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Archive for March, 2009

In 1992, our senior class at Wood-Ridge High School visited Orlando for our senior class trip. We lodged outside of Walt Disney World and visited Disney parks as well as Universal Studios. This new theme park and competitor to Disney had only opened up a couple of years prior. The trip certainly put a different spin on the Disney experience for me, the details of which are better spent when reminiscing with old friends. But alas, there was still some good fun enjoyed at the theme parks, including this first visit to Universal Studios and one attraction in particular. 

 

BTTFR

 

The big attraction at Universal Studios was Back to the Future: The Ride. The BTTF sequels were not that distant a memory and the attraction utilized revolutionary theme park ride mechanics and technology at the time. The motion similar ride utilized an open vehicle and an IMAX dome screen which improved upon the systems being used in Disney’s Star Tours and Body Wars, which were enclosed simulator rides with all visual action happening on a forward screen. With Back to the Future, the riders could see the action happening around them, which gave the simulation that much more realism and thus more thrill and adrenaline. The ride queue featured prep videos starring Christopher Lloyd in his signature role (no, not Reverend Jim) of Doc Brown, who details the mission ahead for you, the rider. Biff (the inimitable Thomas F. Wilson) returns to his familiar antagonist role, infiltrating the Institute of Future Technology and escaping into the future and past, for we intrepid riders to chase! 

 

For added geekiness, the outside of the attraction featured a full size replica of the DeLorean and the Jules Verne steam train. Once inside the attraction, many other prop replicas and easter eggs are found throughout the attraction halls. And the ride exited you into the ubiquitous themed gift shop where one year I purchased a model of the time-travelling DeLorean. That of course was the rare time we even stopped in the gift shop and weren’t already on line to ride it again!  

 

The Jules Verne train replica at the Back to the Future: The Ride attraction in Universal Studios, Orlando.

The Jules Verne train replica at the Back to the Future: The Ride attraction in Universal Studios, Orlando.

 

 

A few years ago, Universal Studios in both Hollywood and Orlando shuttered their doors on the Back to the Future attraction, with very little fanfare or notice. (One last one exists in Japan.) The ride joined Earthquake and Kongfrontation as the park’s cornerstone attractions gone extinct (with only Jaws surviving). Presumably the dwindling relevance of the franchise in the modern context, along with rumored disrepair, forced Universal to develop something new and inviting. But in the process they dismantled a ride that was synonymous with Universal Studios and a natural extension of a franchise that, in cinematic and cultural circles, is still very popular. Even though its technology was dwarfed by the Spider-Man ride at the Studios’ sister theme park, Islands of Adventure, it was still an advanced system that probably could’ve just used some attention and repair. Much like Star Tours, and unlike roller coasters, the ride’s inherent structure allowed it the possibility of offering a new cinematic adventure with new destinations in time while retaining the same ride system. (Hello, recessionary solution!) The BTTF attraction has been replaced by The Simpsons, a franchise that, despite its quality and attraction, doesn’t exactly appeal to me when it comes to the architecture and adventure of theme park exploration. 

 

Even though the ride’s creation and my time spent on it happened after the ‘80s were over, this still very much qualifies for the Ninetiesology section of the site. (For those who haven’t read up, Ninetiesology is what I refer to as the aspects of the ‘80s, such as music and movie styles, or the lifetime of some TV shows, that spilled over into the next decade, typically ending 1992-1993.) And of course, the ride is based on a heavyweight ‘80s franchise. 

 

sign

 

The Back to the Future trilogy was recently re-released on DVD including some new features on the first movie’s DVD. The special features now include all of the pre-show and ride footage from the Back to the Future ride. While not able to replace the physical simulation of the ride, it’s nice to finally have a keepsake from a treasured attraction. However, it’s almost impossible to duplicate the convergence of fandom venturing through a theme park attraction, in sunny Orlando, based on a classic movie. The thrill of the motion is gone and replaced by stationery recliner-induced sloth. But if you can get your hands on home movie footage of the attraction’s interior and exterior architecture, shut off the lights and get real close to your big screen TV. Fire up the ride footage and maybe you can time travel yourself to a time when one of the coolest theme park attractions ever still existed. Great Scott! Yeah, that’s heavy!

