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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.

 

 

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.

It really hits you hard as a thirtysomething when you start to see the celebrations of 25th anniversaries of things that you were wholly conscious for in your youth. As it is, I’m witnessing the birth and growth of friends’ children and reconnecting with long lost friends on Facebook, many not talked to in 10-15 years, a startling revelation that comes to a surprise every time I count the years in my head. Was 1992 really that long ago?   

 

"This is what it sounds like when doves cry." exclaimed Prince in 1984. Doves responded, "What? We sound nothing like that. Our cries have less electric drumbeats and more synth."

"This is what it sounds like when doves cry." exclaimed Prince in 1984. Doves responded, "What? We sound nothing like that. Our cries have less electric drumbeats and more synth."

 

 

In 1983, I wrote about the 25th anniversary of a now-defunct EPCOT attraction called Horizons. 1982 was the 25th anniversary of EPCOT itself and of my first visit to Disney World. It was also the anniversary of the relaunch G.I. Joe as the smaller action figures that my generation came to know, love, and blow up with firecrackers. And the first year of many that Family Ties aired. As I started doing research for this blog, it scared me how many beloved ’80s institutions had been around for 25 years. And yet we’ve only just begun. 

 

1984 through 1986 are really the core years where the 1980s started forming its own identity. Those first few years had so much spillover effect from the ’70s. A lot of early music from the ’80s was essentially disco, new wave and soft rock, all genres owing significantly, if not entirely, to the prior decade. The music we would come to think of fondly as ’80s music started to thread itself through these ’70s holdovers and slowly take over. Think back to your favorite songs of the decade, or at least to the biggest hits of the decade, and you’ll see most of them came in the latter half of the era. (This is no different than the ’60s, ’70s and ’90s all decades with similar transitions).

 

How many people on this page have appeared in the nude since 1984? (Other than Gizmo and Starscream.)

How many people on this page have appeared in the nude since 1984? (Other than Gizmo and Starscream.)

 

 

Movies and TV shows had a similar aesthetic transition though many of our treasured favorites of the era aren’t always marked by an ’80s aesthetic. The Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises started in 1977 and 1981 respectively. The Star Wars trilogy was finished by 1983. But these film series informed the decade, not the other way around. But those ’80s-centric films which came to epitomize the sensibilities and imageries of the era, like The Breakfast Club, Back to the Future or St. Elmo’s Fire were informed BY the decade. And would come to epitomize our recollections of movies of the time. As a visual media, TV shows were much the same. Every kid remembers watching M*A*S*H* and Three’s Company reruns, spillover shows from the ’70s. But we came to identify the decade with shows such as The Cosby Show, Who’s the Boss, or Cheers. 

starscream

Starscream has led a life of crime since getting kicked out of proctology school.

 

As for cartoons and the toys that often came along with them, well this year one of their granddaddies celebrates its 25th anniversary: Transformers. With G.I. Joe and He-Man, the Transformers really came to influence the rest of the decade’s animation styles and toy collections. For me, it was also the first year that I started to collect trading cards (mostly baseball) and followed sports with more interest. 

 

So pay attention in 2009. And don’t be surprised at how frequently you hear it’s the 25th anniversary of a number 1 song, the debut of a favorite TV show, the release of a major film, or the arrival of a favorite action figure. 

 

Gizmo on the Casio keyboard he used to compose most of the big hits of the '80s as well as Justin Timberlake's last album.

Gizmo on the Casio keyboard he used to compose most of the big hits of the '80s as well as Justin Timberlake's last album.

 

Oh and for the record, I’m celebrating the 35th anniversary of my birth this year. Equally as scary and frightening as celebrating the aforementioned anniversaries. As of this writing, there are no plans to honor me with a live-action film or deluxe box set.

But you won’t notice it. Eightiesology Headquarters is (finally) moving from its crammed quarters in the hills of Verona, NJ to a spacious home in Rockaway, NJ. There, Eightiesology will often be created from a comfy alcove in a basement of fun, surrounded by many of its long-stored-away souvenirs and memorabilia and a very large television. The search for a new home took many long and winding roads and some dead ends but we’re finally achieving the American dream: more debt!

