Those Boards Don’t Work On Water: A Back to the Future Retrospect
I had never been more excited in my life and in reality I was simply staring at a large piece of concrete. However this was no ordinary piece of concrete, this was the same piece of concrete where Einstein became the world’s first time traveler. Where Michael J. Fox did an unnecessary diving roll down a mossy slope to watch himself break the sound barrier three times while a Grateful Dead mini-bus did a half gainer into a photomat not but moments later. I was in the parking lot of the Puente Hills Mall – but I would and will always refer to it as Twin Pines Mall – on a self indulgent pilgrimage I made to witness first hand, the destination where history was made and the true jumping off point for my favorite movie of all time – Back to the Future.
Whenever I tell people that Back to the Future is my favorite movie, I always feel the need to preface it with… “but there’s a story.” When in reality, I feel that I should not have to explain myself. Just because within our trite conversation between shots of Jaeger at some local dive you become overly artistic and declare that your favorite movie of all time is Killing Zoe, really shouldn’t make me have to warrant an explanation of the greatest cinematic masterpiece this world has ever seen. However, I do, so I will…
I can’t really remember the first time I saw Part I. I assume it was on HBO one afternoon around 1986/1987. But I do remember seeing it multiple times within the next few months. Just as it does now, HBO would always beat its newest releases into the ground. I started to become fascinated with the idea of time travel, skateboarding, and cars with gull wings. Since I was about seven years old, only one of these things was accessible to me… so I asked for a skateboard for my birthday and preceded to knock out my two front teeth, thus ending my illustrious career as a skateboarder even before I could attempt to hang on to the back of a Jeep while listening to Huey Lewis in my Walkman and waving to a gym full of Jazzercising chicks.
I saw Part II with my uncle and his then girlfriend almost immediately after it came out in 1989. This would be the main reason why this would become my favorite film of all time because the thought of going to see a movie with my uncle, who was in his mid 20’s and was more like an older brother, was about the coolest thing I could experience. After seeing the film, I felt like I truly took a glimpse at what the future would really be like come 2015 (like most people in the 50’s thought they knew what the 80’s would look like by virtue of Epcot Center at Disneyworld). I thought Hoverboards were actually real long after I knew that Santa wasn’t.
I had already committed myself and my uncle to seeing Part III the moment it hit theaters 6 months later. I’m still intrigued with the idea of filming two sequels at the same time. A move that I’m still convinced Peter Jackson and the Wachowski Brothers borrowed from Robert Zemeckis as a way of paying homage to The Trilogy. I was hooked. I was hooked to a movie that starred Alex P. Keaton and Reverend Jim Ignatowski. Why bother apologizing for it? It’s fantastic in every which way possible. One Thanksgiving roughly around 1992 I even managed to watch all three in a row. I have since been able to pinpoint this as the reason for Thanksgiving being my favorite holiday and coincidentally the beginning of my deteriorating eyesight.
Within the past few years, I’ve come to the realization that I’ve completely run the entire emotional gamut when it comes to this movie. All except one – to completely loathe it, and, in essence, make complete and utter fun of it. I’ve posed for pictures in front of countless DeLoreans with my sunglasses up and a surprised look on my face as I check my “watch” (I rarely, if ever, wear a watch). I’ve ridden the now defunct ride at Universal Hollywood 5 times in a row, simply to try and catch every nuance of it. I’ve been a short term agitator on the BTTF.com website and chat room mainly because I was the “too cool for the room” fan who thought everyone else was a dork (and yes, I realize the incredible irony in this statement). I’ve referenced the movie in an obscure way in almost every essay I’ve ever written. I’ve argued its merits and worth with numerous film buffs who find anything not produced by a foreign filmmaker to be worthless and a waste of celluloid. I even once offered a coworker one thousand dollars to sneak me into the Universal back lot just so I could sit in the ACTUAL DeLorean from the movie… an offer that fortunately I never had to pay for (This was around the same time I was siphoning gas in LA just to get to work in the first place).
Nowadays I watch the movie whenever it’s on TBS. They have dubbed it one of “The New Classics” to which I chuckle at almost every time I see it. I still feel like I’m watching it for the first time. I still feel that the casting switch from Claudia Wells to Elisabeth Shue was unfortunate (although I did find Elisabeth quite attractive in The Saint) and I laugh along as hilarity ensues for our heroes as they race through time to stop a high school bully from prophetically gambling his way to fame and fortune.