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Back to the Future week at Eightiesology continues with the last of our features on the Back to the Future trilogy. But stay tuned after this as we have a few more BTTF treats left this week!

 

BTTF3When Back to the Future Part II ended, we already knew we were getting another sequel so everyone expected a cliffhanger. Perhaps rumormongers (who at the time only had magazines to patrol) knew where that third movie would take place. But most of us were as surprised at where the ride was taking us as Marty McFly himself. By the end of Part II we know that Doc has been accidentally zapped to 1885 and the old west. In fact, the producers stuck a trailer for the third movie onto the end of the movie, which was an extremely rare thing at the time. 

 

 

When Marty enters the center of Hill Valley for the first time, mirroring his visits to the same city in 1955, 2015 and bizarro 1985, I think that was the day I became a fan of Westerns. Now I recognize how foolish that statement sounds given the wealth of high-quality dramatic westerns throughout Hollywood’s history. And Back to the Future Part III is obviously a whimsical time-traveling tale that winks at that history. But westerns never appealed to me as a kid, that is until Marty McFly rode into town. Not long after BTTF3, the genre saw a revival on all levels: comedic (Silverado), popcorn (Tombstone) and Oscar-winning (The Unforgiven). To this day, Hollywood continues to produce amazing movies set in the old west. The television show Deadwood was easily one of the best dramas created for the tube in the last 20 years. (It also helped redefine the western as we know it today.) It’s rather fascinating that my interest in such movies all came from a fun time-travelling adventure from the very twilight of the ’80s! 

 

The third movie returns to the form of the first with our main character stuck in the past trying to get home. (The second movie was a nice departure with its wanton leaps through time and crazy alternate timeline.) Yet as with all the movies, Part III gets to the point real quick and never dwells too long on the drama. Sure lots of great movies take the time to develop character and discover the nuances of human interaction. But a lot of bad movies pretend that they could even handle that and end up falling flat on their faces. Here, you instantly understand these characters and become instantly intrigued by their decisions and actions. 

 

A poignant moment in Back to the Future Part III with Marty and Doc posing for a picture in front of a clock that will go on to have a great meaning for the two.

A poignant moment in Back to the Future Part III with Marty and Doc posing for a picture in front of a clock that will go on to have a great meaning for the two.

 

 

The movie also shines the spotlight a little more on Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who up until that point had mostly played a crazed mix of Obi Wan Kenobi and Albert Einstein to our everyman protagonist Marty McFly (as played by ’80s uber-icon Michael J. Fox). Here, Doc got to stretch his dramatic legs a little more with his romance to Clara Clayton, providing the first reason for one of the characters to ever want to stay stranded in the future or past. It’s never overplayed and adds a sweet subtext to Doc and Marty’s time travel adventure. 

 

Unfortunately, much of the cultural subtext that was such a huge part of the first movie and a minor part of the second is largely absent here. No grand statements about making the most of your time. No relevant commentaries on our parents’ generation or the future our kids will grow up in. There are fun nods and winks to Hollywood westerns (i.e. the Clint Eastwood gags) but the movie isn’t satirizing westerns or mocking them, it’s The movie’s heart is the punctuation mark on the friendship between Marty and Doc which has traversed from 1985 to 1885. 

 

The movie does climax with one of the trilogy’s greatest moments: the train sequence. The suspense of Doc trying to save Clara and Marty trying to save them both while also praying the Delorean actually makes it plays out wonderfully. It’s an odd mix of science fiction and old Hollywood and possibly the first and only time we’ll ever see a sequence involving a steam train, hoverboard and time traveling DeLorean! BTTF3 also introduces a fun new gadget to the trilogy’s ever growing collection with Doc’s steam train time machine. Almost as cool as the DeLorean, the train is a nice homage to Doc and Clara’s mutual love for Jules Verne and his victorian-era science fiction. (And an early example from the burgeoning steampunk movement.)