Interesting trivia: I lived in the same town in all of the ’80s and ’90s (except for semesters at college). However, since 2000 this will be the third town I will have lived in (and the third different county). I mentioned to my wife that my finely-tuned nostalgic mind has really started to see that purchasing a home is going to have a lot to do with providing a backdrop for creating our own memories as well as possibly those for future offspring. (Maybe one day my offspring will create a Tensology blog.) In that regard, I feel like I’ve arrived full circle. This next step is scary, exciting and everything in between but I’m anxious to start acting out tomorrow’s nostalgia.

I still have hundreds of Eightiesology ideas in my brain that I’m going to roll out in the New Year. (And I may sneak in a special ’80s Christmas mix before the end of ’08.) I am not going anywhere. Nostalgia and reconnecting with old friends has been a fantastic way to offset the miseries and frustrations of life in the often-brutal working world. Hopefully I can provide escape and entertainment for others like me, too.

Because if you want something bad, yo, you gotta wanna give your all….

Michael Crichton, who passed away yesterday at the age of 66, was not someone who had an impact on my interests until the ’90s but I felt compelled to offer my condolences in these quarters anyway, perhaps because he exemplified interests of mine that defined the next phase of my life after the ’80s and High School.

Crichton’s seminal book Jurassic Park was released in 1990 and made into a movie in 1993. The movie was probably the first great popcorn flick after Eightiesology ended. It was a perfect transition flick, helmed by Steven Spielberg with all the glorious wonder you’d expect from one of his films. There are elements of it that would make you think it DID come out in the ’80s. But alas, the thing that helped establish this movie (and story) as ahead of its time was its special effects. As good as they may have been in films in the ’80s…this film presented a quantum leap in storytelling that upped the ante for films of its ilk. And despite being one of the first to utilize certain technologies, the movie even today looks remarkably more realistic than some of the dime-store crap that’s put out today.

Around this time, the film also helped nudge me in the direction of novels. Up until this point, I hadn’t enjoyed reading. For school or my own entertainment. But during my first year of college, I discovered the works of Crichton, Tom Clancy and John Grisham. From that day forward, there haven’t been many nights that I’ve gone to sleep without first reading a chapter from a book. Sure, some will scoff at my presumptions of literature but it’s my personal philosophy that if you can get anyone reading books, you’ve already made the world a better place. This helped pique my imagination in new ways and led me to establish my dream of becoming a writer myself. This was my new sand box, my new toy box. The ’80s were over and I was anxious to develop.

Crichton also created the television show ER, which arrived in the mid ’90s. This was one of the first real dramas that I regularly watched. Up until this point it had been mostly sitcoms and escapist fictional dramas like Quantum Leap. But with ER and The X-Files, my interest was elevated into more serious fare, both of the realistic and the alien kind. The latter paved the way for my absolute affinity for serial mythological dramas like Lost and 24. But ER was my first grown-up show, the first episodic fiction that caught my curiosity without flash and wonderment but with the often brutal reality of life in the emergency room. (As well as the lives of the doctors and nurses working the ER.) This was another facet of maturing in the ’90s

I still watch ER and have read most of Crichton’s books. Jurassic Park remains one of my favorite stories. I didn’t know the author was even sick until I read that he’d already died. It’s shocking to lose such an imaginative intellectual. Eightiesology offers its condolences to Crichton’s family and friends. But first, I offer my heartfelt appreciation for telling me such wonderful stories and helping an Eightiesologist grow into a Ninetiesologist. Rest in Peace.

Duff, Slash, Axl, Izzy and the uncleverly-monikered Steve

Duff, Slash, Axl, Izzy and the uncleverly-monikered Steve



It was announced this week that Guns n’ Roses’ new album will finally be released by the end of November. Chinese Democracy is now legendary for its 14-year birth and its many rumored release dates. What it will be is the first new studio album from the band since Use Your Illusion I and II were released in 1991. For all intents and purposes, Guns N’ Roses is now an Axl Rose solo venture since the original band all departed by the mid 90s. It remains to be seen how relevant the band will be 15 years after its last recorded product and 17 years after its last original albums. The band’s fans have grown from angry young teenagers into middle-aged mothers, husbands, managers, and maybe even a stray grandfather. And in that time we didn’t watch Gn’R grow up with us. But for some of us, all we ever really needed was Appetite for Destruction.

The stars of Pirates of the Caribbean!

The stars of Pirates of the Caribbean!



