• BurgundySuit

    Great write up! I’m sure as our generation grows up we’ll be seeing more paeans to the lost age of DVDs. As another bored country kid whose primary form of entertainment was bonus features, I’m all for it.

    What really struck me about Back to the Future was the sheer joy of the Johnny B. Goode scene. It seems kind of like a celebration of Marty overcoming the overwhelming odds against his own existence – a little like Watchmen’s idea that every human life is a “quantum miracle.”

    • The Ploughman

      In such a tightly constructed film, it’s a scene that should really stop the momentum cold but somehow doesn’t.

    • Babalugats

      It’s a moment of pure wish fulfillment that works because it’s completely honest about what it is, and lets the characters move on from it as soon as it’s over. And because it taps into something universal.

    • Rosy Fingers

      Plus, it lead to this delight:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGv4Nh1N9Mo

    • Drunk Napoleon

      I tend to find, paradoxically, the more disciplined and tight a story is, the more effective digressions like Johnny B. Goode are, acting as kind of a relief – you also have the coyote moment in Collateral which is tonally completely different but just as effective. Conversely, the digressions in Steven Universe only ever work for me when the episode has a strong story that they’re interrupting.

  • The Ploughman

    I’m just enough older that I remember the four-year wait between the original BttF and the sequels as interminable. I was pretty young but BttF was a common choice at sleepovers and my parents even rented a VCR(!) so they could watch it. It was also the first film I can think of that I knew was going to have a follow-up (“To Be Continued…”) and I couldn’t understand all the months going by and still no Part II. There was one kid who claimed to have seen it already, but logic and history reveals that he was actually a liar liar pants on fire.

    • Balthazar Bee

      I don’t doubt your memory Mr. Plough — and shit if I can remember — but there’s been no end of geek-troversy about whether the original release even said “To Be Continued…”

      But oh my yes about the interminable wait, regardless. I was five when my dad whimsically took me to see this, apparently blissfully unaware of the ways that it would form my childhood (that soundtrack cassette got played to oblivion in my room). By the time the second one came out, I was a pretty jaded nine-year-old, but probably not quite ready for the heady pessimistic thrill of BTTF2’s alternate timeline misadventures.

      • Saw the original in the theaters. Do not remember “To Be Continued. . .” (This has been another episode of @disqus_wallflower:disqus Is Old.)

      • The Ploughman

        Please, Mr. Plough is my Ploughfather’s name!

        The title must’ve been tacked on by the time it got to VHS, where I would have seen it, though I can’t say I have a specific memory of it being there. I saw (co-writer/producer) Bob Gale speak one time and he said they weren’t so bold as to plan a sequel, the ending was just supposed to be a “the adventure continues in your imagination” beat. His proof was putting Jennifer in the car with them. It caused them a huge headache storywise in part two, which is why she’s unceremoniously knocked out and more or less a non-factor for much of it.

        I’m about the same age and yeah, after so much anticipation, the sequel mostly confused and scared me at the time. I was old enough to register gunplay, big breasts (on Marty’s mother, oh no!) and naughty words, not old enough to enjoy them. The cowboy movie that followed was much more my speed.

    • thesplitsaber

      ‘It was also the first film I can think of that I knew was going to have a follow-up (“To Be Continued…”) ‘

      Clearly someone wasnt interested in Buckaroo Banzai’s battle against the World Crime League.

      • The Ploughman

        I missed the boat on that one. I tried to get on it recently, but it’s gone.

  • Babalugats

    I always appreciated the way this film handled its politics. The 1950s weren’t morally pure. The current generation isn’t any more corrupt than any other generation. Social progress is worthwhile. The mistakes you make have consequences, and your life is not determined by fate. Your parents are human beings with human flaws and human reasons for doing what they do. People can improve themselves and the world around them. It’s not a preachy movie at all, but there’s a solid moral core to the film if you’re looking for it. And it’s all presented very honestly. The lessons and themes are completely dramatized.

    • BurgundySuit

      There’s a great dark joke about the black janitor dreaming he could become mayor someday, his racist boss laughing him off, and then he does – and spouts the same cliches as the mayor in 1955.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      It has a non-fatalist viewpoint that’s in keeping with the can do spirit of the Eighties but has aged much better than the other uber capitalist comedies of the time because it’s not ideological.

    • Drunk Napoleon

      Also, white people invented rock and roll for black people.

      • Babalugats

        I love Spike Lee, but I always thought that criticism was asinine. Do you think the movie is literally arguing that rock and roll was invented by a white time traveler and stolen by Chuck Berry’s cousin Marvin? There’s a way to do that gag and whitewash history, and that is to have Marty play an Elvis song. And even in the internal logic of the film, Marty learns the song from Chuck Berry, Berry is a serious artist who is actively looking for his sound, and he creates rock and roll (which happens with and without Marty) after hearing some garbled nonsense over a pay phone. Spike Lee is one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live, but sometimes he says stuff just to say it.