 

Doc Brown's time traveling steam train

Doc Brown's time traveling steam train

 

 

The movie and trilogy came to a satisfying end even though our beloved Delorean is destroyed in quite the dramatic fashion. Doc gets his wish but still allows us to dream of all the other places in time we could travel to. Destinations best left to our imagination, at least until an animated series fills in the void. Many complained about the sequels not living up the first movie. Only one of the movies is an absolute classic but the trilogy stacks up admirably with almost any other. And for me personally, the franchise had such a profound effect on my imagination as a child and to this day is such a significant part of my nostalgia for the time period. In some ways, Eightiesology is my time machine to the ’80s, and the Back to the Future trilogy will always be one of my favorite destinations to travel back to.

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Continuing our time-travelling adventures, here’s the latest post about the Back to the Future franchise, highlighting the long-awaited, much-anticipated sequel that finally resolved the first movie’s cliffhanger and gave us a peak INTO the future…

 

BTTF2At the end of the first Back to the Future, we were teased with the concept of Marty McFly and Doc Brown travelling into the future in a time travelling DeLorean that could now fly! However, for many years a sequel seemed like it would only live in our imagination. In 1989, we finally got what we wished for…and were actually promised two sequels within a year of each other! 

 

The Back to the Future sequels lack the total genius quotient that the first movie had but are still great fun and offered up some new cultural observations and iconic cinema. They are also vastly different movies from each other and their flagship original, with Part II moving at a frantic pace between three time periods as well as an alternate timeline while Part III resides largely in the old west.  

 

Back to the Future Part II flings us into 2015 right away with what we think is the movie’s premise…saving Marty McFly and Jennifer Parker’s children from ruin. That future shows us the promise and prosperity that seemed like the perfect midpoint on our way to the science fictional futures seen in Star Wars and Star Trek movies (and a total escape from the dystopian futures seen in many other films). For a child of the ’80s, it was exactly where we thought things were going, the logical next leap for the first generation with home computers, wireless communication and the continuing modernization of home and personal gadgetry. 

 

The famous scene at the end of Back to the Future that sent our heroes into the future. Jennifer Parker, portrayed here by Claudia Wells, would be replaced in the sequels by Elizabeth Shue.

The famous scene at the end of Back to the Future that sent our heroes into the future. Jennifer Parker, portrayed here by Claudia Wells, would be replaced in the sequels by Elizabeth Shue.

 

 

Of course, here we are 20 years later from the release of BTTF2 and a mere six years away from 2015 and alas, no flying cars or hoverboards. The latter was one of the aforementioned cultural contributions made by the second BTTF movie. Every kid heard the rumor about how the hoverboards were real and would soon be made available. The movie was adventurous in its vision of the future and yet also kept one toe planted in reality, making it all seem so accessible. (Of course, it goofs in other areas, like suggesting that faxes would be part of the highly advanced technology of 2015.) 

 

BTTF diverges from the aforementioned future premise when it introduces heavier time travel concepts into the mix and brings the concept of alternate timelines and paradox to the mainstream audience. The concept wasn’t new but was mostly the stuff of comic books and science fiction. Television shows like Lost and Heroes as well as franchises like Terminator and Star Trek have furthered this agenda by continually provoking thought on the promises and perils of time travel. But to the best of my knowledge, BTTF2 helped bring it to the mainstream when it returned Doc and Marty to a twisted alternate 1985. It was one thing to get this type of storytelling from an X-Men comic book or an H.G. Wells novel, but from a popcorn movie? Yet here we are 20 years later and it’s an almost commonplace storytelling convention. (Heroes employed it so regularly that it grew stale with much of its audience!) 

 

Marty McFly grabs the infamous hoverboard, sending a generation of boys to the stores looking for their own.

Marty McFly grabs the infamous hoverboard, sending a generation of boys to the stores looking for their own.

 

 

At the time, the movie certainly stacked up well to Back to the Future. Our generation wasn’t viewing things with an overly critical eye. In retrospect, it’s still a largely entertaining piece of film. I can’t heap the same type of overwhelming praise I gave the first film because Part II didn’t transcend the genre or the film era like it’s predecessor did. But it fulfilled the important popcorn quotient. 

 

By the end of the ride, Doc is bolted back to 1885 and Marty’s stuck in 1955 again. This time we only had to wait six months to see the resolution. But that’s a conversation for another day…

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Continuing our week long concentration on all things Back to the Future, we take a detour into the musical realm, highlighting a hit song from the soundtrack of the film, a song that itself ranks high in ’80s musicology. That’s “The Power of Love.”


