibited dorks who need to come out of their neurotic shells, fight for their right to party, and so on. They are relatable inasmuch as they are believable underdogs. But BTTF is still very much Marty’s movie, and same for Ferris and FERRIS. The average person is not going to naturally relate to Ferris’s adventures, but he or she is going to think that Ferris is awesome and a vehicle of wish fulfillment.

  132. Ferris is much more of a traditional trickster figure than Marty. He’s like the Coyote or Puck or Bugs Bunny or Anansi for the ‘80s. He’s not supposed to grow or learn anything, just cause mischief and mayhem by being more clever than the other the other guy. Marty is more like an an Indiana Jones kinda guy, who is just gutsy and flies by the seat of his pants, but is mostly just trying to get by as best he can.

  133. I wouldn’t say Marty ISN’T the audience identification guy…he definitely is. He’s in a crazy position and we wonder what would we do? But George has the actual character arc. They’re not one and the same.

    Ferris is the guy anyone would be like ugh, what is this maniac doing and dragging me along with his bullshit. I’m sure some people might want to be like Ferris even though he’s a fuckhead asshole, but most people are way more on the Cameron side.

    You see this in, say, Saving Private Ryan. The guy I think a LOT of people identify with is Upham, not Tom Hanks. or any of those other guys. I remember seeing that movie with some friends and they all identified with him and not the leads. Actually I know people who fought n wars who said they totally identified with Upham, if not necessarily what he does overall. Sarah Conner i the audience surrogate in Terminator, cause she gets swept into that bullshit. Will Smith in MIB too.

  134. I’ll go along with the claim that Ferris has no real arc to speak of and that Cameron and George both do. I think Marty has at least something akin to an arc in as much as he gets to see adults in general and his parents in particular in a different light that gives him some more perspective and empathy. I’ll confess that I’m not sure this rises to the level of an arc, though.

    Still, it seems to me that Ferris is there to do more than facilitate Cameron’s arc. Everything about the film tells us it’s Ferris’s film, so, while definitely does drag Cameron through an arc, I think he’s there to do more than just that, because the film is more about him than Cameron. Primarily, Ferris is there to take all of us on a wish fulfillment adventure we lack the economic privilege, nerve, and/or recklessness to take. As a certain type of adventure film, I think it’s less about an arc than about the adventure itself, though Cameron’s journey adds a certain depth and groundedness to it that certainly won’t be forthcoming from Ferris. Dude’s a few steps away from being a full-on antisocial personality.

    On to the business of being an audience surrogate. Cameron is so much the opposite of Ferris that they seem more like yin and yang than either one of them being particularly easy to lock in on as the grounded one whose actions make sense or seem reasonable. Most of us are not as glib and manipulative as Ferris or as neurotic and strange as Cameron. Cameron is somewhat easier to identify with in that he’s not a borderline sociopath like Ferris, but Cameron’s own actions and quirks tend toward the eccentric and melodramatic, so he can be a little bit of the oddball and even offputting. So, maybe Cameron is the audience surrogate by default, but I’m not sure what that adds up to. His sister is the closest to a grounded person who seems to be seeing everything for what it is, and she has a bit of an arc herself.

  135. An arc is basically how a character changes…Marty doesn’t change at all. Having realizations is just stuff that happens.

    Audience surrogate is not the same as being who the film is about. Sarah Conner is the audience surrogate, but Kyle Reese is driving the story. She’s mostly getting dragged along until the end. You say it yourself about Ferris and why he’s NOT the audience surrogate. To quote: “Primarily, Ferris is there to take all of us on a wish fulfillment adventure we lack the economic privilege, nerve, and/or recklessness to take.”

  136. Mark, you’re right, Marty doesn’t have the arc in the original. I always thought 1 was George’s arc, II was Marty’s and III was Doc’s. Yes, a little of Marty’s resolution bleeds into III too but it’s in II where he really learns his impulsivity causes trouble.

    It’s at the end of the first one where he’s happy to see the homeless guy again. I don’t think he was ever not homeless in any timeline but you’re right, that’s a pretty compassionless attitude.

  137. Remember the part of the movie with the skateboard and the car chase. That was a really fun set piece.

  138. I think Tony Hawk said that scene single-handedly made skateboarding cooler on a national level, whereas it was still sort of just a niche west coast thing before. The action sequences in the sequels hold up way more for the craft that went into them and just how much more elaborate they are. The stuff with the train at the end of III was saving the very best for last.

