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The Future is Overrated – Why ‘Back to the Future’ is Average at Best!

Everyone loves ‘Back to the Future’ don’t they? But be honest, you’ve been conditioned to like this film. Hello? Hello? Anybody home? Do you think it’s really a good movie or is it because you watched it as a kid? Isn’t it time you dropped this “nostalgia for things that actually sucked” thing once and for all? I know this means you’ll have to throw out your Marty Mcfly “Body warmer”, but you’re a grown up now. When your dad was your age, he had a wife and 3 kids and a job where he had to wear a tie to work.

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You know that bit in Back to the Future 2 where Marty heads to Cafe ’80s, which is an ’80s-themed cafe where all the patrons are dressed up in “vintage” ’80s clothes. You know, like everyone does now anyway. Where old tat from days past is collected and celebrated. The whole thing has gone full circle.  Back to the Future is part of that tat.

Okay let’s go through this systematically …

Back to the Future is one big ad.

Pepsi. Nike. Burger King. Calvin Klein, Mattel. Delorean Motor Cars. Brylcreem. Next time you’re watching a movie and someone says, “hey, let’s go grab a delicious and refreshing Coke Zero,” instead of “hey, let’s go get something to drink,” you have this thing to thank.

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Back to the Future is corny.

Lou: You gonna order something, kid?
Marty McFly: Ah, yeah… Give me – Give me a Tab.
Lou: Tab? I can’t give you a tab unless you order something.
Marty McFly: All right, give me a Pepsi Free.
Lou: You want a Pepsi, PAL, you’re gonna pay for it.

Jokes? Where we’re going… we don’t need jokes!

Back to the Future makes no sense.

I know that it’s a movie, but every time I see Mcfly pull out that photograph to check if his relatives are disappearing, I want to punch someone in the face.

And don’t forget…

Back to the Future tells us that Rock n’ Roll was invented by a white teenager!

Sigh.

And then there are the sequels…

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, YES. I am aware. It is now 2015, and 2015 is the year that Doc Brown and Marty McFly visit in Back to the Future 2, and that has much potential for hilarity because it means that in 1989 (the year the film was made), Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg were pretty sure that just 25 years in the future we’d have flying cars and bionic high-tops. In reality the coolest pieces of technology I have in 2015 are a windshield scraper with a mitten attached and a flashlight that apparently some people use as a “phone.”

Back to the Future 2 starts with a glimpse of the shadow-shrouded, reanimated corpse of Crispin Glover watching him from behind a screen door, as if to say, “I am in your house and I have your mum.” Then VROOOOOOOM, out of nowhere, HERE COMES DOC BROWN.

“BLRRBLRRBRRBRRRRRBRBBBBBBRRR!” Doc explains, “MARTY! YOU GOTTA COME BACK WITH ME!”

“Where?”

“Back…to the FUTUBLLRRRRBRBRBRBRBRRRR!!”

When they get to 2015, Mary’s love interest Jennifer (every teen movie girl in the Eighties was called Jennifer) is like, “Why am I in this flying garbage car,” and Marty goes, “Uhhh, Jennifer, ummm, I don’t know how to tell you this, but, you’re in a time machine.” So then, of course literally the only thing Jennifer can think of to do when confronted with the miracle of time travel is to babble incessantly about her wedding. Doc Brown immediately blasts her in the face with a shut-up ray. “She was asking too many questions,” he tells Marty. “No one should know too much about their future.”

One wonders how Doc Brown thought dragging a lifeless corpse around would really speed up progress in their important mission. Not to worry, though, because then Doc and Marty literally throw Jennifer in the garbage.  By the way, there are two female characters in this entire movie–one of whom spends it either comatose in the garbage or babbling about wedding dresses, and the other who’s trapped in a sham marriage being abused by a disgusting ghoul.

Anyway, Doc gives Marty some electric shoes and tells him to go to a nearby diner and pretend to be his own son and then a man named Griff will come in and ask him a question. “Say no, NO MATTER WHAT.” If Marty fails to say no, no matter what, “this one event starts a chain reaction that completely destroys your entire family.” Is this really a situation that justifies the use of a technology as fraught and risky as time travel? One family has kind of a crappy time for a few years? That’s your emergency? Reminder: Marty and Doc go on to balls up this “mission” so egregiously that they endanger the fabric of time and space itself.  If time travel ever becomes a reality, I don’t think its primary utility should be for middle-class white families to erase the minor consequences of their own incompetence.

And as for the future…

Everyone is wearing wacky pants, the gas station is a robot, and all the cars look like poos. Also, instead of skateboards they have these things that are exactly like skateboards except 400% more dangerous. You know, everyone goes on about the lack of hover boards nowadays; I bemoan the fact that wearing 2 ties never caught on. Anyway,  Marty  steals a little child’s hoverboard, which she probably got for her birthday, and zooms away. The hooligans chase him, but Marty is the most lithe and crafty hoverboarder of them all, so he wins. Then, the character of Griff, along with this entire save-Young-Marty-from-making-a-horrible-mistake storyline, is abandoned and NEVER SEEN AGAIN.

Instead, Marty goes to the antique store and buys a sports almanac, determined to take it back to 1985 so he can become a billionaire and eradicate chickens. Doc Brown says, “BRRRRLLRRLBBLBBBLLBLBBLLLBLLBLBL, but Marty doesn’t care about the fabric of time; he cares only for diamonds and rubies.

What follows is so convoluted it makes Pirates of the Caribbean look taut. The problem of how to clearly explain to the audience just what’s going on is famously overcome by the following narrative device. They stand Doc Brown in front of a blackboard, and he draws a diagram. The entire storyline is an infographic. Contempt for the audience or a lack of imagination?

