Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Retro Review: Back to the Future Part II

 This is an odd choice, but a good one; perhaps one day I'll tell the story of seeing Back to the Future and the much itchier story of seeing Back to the Future Part III, but let's start in the middle. Back to the Future Part II was a movie that exemplified, in many ways, what it was like to be a movie geek in the pre-internet days.

 It's true that I did see Back to the Future, possibly in theatres (I was six and it was PG, after all), but definitely over and over again on video. Many of the more "adult" jokes were over my head, but I got the basic story. The hook was the DeLorean, especially at the end of the film. When Doc Brown comes back to get Marty and Jennifer, just as all seems right with the world, he has a souped up DeLorean. It has a "Mr. Fusion" that takes garbage for fuel. Doc is nervous, and Marty doesn't know why he suddenly needs them both to come to the "future."

 "What happens to us in the future? Do we become assholes or something?" Marty asks.

  "No no no no - you and Jennifer turn out fine. But your kids, Marty - something's got to be done about your kids!"

 And so Marty and Jennifer and Doc get into the DeLorean and we get "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads." And the DeLorean flies into the camera, flashing light: TO BE CONTINUED...

 I didn't know that "To Be Continued" was a joke. At a young age I had no idea that director Robert Zemeckis and producer Bob Gale had no intention to make a Back to the Future Part II. Most of America didn't know that either, but we're all have to wait four more years to find out what happened next. In the meantime? We waited.

 For someone woefully out of touch with the world of popular culture outside the family living room, I had no idea there hadn't already been a Back to the Future Part II for a while. When a fellow student lied about it in second or third grade, I believed him. He said they went back and stopped Marty from setting the rug on fire. To a naive kid, that made sense for a minute or two. I mean, that was something that Marty mentioned in Back to the Future. The failure to produce any other details (at all) meant he was a bad liar and that I maybe didn't miss the sequel to Back to the Future that everybody else must have seen.

 To be honest with you, I don't remember WHEN I realized Back to the Future Part II was coming out - I remember going to see it, and I remember not understanding any of it. Paradoxes, parallel timelines, interacting with your future and past selves, old Biff, the "Fistful of Dollars" setup for Part III, Hell Valley, and the clever way Zemeckis presented elements of the first film from another perspective - it didn't mean a hill of beans to a ten year old. The hoverboards were cool*, "girl" Marty was funny, and I somehow managed to retroactively replace Claudia Wells with Elisabeth Shue in my mind as Jennifer for years to come. I liked the brain-twisting ending, that replayed the end of Back to the Future but with a twist following what we thought was the last shot of Emmett Brown in 1955.

 Otherwise? Really didn't get it. There was too much going on in that movie and I will honestly admit I couldn't follow it. Not for years. The appeal of the Old West and the clarity of narrative drew me back the third and first films (respectively) for years to come, but it wasn't until I was older that I "got" and finally came to enjoy Back to the Future Part II. It's still just behind the first film as my favorite in the series, but a loooooong way ahead of the third film, which is at times too simplistic, to "kid friendly." I appreciate the willingness to really push the story into crazy time travel directions, to subvert expectations, and to deliver a film over the head of its target audience. And let's be clear here, at PG, those films were as much for kids as they were for teenagers and adults, Jaws joke aside.

 Since high school, I tend to alternate watching the first or second film, depending on the mood I'm in, though it's been a while since I watched Part III. That might be the movie itself; then again, it might be the poison ivy talking... but that is another story.

 To Be Continued... in 2015!

 * How this happened, I don't know, but I was never under the impression they were real, which was not the case if you listen to any of the extras on the DVD / Blu-Ray.

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