    I remember liking SLIDERS as a kid, but I’m sure it wouldn’t hold up as well if I saw it now. QUANTUM LEAP on the other hand really holds up better, even with how it ended. I never saw the mini-series but I did read Stephen King’s 11.22.63, and recognized how much of BTTF he took from it (as well as the JFK episodes of LEAP). I liked LOOPER, which looking back seems like it tried to take as many of the elements from all 3 movies and squished them into one plot, with the unpleasant addition of child murder to boot.

    On the aforementioned episode of THE REWATCHABLES, someone said that the homeless guy was actually the mayor in 1955. Marty calls him Fred in the first movie, but the mayor’s name was Red. We actually see him again in the alternate 85 in II where Marty calls him Red. I’m pretty sure he’s not the 1955 mayor since the picture of the guy on the car is of a very old man. Just using my imagination I’d place him as either one of Biff’s old friends, or the guy at the dance who takes Lorraine away from George briefly as Marty’s disappearing act begins.

  139. “Do you guys not remember that Marty’s main problem at the beginning of the movie was that Biff wrecked the family car so he couldn’t take Jennifer on a camping trip?”

    What makes you think that? Because Marty didn’t say “Oh man, my family is so unhappy, my dad is a manchild who still gets bullied, my uncle is a criminal, everything is awful” into the camera after the scene that pretty much explained all this?

  140. One cool un-Ellisian touch about the film which I doubt would ever happen today is that California Raisins paid into the budget so that BACK TO THE FUTURE could do for raisins what ET did for Reece’s Pieces. However all that Zemeckis and Gale could find to put in was a sticker on a bench. California Raisins were obviously unhappy so the studio refunded them half their money (they did a contest related to the film, so they got some value out of it).

    Of course what ended up doing for California Raisins what ET did for Reece’s Pieces ended up being The California Raisins.

  141. They wanted a big bowl of raisins at the dance but I think it was Bob Gale who said a bowl of raisins on film looks like a big bowl of dirt so they just threw it out. This was otherwise a pretty creative use of product placement, considering things like the Texaco and Pepsi logos were different thirty years before. Zemeckis sort of did it again with CAST AWAY by making Tom Hanks’ character a Fed Ex employee. It was central to that character’s arc that time was of the essence, but now being stranded on a desert island that was lost to him.

    My favorite production story is about Sid Sheinberg insisting on changing the title to SPACE MAN FROM PLUTO (the name of the comic book the farm boy reads). His other notes were that Einstein be a dog instead of a monkey, and that the mother be named Lorraine (his wife being JAWS’ Lorraine Gary). Bob and Bob agreed to those but did not budge on the title, with the slight fear of being on the bad side of Sheinberg (who didn’t just run Universal but MCA itself) about it. Zemeckis said Spielberg earned every cent of his money from the franchise when he wrote Sheinberg a note telling him about how big a kick they got out of his joke, and the title remained.

  142. Some of the actors they were looking at for Marty and Doc were Charlie Sheen and James Woods. I have a feeling that would have given it more of a Rick and Morty vibe.

  143. The one name that sticks out for Doc as someone who could have done nearly the same things to have made it an indelible performance was John Lithgow. Not sure he could have pulled off looking nearly the same from 1955 to 85 without it being a big issue like Christopher Lloyd did. Michael Keaton was another name mentioned too. I can’t see Woods doing it, he was capable of playing heroes and likable people on screen, but he always had an edge to it. I could kind of see a 1985 Charlie Sheen working as Marty. Reading it just now I had a funny image of Emilio as a kind of Napoleonic take on Biff.

  144. Daniel Strange

    July 6th, 2020 at 2:33 pm

    As Vern aptly points out, one reason this movie works so well is that it’s stacked with comedic heavyweights. Thomas F. Wilson is amazing for his ability to balance both menace and comedy as Biff. Crispin Glover gives arguably the best performance in the movie, and is totally iconic. But I want to focus on Lea Thompson as Lorraine. Lorraine is such an interesting comedic character (although Thompson also sells the hell out of sad alcoholic 1985 Lorraine) that it makes it all the more frustrating to see the filmmakers turn the sequels into more “boys’ adventures” movies by focusing almost exclusively on Doc & Marty.

    Lorraine shows that they could write funny, interesting female characters, but instead of seizing the opportunity to explore Jennifer’s character (with Elizabeth Shue, no less!) they just leave her lying around, literally. Massive missed opportunity, and one reason the sequels are less successful IMO. Despite the weird incest storyline (!), BTTF is actually a family film in the literal sense: it’s about both of Marty’s parents as much as it’s about him. The sequels nod their heads at family relationships, but are really more concerned with the adventures of Marty & Doc. It’s a slight shift of focus but something is lost because of it.