BTTF Soundtrack

The Power of Love really is a curious thing. The #1 hit by Huey Lewis and the News is almost as vital a part of Back to the Future lore as any other aspect of the movie itself making it one of the best examples of how powerful (no pun intended) soundtrack songs can be as not only marketing tools but also as a further artistic extension of the movie and the inevitable nostalgia for said movie.

 

So it’s rather ironic then that the song has nothing to do with the movie. Granted the theme of “the power of love” certainly looms over Marty McFly and Jennifer Parker’s romance but his love is more evidentally powerful for a friend (Doc Brown) and his family. But the lyrics could be related to many movies for that matter. Regardless of the subject matter, the song quite effectively become the de facto theme to Back to the Future

 

The ’80s were particularly adept at effective associations between movie and music. The advent of MTV had created a new forum for essentially advertising your movie. Imagine a video with movie clips interwoven into the performance playing once an hour on television. Previously movies only had 30-second TV spots to promote their product, and those were fleeting. Otherwise, one had to actually be at the theatre to get a glimpse of the upcoming moving pictures.

 

But more importantly, popular music never worked as effectively as thematic music for cinema as well it did in the ’80s. John Parr’s “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. I could do a weekly feature on this and would probably take a year to run out of selections. When you heard those songs, you thought of the movies. “The Power of Love” may be the ultimate ’80s soundtrack song in that regard. The freewheeling synthesizers, boisterous horn section, and precision guitar-playing, along with Huey Lewis soulful singing, certainly helped craft a quality song in and of itself. But close your eyes and you can’t help but be transported to scenes in the movie every time you heard the song in 1985 and every time you hear it today. 

Huey Lewis and the News

Huey Lewis and the News marvel at Huey's phallic microphone.

 

Huey Lewis and the News didn’t need this song to put them on the map. They already had hits and would go onto release more, making Lewis one of the most bankable stars of the ’80s. It was hard to dislike the group. I wasn’t even that big of a fan, but I adored some of the band’s hits, particularly “If This Is It” and “Do You Believe in Love.” But “The Power of Love” is by far their biggest hit, even nominated for an Academy award. In some ways, Huey Lewis and Back to the Future helped each other out as the hit never would’ve reached such a high summit had it not had the association of a beloved movie attached to it. 

 

Huey Lewis and the News did contribute a more theme-appropriate song to the same soundtrack with “Back in Time,” an underrated song that held court in the shadow of its more popular soundtrack companion. Unlike “Power,” which made a few appearances during the movie, “Back in Time” plays over the credits. Lewis himself makes a cameo in the film as a nerdy judge who dismissed Marty’s band from playing the school dance.

 

Back to the Future also made vital contributions to scoring with Alan Silvestri’s famous score, one of the preeminent scores in the history of fantasy and science fiction cinema and easily recognizable to even the most casual of cinema fans. 

 

The Back to the Future trilogy’s popularity crossed over into so many other areas besides film, hence its cultural importance and popularity. Music was an important aspect of its popularity, though a natural extension for an epic ’80s franchise. As we’ll learn later in the week, BTTF would cross over into other realms.

 

 

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Back to the Future

The ’80s spirit moved me once again, rousing from its slumber with an impromptu viewing of Back to the Future. Hopefully this reboots the site into a more frequent rotation of posts and other features. As a gift to my reader(s) and myself, I’m starting up the time machine with an entire week dedicated to the Back to the Future series, including features on all three movies, the music and the Ride! We start at the beginning…


34978891I consider myself a fairly cultured cinema buff. I took enough creative writing and screenwriting classes in college to understand quality movie plotting and dialogue. Some friends and I have set out to watch every Oscar-nominated movie in history (going backwards) and are currently up to 1968. That is 40 years of what the movie industry has deemed to be the best pictures. And I’ve frequently gone beyond those films into all sorts of critically-acclaimed genres. I’m by no means an artsy or indie film buff but my cinematic sensibilities have matured significantly over the years. And yes…there’s still a very big part of me that digs a popcorn movie, many of which have ended up being my personal favorites. 


