How Back to the Future has stood the test of time

For Back to the Future fans, October 21 is D-day. It’s the exact date in the future when Marty McFly and Doc Brown flew from the ’80s in a modified DeLorean. What, asks Mark Evans, makes the move as watchable today as when it was released?

It’s not often that you can correctly predict the weather. This time, though, we can be sure of it. At 4.29pm on Wednesday, it’ll be raining in Hill Valley, northern California.

There will also be flying cars zipping through the dark clouds overhead. Below, teenagers will get around with hoverboards and Jaws 19 will be playing at the local Holomax. We know this because we’ve seen it. In a movie. Made in 1989. Confused? Let’s go back to the past.

In the final scene of 1985’s sci-fi comedy Back to the Future, Marty McFly takes a trip into the future to stop his own son from taking part in a robbery. The film ends with Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine flying above the road and vanishing at 88mph. Fans of the movie had to wait four years to find out what happened next.

It transpires that they re-emerged in year 2015, caught in heavy traffic high above the California hills during a rainstorm. The rest of the movie’s plot — and indeed its sequel, which together saw Marty visit an alternate 1985, 1955 and 1885 — doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that the exact destination time on the DeLorean’s dashboard will occur on Wednesday. Yes, it’s two days until Back to the Future-day.

What’s fun is to watch Back to the Future’s version of 2015 and see what they got right and wrong. I remember watching the film 30 years ago and marvelling at the future it offered. To be honest, this was primarily based on the hope that hoverboards would become a reality. Sadly, this is one BttF prediction that did not come true. Modern-day Martys are still restrained by gravity, forced to get about on skateboards that haven’t changed that much since 1985.

Nevertheless, the list of predictions — correct or not — made by director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale is nothing less than impressive. Here’s what they got right: Paper money is still in use; flat-screen TVs showing multiple channels; hi-tech glasses; retina and fingerprint scanners and video calls.

What they got wrong: The internet; mobile phones; garish ’80s-style fashion; fax machines everywhere; the abolition of lawyers; and accurate weather reports.

What they inspired:Prototype hoverboards do exist but they’re cumbersome and expensive; ditto prototype flying cars; and Nike have been trying to bring sneakers with self-tying laces to market for years.

Of course, we’re forgetting the biggest invention of them all, and the reason for all the time-hopping shenanigans in the first place — a time machine. An early draft of the Back to the Future script had our hero Marty zip back and forth in spacetime via a fridge before Zemeckis acted on his concerns about child safety. Hence, the futuristic-looking car made in Belfast. With a cool car and a flux capacitor, audiences bought into the tricky concept of time travel. The crucial element, though, was fun.

Vic Barry, editor of themoviebit.com, says the Back to the Future movies’ success rests on their refusal to take themselves seriously.

“Doc Brown looked liked an Einstein parody — even his dog was called Einstein — and considering a DeLorean would have never got to 88mph at the distance it did, this was a movie far removed from science fact. However, by the time the credits rolled audiences were time travel experts none the less, and all thanks to the approach to ‘science’ the movie had. Always light hearted and never pretentious. Maybe if we had more Doctor Emmet Browns around, more of us would have been scientists,” he says.

How Back to the Future has stood the test of time

Mucking about with the spacetime continuum is usually something done by adults for grown-up audiences. Consider the pained brains of so many cinemagoers after watching Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. For younger audiences, filmmakers are more likely to go hopping about in famous historical eras with famous deceased folk without much thought for anything like the Grandfather Paradox. Yet, time and time again, film fans are willing to have their minds warped once the action keeps them interested.

“For the best part, time travel movies do get a decent enough reception from audiences,” says Mr Barry. “The Terminator franchise is the obvious example here. In more recent times Ireland’s own Domhnall Gleeson made a charming time travel movie called About Time.

“On the opposite end however, movies like Donnie Darko, while well received critically, left audiences wondering if they could actually go back in time and regain some of the hours they lost. And then there is Hot Tub Time Machine. But we’ll forget that it, and it’s horrific sequel ever turned up on cinema screens.”

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That’s all in the past. Let’s get back to the present. It’s two days until Marty and Doc arrive in that alternate October 21, 2015. When that exact time arrives, the Future will become the present. What better date to dig out your copy of the film and thank God we don’t wear double-ties.

“Back to the Future has and always will be my favourite time travel movie. I recently introduced my five year old, Cameron, to the trilogy over a number of weekends and the movies that Robert Zemeckis bestowed upon audiences have really stood the test of time,” says Barry. “My son got the same kick out of the movies as I did 30 years ago. And while his understanding of the space time continuum is as limited as my own, Back to the Future is truly timeless.”

FAST-FORWARD IN FILM

2016: The Dark Knight Rises (2012) — Suited and booted vigilantes will fight deranged criminals under cover of darkness.

2017: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) — A young wizard and friends will face off against an evil lord who is hell-bent on their destruction.

2018: Rollerball (1975) — Teams owned by global corporations will battle it out in a violent sport.

2019: Blade Runner (1982) — A retired policeman will be tasked with hunting down and destroying replicants.

2020: Mission to Mars (2000) — The first manned mission to the Red Planet is set to be struck by a mysterious disaster.

2021: Johnny Mnemonic (1995) — Humans will transport valuable data via a storage unit embedded in their brains.

2022: Soylent Green (1973) — A corporation will solve the food shortage problem with a new green wafer.

2023: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) — Robots will take over the world. Wolverine will be sent back to stop their creation.

2024: GI Joe: Retaliation (2013) — A villain impersonating the US president will threaten nuclear armageddon.

2025: Her (2013) — Artificially intelligent operating systems will be so lifelike that lonely men will fall in love with them.


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