    That said — since when else am I going to get a chance to rhapsodize about the BTTF sequels? — I do admire Part II as a confrontational work of art. Every half hour it literally starts over with another retelling of the first movie (Marty travels in time, must put something right before he can return to his own time), like it’s three episodes of a “Back to the Future” tv series crammed together. It’s not a *good* film, per se, but it’s such a big/weird creative swing for a sequel that I do have to admire it.

  145. I just re-watched the entire clocktower climax sequence at youtube. Definitely gets your blood pumping. Some great visual storytelling, with the amazing score by Silvestri. It’s weird how it’s now kinda illegal to make catchy scores in Hollywood. The last catchy scores I can remember were for LOTR and Harry Potter.

    Haven’t watched the ending in 20 years, but to me it always seemed that the film simply wanted to express the difference *visually*. So you get elements that express wealth. An easy way to get the point across visually. And it didn’t seem to me that they are rich, just a well-off middle-class family. Publishing a book doesn’t mean that you are rich, most published writers struggle.

  146. Bigtotoro: the internet tells me that as long as the tv was capable of attaching to an external antenna, the answer is yes. It’s surprising how long some technology persisted. The frame rate that video tech up through DVD players use (specifically the need to drop 1 out of every 1000 frames) is the result of fixing a problem with watching a color signal on tvs made before color was possible.

  147. Ugh I watched BTTF part 2 this weekend for the first time in decades and I hate that movie. I tried to like it this time based on your praise here in the comments but nope. It has such a harsh, acerbic edge to just about everything in it. It is not funny. It is mean-spirited. MJ Fox does a really bad job trying to evoke George McFly, as Marty’s kid.

    I really don’t understand the “creative” decision to have the same actors play fathers and sons, with old man makeup or different haircuts or whatever. This continued to part 3 (which at least had its heart in the right place?) but it is jarring and breaks any possible suspension of disbelief for me. In part 1 obviously I am not really going to believe this time travel plot and there are way too many coincidences and in-jokes to be remotely believable, but for the most part it works. Part 2 just feels like some actors playing dress-up and going through the motions. The father/son/grandson/etc all played by the same actors just amplifies this feeling. Sons don’t look exactly like their fathers. Ever. Marty McFly doesn’t look anything like George McFly.

  148. I like PART II a lot, but I will say last time I watched it when we got to the bit where the grandparents or uncles or whoever come in to the future McFly household in their wacky suits, I did think “OK, I can see how if I was an older fan of the first film I might have found this disappointing and grating in 89” .

  149. “Sons don’t look exactly like their fathers. Ever.”

    Damon Wayans Sr and Jr have entered the chat.

  150. Obviously, nobody thought this was a realistic presentation of family genetics. It’s just a special effects showcase. This was near the beginning of the period of Zemeckis’ career when he wouldn’t do a movie unless it gave him an excuse to invent new stuff, so having all those characters played by the same actor was just a technical challenge to keep him interested in a project he otherwise didn’t give a shit about because he was too busy with ROGER RABBIT. It seems incredible now, but putting all those Michael J. Foxes in the same shot was a huge deal at the time. You’re not supposed to be thinking about how unrealistic it all is; you’re supposed to be wondering how in the fuck they pulled this shit off. Time has made these amazing breakthroughs not just quaint but invisible. It would never even occur to a modern audience to be impressed by a technique they’ve seen so many times that it barely even registers. It’s like all those 90s and early 2000s movies that were filmed in a way to give viewers a chance to ogle their bleeding-edge morphing shots but now just seem to stop dead for no reason to linger on bad special effects.

  151. That is why I find it so jarring and distasteful. The people involved thought “wouldn’t it be cool if Fox played Marty AND his son, and we had to do a bunch of split screens?” They didn’t think about story or plot or what makes a good movie, they thought about wacky or cool or technically challenging things they could do and built a lot of the story to fit, using callbacks to part 1 to accomplish most of the legwork. It is not clever, and the movie would probably not make very much sense if you hadn’t seen the first one. The movie is lazy and is leaning heavily on its far superior predecessor.

  152. I can understand that perspective. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to make creative choices based on story, character, and in-world logic. But I’d be lying if I tried to say I was against filmmakers trying to figure out new ways to show me shit I’ve never seen before. If some of that stuff comes off clunky in retrospect when the techniques they pioneer aren’t fresh anymore, I figure that’s just the price of innovation.