        • The Ploughman

          Yeah, that’s the thing. Marty learned it from listening to Chuck Berry, so effectively Berry is learning it from himself. It’s a gag on the old Grandfather Paradox, and maybe makes the moment work better since we’ve just avoided a paradox closer to the original thought experiment.

        • thesplitsaber

          ‘….but your kids will love it’

  • Balthazar Bee

    Love the observation that the film doesn’t bother to even wink or nod towards an explanation for the Doc/Marty friendship. When you’re young, you accept these things as part of the magic of storytelling, and I think you’re right that any contemporary re-imagining would spend reels establishing the backstory to the detriment of the film.

    When friendship origin stories are handled with a certain expositional restraint and intelligence, I don’t object to it (like in The Karate Kid) but many contemporary films seem to think they have to answer any such question directly as part of the narrative heavy lifting, and it comes off as perfunctory and clunky.

    • BurgundySuit

      Not everyone takes such a positive view of the decision…
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6nqXxfoJAU

      • psst, John, Bob Newhart called, he said 1) that’s my bit, 2) it’s funnier when you only do one side of the conversation and 3) yes I can speak in parentheses.

        • silverwheel

          My 4-year-old daughter has become quite a fan of classic Simpsons episodes (seasons 3-8 because that’s what I have on dvd), even memorizing her favorite jokes :-). For some reason, season 7’s “Bark The Fink” is one of her favorites, and it warms my heart that she’s getting well-acquainted with Bob Newhart at such an early age.

        • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

          Oh, man, now that you said it, I can’t help but think how much funnier the pitch would be if we only heard the one side. “…Cool? No, he’s not cool like Ferris Bueller, he’s a dork and his best friend is an old scientist. … Stop the Kennedy assassination? Huh, that makes a lot of sense. We were thinking he’d just try to fuck his mom … Back to the Past? Oh, I see, because they go back in time. No, we were gonna call it Back to the Future, because… science.”

          • Mulaney clearly has got a lot of Newhart goin’ on, intentionally or not, and he would do well to study. Newhart was an old-school craftsman in the American tradition of comedy, the kind where Mark Twain sez “the teller must not give the slightest hint that he is aware that anything funny is being said.”

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘Mulaney clearly has got a lot of Newhart goin’ on, intentionally or not, and he would do well to study. ‘

            Judging by his sitcom i dont think Mulaney is less into craftsmanship and more into ‘hey ill just lazily replicate this thing we all think is ‘funny’ ‘.

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            Nah, Mulaney’s standup is terrific, although both yours and wallflower’s comments speak to his distinctively old-school sensibility. The real problem with Mulaney is that it was retooled and retweaked so many times that it sort of became a pale imitation sitcom of whatever it was John Mulaney wanted it to be originally.

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘a pale imitation sitcom of whatever it was John Mulaney wanted it to be originally.’

            I couldnt tell if it was supposed to be an earnest throwback to 90s NBC sitcoms like The Single Guy, or a parody of those same sitcoms.

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            I think it started out as a throwback but with more strange, distinctive elements, and got network-noted down to just being a lame recreation thereof.

          • BurgundySuit
        • thesplitsaber

          now im imaging newhart making your points on one side of a phone conversation.

      • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

        Counterpoint: With an actual explanation for Doc and Marty’s relationship, we might never have gotten the inspiration for Rick and Morty.

    • Drunk Napoleon

      On the commentary (which is actually just audio from a Q&A played over the film), the two Bobs joke that they were gonna have a dark subplot about the sexual attraction between a teenage boy and an old man.

      One of them then explains that when they were a kid, they knew an old man in town who did a lot of photography and happily showed the local kids how it worked, and they drew from that in the story. You can see that in the way Marty helps the Doc with his experiments.

      • Defense Against The Dark Arts

        If you’re interested in learning how Marty and Doc met, Bob Gale wrote several issues of a BTTF comic. All the issues are compiled in a trade paperback called Back to the Future: Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines. It was a fast, fun read if you’re into the BTTF universe like me.

    • Drunk Napoleon

      Also, with your second paragraph, in stories like The Karate Kid, that development of a single relationship is the story, rather than the setup for the story we actually care about.

  • Conor Malcolm Crockford

    Such a good movie that as you said is made of meticulous construction and jokes. It’s also one of the few time travel movies to show meddling with the past actually being positive but that does make sense in the movie’s hopeful, non-fatalistic approach to life.

    Fun facts on production: The producer Sheinberg actually did have some good suggestions for the script but wanted to change the title to Spaceman From Pluto in keeping with the farmer’s comic book. Zemeckis was horrified and begged Spielberg to interfere. Spielberg wrote a memo to the producer treating the entire title change as if Sheinberg was clearly just joking – Sheinberg was too embarrassed to correct him and it was dropped (this is I think a genius way to handle creative conflict for the record).

  • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

    Back to the Future is also the source for one of the best slow-burn jokes in GLOW. Anyone who’s seen it will know what I’m talking about, of course.