Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to the Future is Now!

Happy Back to the Future day!

Yes, we are officially in the future according to Back to the Future part 2. Today is the day when Doc took Marty McFly to the future to help him repair the tragedy which was about to befall his family.

So why does this matter?

Well if you recall from the movie Marty spends some time wandering around 2015 exploring the changes of mankind, which like any media that attempts to predict the future is actually pretty funny when compared to the actual date.

This isn't the first time this has happened. The 60's TV series had mankind jetting off for the stars in 1997, which is funny to think about since it's now 2015 and few people have still gone into space.

What is it though that makes us so excited to celebrate Back to the Future? Besides the fact that it's cleverly written and one of the most competently put together narratives involving time travel to ever come out (Yes, I'm dissing Dr. Who. Doc may've explained alternate realities with a line on a chalkboard but at least he didn't try and go with "Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey"). Of all the franchises to get a special day enough that movie theaters pay homage and nerds everywhere put their pants on backwards over their Calvin Kleins, why this one?

For one, as out there as the tech was, it never seemed out of reach. We could believe that the future would still have irritating ads everywhere and that you'd be able to watch a dozen TV shows at once. We even believed that cars could be modified to fly, or that hoverboards could replace regular skate boards as long as they didn't go on water. That's the brilliance of the future part of Back to the Future, it wasn't so sci-fi that it was completely out there. It actually felt not only like a real place but a place we could get to one day.

Second, people were still people in the future. For the most part, nobody was part of some weird out-there Fireflies cult or some alien species. With all the future stuff going on, people's lives weren't perfect. When we first see Marty's dad as an old man, he's hovering upside down on some sort of gravity back brace device. In their future, old people still got sick, and they still needed help to get around. We also see Marty in the future gets fired from whatever corporate job he had, and how worried he is that he not only can't provide for his family but that he's lost his way in life. It's sad but charming to see him thumbing his old guitar that he can no longer play due to an injury he suffered long ago, when just the previous film he was rocking out at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. Compare this to Demolition Man, where humans are barely recognized as having regular human emotion, desires or even motivations. It's like an alien world instead of us in another time.

Lastly, the future bit fits so well into the narrative of the rest of the films. We're actually only in 2015 for the first third or so of the movie and we never visit it again, but it has such an impact on what happens next with regards to the moral questions of time travel and controlling one's own future. As a reminder: Marty while trying to fix his families problems ends up buying a sports almanac that covers the next 20 years of his life, figuring he could make a fortune from betting on sports. The book is stolen by Biff, the series main antagonist, who uses it and the time machine to create an alternate twisted reality where Hill Valley is a gambling town and his father is killed by Biff. It makes for an exciting and twisted third act, as well as an interesting comparison between Biff in three alternate realities, the untouched one where he's just a major jerk and bully, the one Marty alters where he becomes a wuss, and the super dark one where he's a complete homicidal monster. It brings to question how one or two events can alter the course of a person's destiny.

Back to the Future is without a doubt a fine film series worthy of praise, but today it's especially nice as you read this blog on your laptop or smart phone, which you were probably notified of via Facebook or Twitter, how much has changed in the last 30 or 40 years, how much you've changed, and what small events made you who you are today. Also ask yourself, how could things have turned out differently if for a small change down the road.


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