Welcome to The Franchise Runner. This written series focuses on those movie franchises that have taken over our hearts and our hard earned dollars. They’ve exploited their popularity, their characters and their premise to go beyond the constraints of one story. As with anything else, this can either be a great epic series like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy or drawn out to cash in on fan’s loyalty like The Twilight Saga.
Every franchise (hopefully) will get a look at their rise, fall and eventual rise as time goes on film by film. With bigger franchises with too many films or specific stories such as Star Wars, Batman or Marvel, those will be broken up into sections as to not be exhaustive. Also, James Bond is out of the question as that was covered back in 2012 in the 007 in 23 series (though Spectre was covered in a one-off recently).
Without further ado, let’s get to running by running through time.
In 1985, director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale, with the power of Steven Spielberg’ s production company Amblin Entertainment, gave the 80’s a new twist on time travel with the hip and youthful Back to the Future. It spawned what is arguably considered the greatest trilogy created with its brilliant setup, unique world and balancing humor & science fiction into a nice cohesive blend. However, before this series can set the world on fire, it had to deal with the world of Hollywood before making it to the silver screen.
PART ONE: PAGE TO SCREEN
Zemeckis and Gale had been shopping around the script from studio to studio, only to be rejected at practically at every turn. Disney and Columbia, in particular, were having none of the “my mom’s gots the hots for me” aspect and were promptly turned down. Other studios thought the concept of the time machine being a refrigerator was a little far fetched as kids would try to imitate it. As Zemeckis and gale shopped around, Spielberg got a hole of the script. Speilberg, working with Universal at this time, called them up. The president read the script and was intrigued. Unfortunately, he felt the film should be titled Spaceman from Pluto as he felt any film with the word future in the title wouldn’t grab the audience of the 80’s.
After much convincing, Zemeckis and Gale got their wish and their project was launched into production at Universal. During the beginning, they had the cast set with Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmet Brown (aka Doc Brown), Lea Thompson as Lorraine McFly, Crispin Glover as George McFly, Thomas F. Wilson as Biff Tannen and Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly. “Wait, what?” you ask yourself after reading that. Yes, Eric Stolz is the original Marty, but according to Zemeckis, while a good actor, he didn’t connect well with the others in the world they were creating. This lead Zemeckis and Gale to find a new lead that could capture the character they way they wanted it. Enter Michael J. Fox.
Fox was becoming popular on television with the sitcom Family Ties giving him exposure. Fox was on the cover of Tiger Beat as the poster boy for the teens eye (suck it, Jake Ryan). The schedule for shooting Back to the Future along with working on Family Ties would proceed to begin a hectic work life for Fox as he would work on the shot during the day and the film at night. This lead to exhaustion and having a meltdown on the set of Family Ties looking for Doc. Replacing Stolz was a hell of a risk and they took it as it delayed production a tad. To add to this, production was already getting tight as they had to release it by July of 1985.
When it came time to test the film, the effects were not complete and Zemeckis, Gale and Spielberg were in panic mode. The test screening results came back in. The audience was in love. The taxing days of shooting, unfinished effects and a major shakeup in casting paid off. The film opened a few months later and became a hit. Teens loved the idea of someone their age on screen. Adults enjoyed the nostalgic trip back to their childhood. Universal had a hit to capitalize on.
The film itself is the very essence of a pop culture phenomenon in the best ways. Back to the Future takes a hold of the time-travel subgenre and becomes something in its own right.
PART TWO: THE FINISHED FILM
The film itself is something quite unique. Set in 1985, the same year as release, Marty McFly (Fox) is a young slacker in high school with a boring life and beautiful girlfriend. He wants more out of life while wishing everything was not drab. He works alongside the scientist Doc Brown (Lloyd), which Doc gave him the gig as a means to stay out of trouble. One night before Marty was scheduled to go camping with his girlfriend, Doc calls Marty to see a new experiment.
During the experiment demonstration, Marty becomes shocked that the Doc built a time machine…out of a Delorean. Both are ecstatic as it could bring about traveling through various points of history until terrorists killed Doc. Doc had screwed them out of high grade plutonium for the machine to work by replacing the plutonium case with bombshells filled with pinball machine parts. Marty flees in horror and begins to gets away, but fails to remember time travel is possible at 88 MPH in this machine. Marty is blasted into the past to November 5th, 1955.
From here, Marty meets young Lorraine and George under his pseudonym name of Calvin Klein while coming face to face with a young and pompous Biff. This begins to complicate the future of Marty as Lorraine starts to fall for her future son as Marty will fade from history. There is also the matter of having to find a way to go back to 1985 with the help of a younger and slightly paranoid Doc. Marty must make George and Lorraine become one before going back to the future.
Without spoiling anything (which, considering the film being discussed, is a bit odd), the film is a absolute master class in how to get a science fiction comedy done right. It’s a marvel of brilliant young performances and spectacular effects. Glover and Thompson are believable as the naive and awkward selves of the past with Wilson being a delightful villain that is beyond the point of being off the deep end. Fox and Lloyd have a unique father and son chemistry that is admirable and stands the test of time. These two are the best when together as they would crumble without one another. Fox’s performance is especially a delight as he is a teen just wanting to understand his parents. He gets the ultimate experience of being back with them. He grows from his experience to become a greater son. He becomes more understanding while maintaining his slacker personality. Lloyd seems to warm up to Marty and realizes he isn’t a complete idiot, but a kid with untapped potential.
The story, simplistic on the surface, is a actually complex when tying it with the later films. On its own, it’s a great piece of fiction with a kid determined to head back home, but must save his future. It’s a combination of the race against time with the fight for the future concept. It works brilliantly. The humor is also subtle as it is the classic trope of the time traveler not knowing what world they are in. It’s not over the top or obnoxious, but simple and light hearted. The direction by Zemeckis is top notch with terrific shots during the action scenes and in the climaxes. Both the high school dance and clock tower are insanely good. There’s a rhythm of tension, suspense and concern. The light-hearted comedy just became a thriller and the audience cannot hold on any longer. It’s a sight to behold.
The film is certainly one of the greatest films ever made and arguably the greatest film of the 80’s. It ranks in my personal top five favorites of all time, earning a lucrative ten out of ten. Back to the Future is nothing short of a science fiction classic.
Back to the Future 10/10
The series just got started as audiences began to wonder what happened to Doc and Marty. What would become of their friendship and of the infamous flying car ending? When The Franchise Runner returns, we travel to this year in Back to the Future Part II to see what happens to the beloved duo. This Wednesday here at TheNewSergBeret.com