  153. While I’m not saying that this criticism is all wrong and the sequels are extremely unnecessary (although at least not to the point where I wouldn’t like them), calling it “lazy” couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Instead of playing it safe and giving us more of the same, they went really crazy and most of all took a lot of care to recreate the scenes from part 1! Seriously, a while ago there was a video, which since then has been taken down, that compared via splitscreen the original scenes, which the different viewpoints from part 2 and Zemeckis apparently went so far to stage and choreograph these moments almost exactly like the original ones. That’s quite remarkable.

  154. Mr M- Yeah any time a movie is *too* impressed with some new technology, it’s going to age quick and hard. I always think about that scene in BULLITT where everyone stands around for what feels like five minutes, silently watching a fax come in. At the time I can only imagine it must have been impressive as hell to get information from across the country that quickly, but now it just seems like a very strange break in the action.

  155. Fox playing his own son in II is fine, playing his daughter was a bridge too far. Maybe having Thompson play her instead would have been more interesting. I love the stuff in the McFly 2015 household, especially with Jennifer watching on horrified as her future family is falling apart. I think one of Zemeckis’ influences at this time was BLUE VELVET, and you can kind of see that as his homage to the scenes in the closet. If that’s at all true, it is perversely commendable he managed to fit such an homage in a family movie.

  156. pegsman: your idea of Marty being more a punk going back to 1955 reminds me of the premise of Derek Jarman’s JUBILEE, in which Queen Elizabeth I is transported 400 years into modern 70’s punk-era England

  157. If they had a more punk Marty you know they would have pulled an Alison from Breakfast Club when he gets back to the future.

  158. I bought Universal’s recent 4K set of the trilogy, and am kind of eager to discuss the notion of George standing up to Biff as being a great moment in movie bad-assery here. Not to sound pretentious about it but there’s almost a mythological element to it, when he lands the punch and looks at his hand and briefly laughs before asking Lorraine if she’s okay. In reviewing it on Letterboxd and revisiting the comment Kurgan made, I made note that he said it wasn’t the punch but the moment he stands his ground and doesn’t leave which in retrospect is probably more bad-ass than the punch on a moral level. He knows the potential cost of what he’s doing, but because of love and the budding courage and self-respect he gathered (encouraged by Marty, as if his life depended on it which obviously it did) it doesn’t matter and what’s in his heart does.

  159. Onthewall, see my comment near the top of this thread about a recent screening and a 7-year-old girl reacting to that moment for the first time!

  160. I had lost touch with this thread, but onthewall makes a good point about the negative storytelling implications of MJ Fox playing most of his whole family in part II. It was a cute first-viewing technical gimmick at its particular historical moment, but it doesn’t hold up particularly well — not for technical reasons, but because it takes you out of the moment. The decision to do a “30 years in the future” type of sequel is trick business, because there’s an almost irresistible temptation to pursue the symmetry of making 2015 feels as strange and alien as 1955 was, both as compared to 1985. Beyond that symmetry of wanting 2015 to feel *at least* as foreign and otherworldly as 1955 is the added pull to do whiz bang “futuristic” sci-fi shit.

    A lot of that stuff that makes up the first 30 minutes of BTTF II was fun and worked pretty well on first viewing, but they’re very empty calories. Self-lacing Nikes, hoverboards, Jaws hologram, flying car. All fun things to see, but it’s kind of in the same vein as fan service — like a proto-BuzzFeed listicle or some shit (“10 goofy futuristic things we need in a BTTF sequel, you guys!”).

    Anyway, the thing about BTTF II is that a good sequel is hard to do, and doing a time travel-centric sequel set in the undetermined, intermediate-term future is just asking to get distracted by the tinsel of speculative futurism. Part II can’t avoid this, but that was virtually guaranteed.

    What still surprises me is how willing they were to go pretty dark with the substantive storytelling. This manages to give the film some artistic merit and enduring significance beyond the “Carrot Top’s trunk show of future-kitsch” that dominates the first 1/3 of the film.

    I think it falls so far short of the original’s magic that you’d be justified in calling it a disappointment or a failure. But it’s an interesting failure, and it’s kind of cool that we have a answer to the counterfactual, “What would a BACK TO THE FUTURE sequel have been like?”

    More importantly, though, we have an answer to the counterfactual, “What would a sequel to the Richard Drefyfuss-Emilio Estevez film STAKEOUT have been like, and would it have added Rosie O’Donnell to the cast?”