That all said…I think this makes me qualified to offer this objective declaration and not just your typical hyperbolic blog banter:


Back to the Future is a perfect movie. 


Movies are frequently judged by their relevance in a time period. I’m not talking about period piece movies…I’m talking about their connection to the time of the movie’s release. Much in the same way music’s popularity is so intrinsically connected to an era’s culture. However, a great movie doesn’t get “trapped” in its era only to become irrelevant not long into the next decade or generation. It epitomizes the time and becomes a classic for the generation of that era. And not only informs movies into the next era, but becomes a constant reference point deeper into the future. 

 

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox controlling the coolest remote control car ever.

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox controlling the coolest remote control car ever.

 

Back to the Future isn’t throwaway ’80s fare. I will readily admit that some of my favorites from the decade don’t stack up well these days. A lot of those movies revel in ’80s traits that people eventually shunned. And in many cases, those traits disappeared so quickly that the children of that decade never grew into adults (young or old) that ever acted the way many did in ’80s movies. As much as I loved St. Elmo’s Fire, by the time I was old enough to act like Rob Lowe’s character, I was so far detached from his character’s way of thinking. 


Back to the Future is a natural epitomization of the decade and yet itches to move out of the decade in both directions. It uses another famously positive Hollywood era in the ’50s to offer a startling contrast to 1985 and never stops to hit you over the head with the subtext that so much is exactly the same for the characters living in those eras. Sure the fashions, music and some of the culture sit squarely in 1985, but its most endearing connection to the ’80s is its exuberant optimism and boundless whimsy. Like a good ’80s movie, it never takes itself too seriously and not only entertains the audience but sends them home feeling inspired. Perhaps it goes hand in hand with the unbridled hope of adolescence in a fairly innocent time. There just aren’t a whole lot of movies like that anymore.


As for the movie itself, I don’t see a need to offer a critical review here because I can’t imagine you’d be here without having seen it. As for backing up my bold claims about the movie’s “perfection.” I recently watched it again on DVD, with a sharpened critical eye, and simply could not find any flaws in the movie. I’m sure a cynical nitpicker will drag out plot holes or even dare to suggest issues with the movie’s science. To those I say, “make like a tree and get outta here.” Back to the Future seeks to entertain you in a specific fashion and expertly succeeds. 

 

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) gives his father (Crispin Glover) tips on how to pick up his Mom.

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) gives his father (Crispin Glover) tips on how to pick up his Mom.

 

Marty McFly, expertly played by ’80s icon Michael J. Fox, embodies the spirit of the ’80s teen embarrassed by the perceived hokiness of the era of their parents’ youth. And yet now we all kinda look back at the ’80s in the same ironic or embarassed way. (We’re only six years away from the “far flung” future that Marty and Doc visited in Back to the Future Part II!) It’s almost as if the film knew exactly how we children of the ’80s be viewing it in our adulthood many years later. 


Fox and Christopher Lloyd (as the truly genius Doc Brown) topline the film and created such an indelible cinematic pairing that it’s not a stretch to call their roles cinematic icons. (Ironic that the two had literally just come from iconic television roles as Alex P. Keaton and Reverend Jim respectively.) Not to be outdone, the duo are joined by three key co-stars. Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson all established their adult roles early in the film only to turn it those roles on their heads as we see them in their high school incarnations. All five characters offered up so many memorable lines that even had President Reagan quoting the movie! 


DeloreanAnd then there’s the DeLorean time machine. What boy didn’t salivate at the prospect of one day owning a car just like that? Hell, even in this day of uber-effects and CGI, the DeLorean ranks as an ultimate geek machine. A major credit to director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale for conceptualizing a time machine in a sports car. As one documentary noted, the problem with time machines is that you can’t take them with you. And as Doc Brown says “if you’re going to time machine into a car, why not do it with some style.” 


And if you’re going to make a movie about time travel, why not do it with some style! It’s not a formulaic movie…it’s the movie that perfected the formula. Nobody handed it an Oscar and nobody’s here to say that the movie breaks major ground in film. It’s just an absolutely remarkable piece of entertainment that almost immaculately captures the spirit and excitement of its time.

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