But now I also do something else. I sit there and comment on how completely ridiculous the entire trilogy is. How almost 85% of the lines are either yelled or screamed between actors that are no farther then five feet away from each other. Chloraseptic must have been driven in by the keg to that set. How an 18 year old kid has no lingering emotional effects from being shot at multiple times by multiple people. How a scientist with multiple PhD’s can create a machine that will travel back in time, but can’t patch a hole in a gas tank. Quantum physics and the space-time continuum is one thing, rudimentary mechanics however is Sanskrit to this genius. How Doc’s calculations for when Marty is to hit the gas and catch the lightening bolt is at least a good 20 seconds off. The complete egocentric agenda Marty and Doc have by altering their lives and their lives alone rather then trying to better mankind as a whole. The previously mentioned unnecessary roll that Michael J. Fox does at the end of Part I sends me into hysterical fits every time I see it now. The whole thing is one big joke to me now… But I still love it.
What started this dive to the sarcastic for The Trilogy was an encounter that I had in college with a woman that remains a mystery to me even to this day. This was someone who planted a bad seed in my head that really rendered one third of The Trilogy completely useless and thus sent me on a downward spiral to utter ridiculousness. From my brief encounter with this woman it was like she was sent down from heaven for the sole purpose of causing me to never take anything at face value ever again. Mind-blowing does not even come close to describing this. If you’ve gotten this far, you may want to turn back… because here’s where it REALLY starts to get nerdy.
At a party at my apartment, a boisterous red head and I are conversing about the normal small talk subjects that most people go through when courting one another or just drinking heavily. During which the subject of favorite movies comes up and I go into my diatribe about The Trilogy. She is surprisingly enthusiastic about The Trilogy and in the middle of us bonding and sipping cheap beer she states “You know the third one didn’t need to be made right?” I assume she just isn’t a fan of Part III to which she states: “No, I mean technically, that movie could have been over in 40 minutes… there were TWO DeLoreans”
(OK here’s where it gets deep… or confusing, depending on your point of view)
She explains further – “When Marty went back to 1885 to save Doc, he first had to uncover a DeLorean in 1955 that was already buried by Doc in 1885. When he went back to 1885, he ripped the gas line and emptied the gas tank, thus causing the car to be useless and having to have it be pushed by the train in the final sequence. However, what neither of them realized is that when Marty travels back to 1885 from 1955, there are now TWO DeLoreans. One that Marty ripped the fuel line, and one that Doc JUST BURIED not but a few months earlier to be uncovered by Marty in 1955. To rectify the situation and travel back to 1985, all they had to do was patch the gas line of the first with some tubing and siphon the gas from the buried DeLorean to the other, simply leaving a note for the 1955 counterparts to remember to fill up when found.”
An uncomfortably long moment of silence was followed up by an overly excited expletive that basically stopped the party cold. If I wasn’t a poor college kid or didn’t have a fear of commitment – I would have demanded that this woman married me. She was my personal Rosetta Stone; a redheaded goddess that pointed me into the direction of the greatest discovery of my lifetime. Never in the history of beer goggles has a woman’s reflection become that much more inviting; that fast.
Since that day, I can’t take Part III as seriously. It’s also the one I like the least because of this incredible oversight. Not only by the characters mind you, but by the creators themselves. I feel compelled to find Bob Zemeckis and ask him if he knew about this and if so, why hasn’t anyone brought it up before? How can the creator of the greatest movie trilogy leave such a glaring oversight untouched and unmentioned? After hearing his answer, I suppose I’ll become a recluse who will drink nothing but orange juice, grow a ZZ Top beard, and live in an ice shanty for the remainder of my days. My nerdiness will have become so strong and dangerous that any interaction with normal people could prove to be catastrophic to mankind.
As for where my infatuation can grow from here; is unclear. I have no plans to name my kids Jules and Verne or Marty and Jennifer for that matter (although naming them Dave and Linda would be more obscure and therefore, much cooler). I still have thoughts about purchasing a DeLorean when I can afford one. I will most likely be first one in line when Nike announces they are creating shoes with “power laces.” But I will never consider myself a complete fanatic even though I probably know more inane details about The Trilogy then anyone you’ll ever meet (For instance – Marty’s alarm clock is made by Panasonic…There is no reason for me to know this). There are people out there who create bad fan fiction about what a fourth installment would look like to them, people that name their dog Einstein or Copernicus and don’t think through the ramifications of yelling after them in a crowded park. Or even still, people that spend their entire waking moments, searching for a way to actually travel through time. I honestly will never be one of these people.
I plan on simply sharing my joy with my kids. I’ll show them The Trilogy at the same tender age that I originally saw it, and hoping that they like it even the fraction that I do. Maybe one day I’ll have a chance to ask Bob Zemeckis my question. Maybe he’ll dismiss me as another loon who just needs to get a life or give me some unsatisfying answer that will leave me more confused then before I asked. Maybe I’ll meet Michael J. Fox and ask him if he ever got my letter I wrote to him when I was 8 asking him how his newborn son Sam was. Or perhaps maybe I’ll just pine over this movie forever, only showing flashes of insanity for the subject when prodded by another. All the while secretly searching for that redhead that showed me a world I never knew and putting me on the road to subtle insanity. Roads? Where I’m going, I don’t need… Roads.