    “I love this country!” in best Yakov Smirnoff voice.

  161. Zemeckis says as much that they shot themselves in the foot with that joke at the end of the first film, and figuring out how to pay it off without making an entire movie about the actual future, something he said he’d never do but obviously broke the rule here. Playing the future as funny and non-threatening works to the tone, and it works a little more darker when Doc does the tangent/chalkboard scene and plants the idea of a 2015 ruled by a narcissistic psychopath. Turns out we had to wait a few years.

    Getting back to Biff more directly, in revisiting the 2nd movie I found one moment weirdly sweet. When the older Biff is watching his younger self haggle the guy who fixed his car (played by Charles Fleischer, in one of two memorable cameos), he laughs and says to himself that he remembers that. It’s kind of a cute moment, this old man reliving a tiny bit of his childhood.

  162. Because these are some of the moviest movies out there, stuff like Fox playing his extended family doesn’t bother me. It feels right for this world, and the viewer experience being provided, at least to me.

  163. I think you’d have a hard time denying that Part II is far more cartoonish and surreal than Part I across the board, which is not to say that Part I doesn’t have its broad, silly moments. Biff’s high-rise, Lorraine’s boob job, George floating upside down, Flea’s cameo, the deluge of whimsical future tech. Part I has its implausibilities and whimsical elements, but it’s far more grounded, whereas II is at first relentlessly zany and then relentlessly strange. Part I is mostly grounded with some oddball elements, whereas Part I is mostly bizarre with some occasionally relatable elements. It’s in the overall matrix of Part II’s decision to go fairly unhinged that Michael J. Fox in a wig playing his own daughter starts to feel like it works. I don’t see anything remotely that broad happening in part I. Part I is far more grounded than, say, a WEIRD SCIENCE type of sci-fi, whereas Part II pushes into that level of outre zaniness. All that to say, I think a lot of this stuff feels at home in the world of BTTF, because it’s 30 – 35 years later, and 2/3 of the films are planted in that zanier, broader space.

  164. Why III works so well, and maybe even better, is that it goes in the opposite direction at least in terms of the pace (even still it’s pretty quick) but it’s way more character-driven then all the relentlessness of the time jumping of II. Better still, adjusting the Doc/Marty chemistry to where Doc is more given to emotion and Marty is the one speaking logic (without inherently betraying the core characters) made this more charming. As well as Mary Steenburgen’s character, who I came around on watching them again. She’s great and had perfect chemistry with Chris Lloyd for as little time they have together on screen.

    Alan Silvestri was never nominated for an Oscar, for any of the three films which surprised me. Less so for the sequels obviously, but I can’t believe he was passed over in 85. Even Huey Lewis got nominated for “The Power of Love”.

  165. Yes, Mary Steenburgen is great. I could’ve taken or left her at the time III came out, but if you’ve seen here in CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM or LAST MAN ON EARTH, how can you not love her?

    Part III does a good job of split the difference between I and II as far as tone and groundedness. As you said, it mostly stays put in a time period and is more of a period film — albeit a wacky, hyper-real one. As with Part I and 1955, there is a bit more safety in the structure of a fixed, past time period, whereas the open-ended futurism of Part II is super tricky to get right. Part III is the better film, Part II is the bolder film, and Part I is the best and only truly great film in the trilogy.

    As a side note to Part III, I think Mad Dog Tannen works on a somewhat more grounded level that “Michael J Fox in a wig as his own relative” can’t. For my money, the Biff actor physically/visually disappears into Mad Dog a bit more convincingly than just, “Hey, it’s Biff with a moustache,” which is probably at least in part down to his relative obscurity as a household face. There’s a baby-faced, high-voiced manchild quality to Fox that, combined with his cultural pervasiveness at the time, kind of takes you out of things a bit and makes it feel more distracting and gimmicky. In contrast, I experience Mad Dog as certainly having some Biff-like notes but as being a unique heel who is not just Biff with a moustache.

  166. Tom Wilson did a lot of his own stunts and all of the horse riding for III as well. Gale said his performance was inspired by Lee Marvin in (I think) THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. My favorite moment of his is when him and his sidekick are discussing the meaning of “forfeit”.

  167. Random BTTF III observation: On my last watch I noticed for the first time that you can see Clara stand in the background, with the back to the camera, a few scenes before her official introduction. The camera pays so little attention to her, that it’s impossible to think that she is anything more than a random extra. It makes me smile that when this scene was shot, everybody must have thought: “Man, people will go nuts when they rewatch the movie and suddenly spot her!”

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