Released in 1987, Appetite for Destruction is an absolutely essential album on so many levels. It is a turning point for rock n’ roll in the ’80s. In retrospect, it ranks as a great album in the pantheon of all-time hard rock. And for Eightiesology, it ushered in a new era and nudged this Eightiesologist into new musical realms. Make no mistake, I still found a way to balance the pop and R&B with hard rock. And many of Guns n’ Roses supposed contemporaries became crossover artists dabbling in power balladry, a genre I indulged in to its very end. But in ’87, I started thinking about the rougher edges, oddly enough when a band called Guns n’ Roses skyrocketed up the chart…with a ballad.

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” is no ordinary ballad. It may very well be my generation’s greatest contribution to the Billboard charts. And it was an easy song for the band. The opening riff was a Slash joke that the band quickly fleshed out and turned into a melody. Axl wrote lyrics that read aloud would sound like a rather pedestrian poem but his voice helped transcend those lyrics into something immortal. (Don’t believe me? Try listening to the dozens of crap covers of the song, including Sheryl Crow.) Lastly, the band essentially throws in an improv breakdown at the end as a response to the producer’s request and yet it ends up not only working as a bridge between Slash’s killer solo and the empowered finale, but also helped give the song its unique identity as an antidote to the types of ballads we’d been listening to since the late ’70s. A gem almost entirely created by accident.

And that was just the beginning. “Welcome to the Jungle” had already been released months earlier to some acclaim but it only reentered the atmosphere after “Sweet Child” brightened the spotlight on Guns n’ Roses. With interest piqued, I had a newfound respect for this harder edged side of the band. And with album soon in hand, I wandered down a road that was often a lot more like the Jungle and less like a warm safe place.

To fully understand the magnitude of my appreciation for the music on Appetite for Destruction, you need only go back through this blog’s archives and read all posts about The Bangles, Ghostbusters, Disney World, Star Wars, and the song lists of my mixes and Friday Night Dances. Now scroll down to last week and watch me singing Wham! karaoke. I was the antithesis of hardcore. Growing up, I watched my brother indulge in Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and I couldn’t stand that music. So for this Eightiesologist to take a shining to “It’s So Easy” and “Nighttrain” on the heels of the opening “Jungle” was a revelation that was baffling to me. This shit had groove, man. It was heavy, drunk and dirty but underneath it all was a mischievous melody. And as a 13-year-old, I got it.

That was never better represented than by “Mr. Brownstone.” This tale of heroin and the heroin addicts who wrote it could not be further from my reality than it was and yet I could be seen bouncing around with this playing in my headphones, often as I headed off to buy baseball cards. It had an almost supersonic riff to it, overlapping its dirty groove. We used it to come out to during some basketball games in high school. I still remember the mischievous glee I had looking over at Mr. Weber during the “that old man, he’s a real motherfucker” line. Heh.

The album never ran out of songs. “Paradise City” and “My Michele” continued the sturm and drang of Sunset Boulevard life. “Think about You” and “Rocket Queen” showed the influence of classic rock on the band that would be more fully fleshed out on Use Your Illusions. And the album stayed in rotation for years never growing old or stale. In fact, it is one of those gems of the decade that I can’t say I’ve ever gone too much time without having listened to. In fact, many of the aforementioned songs have been parked on my iPod for a long time, essential for nudging me along a workout, especially after a brutal work day.

For all its sordid tales, I think the album represents an argument against censorship and influence as I never went on to a life of drugs, debauchery or prostitution. And I was hyper aware of the lyrical content I was singing along to. I recognized that it was grungey and corrupt, but it was entertainment to me. It didn’t make me want to aspire to become the protagonist of the songs. It only made me want to be in a rock n’ roll band. I enjoyed listening to the lifestyle but never came close to living it or wanting to.

There is something about rebellion that helps connect young listeners to artists and their art. At some point in our lives we all have an appetite for destruction, whether it is literal or metaphoric. We grow up from that but not away from it. We like to put these things into perspective and the music that perhaps once meant something to us on one level, now takes on a nostalgic presence. That’s a lot for some bands to stomach because the good ones abhor becoming nostalgia acts to punk kids who grew up to become lawyers or bankers. But the reality is that some of us still need those sounds because it makes us feel like we’re young and full of piss and vinegar. And maybe sometimes we wish we could be irresponsible and go punk on our bosses, unleashing a profanity-laced diatribe of truth with “It’s So Easy” playing in our heads.

“You get nothing for nothing, if that’s what you do…”