The thrilling conclusion for this master piece? It’s an advertisement for the next movie!

In the even ropier 3rd instalment, Marty revisits 1955 which leads him to go to 1855 in this chapter. Why?  Just because, that’s why. He wanders into the old west brandishing the name Clint Eastwood.  Mary Steenburgen joins the cast as Doc’s love interest and that is about the height of her involvement. The first act is unbelievably dull consisting mainly of Doc and Marty recapping the last film, figuring out what to do and getting huge chunks of exposition out of the way. (No chalkboards in the Old West I assume)  This is propped up with occasional cheap gags. Magnifying glass over mouth, dog with a helmet, getting peed on by a baby, stepping into poop, doing a moonwalk, spilling a bucket full of spit down Buford, etc etc.

Then there’s the plot holes…

OK, so Doc Brown gets struck by lightning and the DeLorean ends up in 1885. It’s left buried in a mine until 1955. A microchip is replaced with a 1950’s equivalent that takes up most of the front of the car. It is sent back in time to 1885 where it sustains damage to the fuel tank. Now why bother with all the messing about with the train when there are now TWO DeLoreans in 1885 – the one Doc Brown sealed in the mine, and the one with new tires and a hole in the fuel tank. They could’ve placed the new not-so-microchip onto Doc Brown’s DeLorean and left the holey tanked car in the mine.

It was at this point that I realised just who is the true monster in the Back to the Future movies. It isn’t the bully Biff; it’s the puppet master of this whole time-bending charade: Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown.

Let’s rewind to the very beginning, when Marty first walks into Doc’s home. That’s weird to begin with: A teen having access to a much-older non-relative’s house. Then the phone rings and Marty is comfortable enough to answer the phone in a house that isn’t his own. It’s Doc. How did he know Marty would be there at that precise moment? He should have been in school. Does Marty always stop by Doc’s house before school? Does he ever spend the night?

Doc tells Marty to meet him at the mall at 1:15 AM and later on he wakes Marty at around 12:30 AM to make sure he’ll be at the mall in time. He also reminds him to stop by his house and grab a video camera. That’s not at all strange is it?

Then near the end of the original Doc rips up the letter where Marty tell him about getting shot by terrorists. He says no man should know his own destiny, space-time-continuum, blah, blah, blah… But what’s he do at some point between 1955 and 1985? Tapes the letter back together! When Marty asks about the whole destroying the universe thing Doc responds: “I figured what the hell.” So it’s wrong for Marty to make a few bucks from the future with a sports almanac, or for other people to not know their fate. But when it comes to his own arse it’s “what the hell.”  This is a man who burns through all his family money to make the time machine, yet he still has enough to fill a suitcase with different denominations from every possible era. He takes no responsibility over his unholy invention. He proclaims over and over again that it was a mistake and must be destroyed, but he kept on using it. Like a white haired, junkie hobo.

This is just the tip of the destruction caused by Doc. When he’s toying around in the old west he’s inventing items that shouldn’t be in existence yet. I’m not saying Doc is responsible for global warming, but it’s a definite possibility. How many times does Doc say once they get back to 1985 they have to “destroy this infernal thing” referring to the time machine? He also says he wishes he never invented it. When Marty arrives back in 1985—alone because Doc was too busy thinking with his Lil’ Emmett by saving the damsel in distress (a woman who was supposed to die in a ravine)—the DeLorean is pulverized by a train. Whew! It’s over. Everything is in place, Doc is stuck in the old west with his true love, and Marty can get back to his life. He goes home and it’s the 1985 where his dad wasn’t a loser and he has his own truck. He gets his girlfriend and takes her to see the destroyed DeLorean.

Then WOOOSH!

A big f-ing old west steam train appears with twirly things on top almost killing them. Who’s it in? Hey, it’s Doc, his wife, and two young kids, one of which he won’t let take a pee. What happened to the whole notion that traveling through time is wrong? That he should have never built that infernal machine? Since his eldest son Jules doesn’t appear to be older than five he must have been building it shortly after Marty went back to the future. Why would he do that? Did he build it so he could show up in the future—almost killing Marty and Jennifer—and tell them in person that the future is up to us?  Couldn’t he have just sent a letter like he did at the end of Part II? Or maybe his great-grandson could have approached Marty and told him of all the good his great-grand pappy did to benefit humanity. But no! The devious Doc decides to start the whole process over again, only this time dragging a wife and two young kids into his madness.

The man is a monster, shooting through time, addicted to the power of controlling the universe; wielding his infinite power over three hostages he calls family.

The original Back to the Future was intended as a love letter to the 50s, and now it’s become a love letter to the 80s. A Love letter to our childhoods. From the music to the fashion to the simple good-versus-evil storytelling, it makes us think of what we thought was a simpler time (which really wasn’t any simpler than today; we just didn’t pay taxes back then when we were kids). It serves up a huge slice of nostalgia. So feel free to gobble it up. Just don’t tell me that it’s a good film. It’s not!

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Stephen Pryde-Jarman is a Cult TV and Film journalist, award winning short story writer, playwright and screenwriter. A natural hoarder, second hand shopping fulfils his basic human need for hunter-gathering; but rummaging through a charity shop’s bric-a-brac shelf also brought him the inspiration for his novel Rubble Girl having seen a picture of a Blitz survivor sat amongst the rubble of her house with a cup and saucer. Rubble Girl has been described as " thought-provoking" and "fast paced ... with plenty of twists and turns." Amazon.

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