The future comes back
When ìBack to the Futureî opened on July 3, 1985, and subsequently went on to spend 11 weeks atop the box office, rival studio executives probably wished they had a time machine of their own. They had all passed on the movie when director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale had pitched it in the early 1980s. Disney refused even to consider it, claiming that the movie, in which teen Marty McFly time-travels to 1955 and meets his high school-age parents, had an undercurrent of incest.
Other studios didnít find the script raunchy enough, citing the success of recent R-rated teen comedies, such as ìAnimal House.î
The electrified clock, which jumpstarted the time machine, replaced a nuclear power station to save $1 million.
Their loss. ìBack to the Futureî went on to gross hundreds of millions for Universal Pictures and become one of the most beloved films of the decade. On Oct. 26, the original movie and its two sequels arrive on Blu-ray for the first time in a special 25th anniversary package containing restored versions of the trilogy, as well as new bonus features.
Itís considered a classic now, but the production was nearly derailed by a myriad of problems, the most problematic (and expensive) of which was the miscasting of Marty McFly.
The producers at first wanted Michael J. Fox, but the actor was busy on ìFamily Ties.î The filmmakers then narrowed the choice to C. Thomas Howell of ìThe Outsidersî and Eric Stoltz of ìMask.î Stoltz ultimately won the part, and shooting commenced. (Snippets of footage with him in the role are included in the new Blu-ray set.)
After five weeks, however, Zemeckis and executive producer Steven Spielberg didnít think they were getting the comedic performance they needed out of the Stoltz. He was playing the character too straight and was let go.
The filmmakers again offered the part to Fox, who was granted permission as long as it didnít affect his work on ìFamily Ties.î Reshooting all the work Stoltz had done cost millions.
Fox worked on his sitcom from 9 to 5, five days a week, and shot ìBack to the Futureî at night, sometimes until 2 or 3 in the morning, before getting up at 6.
Fox was so tired, he often got disoriented, one time confusing his character on ìFamily Tiesî with Marty McFly. Before a taping of the show, he became panicked when he couldnít find McFlyís video camera on the ìFamily Tiesî prop table.
Exhausted or not, one plus that Fox brought to the character of Marty was that the actor actually played guitar. Heíd been in bands since he was 14. For the climactic ìEnchantment Under the Seaî dance scene, in which Marty joins the band and horrifies the audience by ripping through a Chuck Berry song that hadnít been written yet, Fox insisted on learning the solo from ìJohnny B. Goodeî so that his fretwork would match the audio.
The filmís ending was originally very different. Instead of harnessing a lightning bolt to get back to the future, McFly was to drive to a nuclear test site and power his time machine with a nuclear blast. The sequence would have added $1 million to the productionís budget, and was scrapped in favor of the clock- tower climax. (Storyboards for the alternate ending can be found in the set.)
When a cut of the movie was shown to Sidney Sheinberg, then the head of Universal, he was so impressed that he insisted ìBack to the Futureî be scheduled for the July 4 weekend. He did offer one note: He asked that the title be changed to ìSpaceman from Pluto,î after a comic book a boy is reading when Marty crashes into his barn. Sheinberg didnít like the contradiction of ìBack to the Futureî and thought audiences would be confused.
Spielberg, favoring the original title, pretended the suggestion was a joke, and the embarrassed exec dropped it.
The movie was test-screened for a San Jose crowd three weeks after shooting wrapped. (Despite having a sci-fi storyline, it required just 35 special effects shots.) The audience literally jumped up and cheered, garnering the highest test scores of any Universal movie to that point. Six weeks later, it was in theaters.
It even had a fan in the Oval Office. When Ronald Reagan watched the movie, legend has it that he laughed so hard and long at the scene in which Marty tells an incredulous Doc Brown that Reagan, ìthe actor,î is president, that the White House projectionist had to rewind the film.
Reagan later quoted the movie in a State of the Union address. So much for that incest taboo.
Hot Wheels – The car so cool it could have been a refrigerator
1 In early script drafts, the time machine wasnít a car but a refrigerator. Producers worried children would lock themselves inside their fridges at home and scrapped the idea.
2 Effects crews tricked out the DeLorean DMC-12 with electronics and spare aircraft parts they found at surplus stores.
3 Three cars were used during the production: The first was fully detailed for close-ups, the second was used for stunt work, and the third was sawed in half and used to shoot scenes with the actors inside the car.
4 Michael J. Fox says he hated the car because all the added gear inside would rip up his knuckles when he tried to shift gears.
5 The white ìMr. Fusionî on the carís back was actually a modified Krups coffee grinder.
The future comes back