Collectibles Review: Mattel Hoverboard (prop replica)
“Hoverboards have been around for years, but parents groups have not let the toy manufacturers make them. We got our hands on some” – Robert Zemeckis, Director of the Back to the Future Trilogy
Like many young children out there, when I heard Robert Zemeckis say those words, and saw the film Back to the Future Part II in theaters in 1989, I believed it, and wondered how soon we’d see them in stores given how popular the Back to the Future sequel was. I remember playing with my LEGO sets as a kid, and crafting a Hoverboard out of scotch tape, paper, and colored pencils that a LEGO person could ride.
Of course, just before Back to the Future Part III was released, Kirk Cameron blew the lid off our childhood fantasies in the television special, The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy, in which he admitted that Robert Zemeckis was only kidding. The film’s co-writer/co-producer Bob Gale even backed this up recently, saying that at the time, Mattel got upset by all the letters and requests they got from kids wanting their own Hoverboard. To me, that anger seems misplaced. I mean, if there’s demand for a product, why not get started trying to make it a reality?
In recent years, the toy company Mattel acquired the rights to make action figures and other products based around one of the least-merchandised trilogies in film history (seriously, 25 years later and no action figures? Even The Goonies got action figures made!).
After having released prop replicas of items such as the ghost trap and PKE meter from Ghostbusters, Mattel has decided to tackle the one Back to the Future prop that had their name written all over it (no seriously, in the film, their logo was on this thing in two places). Through their website, MattyCollector.com, a special pre-order (featuring limited quantities) went up in March of 2012. I placed my order, and waited the required 8-9 months before my credit card was charged, and a large package arrived at my apartment!
Like many of MattyCollector.com‘s releases, the Hoverboard comes packaged in an all-white box with minimal markings:
Once you cut the tape, flip up the tab, and pull out the inner-box, you get an example of what the board’s future packaging might look like:
I was a little surprised that they didn’t try to photograph a real little girl riding a hoverboard. Then again, maybe marketing in a couple years will start to shift back to more artistic-based imagery. A fun little nod to the film, is that a majority of the girl’s fashion stylings are modeled after clothing the hoverboard girl (Lindsey Whitney Barry) wore in Back to the Future Part II.
A downside to this packaging, is that unlike the tabbed outer-box, or some of their resealable packaging for some MattyCollector action figures, the top and bottom of the official box can be ripped with none of the collector-friendly convenience one would hope for something of this caliber.
Turning the box around, it gives a layout of the board, both top and bottom, outlining several of the features of the board. They even include the future-slang term, ‘bojo.’ If you notice, there’s a little asterisk after lettering on the top left. What is that for? Well…
Yes, just in case by now, if you hadn’t read the disclaimer when ordering your board from MattyCollector.
In the lower-right of the back of the box, they even show an example of the Hoverboard coming in different colors. One has to wonder if maybe they’ll try to make a ‘boys’ Hoverboard in the future, or the orange (unseen) one the hoverboard girl’s friend was using in the film. Speaking of the Hoverboard:
A small users manual is inserted with the board, giving plenty of information about the board, and also cautioning about disassembling the Hoverboard, claiming ‘the anti-gravity lift cushion inside may launch you into orbit.’ It’s a nice little booklet, but only a few pages long, in black-and-white, and about the size of a smartphone. One would almost wish they’d do something a bit more futuristic, maybe printed on a transparency, like the Sports Almanac receipt from the Blast From The Past store in the second film.
When it came to the films in which the Hoverboard appeared, we rarely got a lot of time to look at it in super-fine detail. Throughout the production of Back to the Future Part II, different versions of the Hoverboard were made, given the needs of the various scenes. What Mattel has given us, is a prop replica that attempts to combine the best traits of the various boards that were used during the film’s production (over 30 in total, according to the information on the Matty website), and find a ‘happy medium.’
By the way, one would assume a Hoverboard to be light considering how easily Marty McFly was whipping that thing around all over the place, but you’re in for a surprise. This prop replica has a little weight to it, and definitely will keep some from wanting to chuck it onto the ground like Marty did.
The construction of this board is largely plastic, along with stickers/decals, and velcro. Yes, velcro. The rear strap on the board and the green area underneath were velcro, and are the same on this board. Unknown to some, velcro was also used on an area one would probably never have considered:
The two pink angles at the front of the board. The box and users manual claim that these are “velocity control pads.”
The majority of the surface designs of the board are made up of large decals. In several places, one can see that the decals consist of several layered together:
Of course, Mattel wanted to include some extra ‘bells and whistles,’ and they did that by inserting a chip and sensors inside the board, that would sense when it was placed horizontally, or when it moved. Requiring 3 AA batteries (not included), one simply turns over the Hoverboard, and can find the battery compartment in the futuristic-looking box underneath:
Using the same sound effects from the film, the board makes an activation sound when placed horizontally (causing the board to vibrate slightly), and shuts off when tilted vertically. As well, sending it gliding along some carpeting (seriously, do not glide this thing on concrete or any other hard surface!) will cause it to make a ‘whooshing’ motion sound. It’s a cool feature, but isn’t 100% accurate a majority of the time when I was testing it. While it is a touted feature, I think I’ll be fine with leaving the batteries out of my Hoverboard.
Of course, there are many of us who will not be spending a lot of time sliding their prop replica across carpeting, and Mattel has included a clear-plastic, hinged stand. Using the design of the central battery compartment and a few well-placed peg-holes, the stand allows the board to be displayed, angled at 45 degrees. It isn’t easy to put together, and the stand clattered to the ground several times as I tried to get it placed properly.
By now, some of you may be asking, “Well, what do you think? Was it worth it?”
Having seen numerous pictures of the Hoverboard over the years, and wanting one myself, it’s a good piece, but not great.
For the last several months, the web has been filled with many die-hard fans, scrutinizing any information out of Mattel, regarding the release of the prop replica. Early concepts, convention displays, and even early reviews of this board have criticized everything from the spacing and size of the ‘magnets’ on the bottom of the board, to the lack of lenticular graphics regarding the board’s decals. Even the pink strap on the rear is not the right size/material.
On December 10th, on the fan-run Back To The Future website, BTTF.com, co-creator/co-screenwriter/co-producer Bob Gale expressed some of his own thoughts. He recalled the enthusiasm that the crew at Mattel had when they sat down to talk with him and visual effects supervisor Michael Lantieri, but was surprised at several ‘quality’ points that were missing from the final production Hoverboard. Notably the lenticular graphics, which according to a letter he received from Scott Neitlich at Mattel, was due to them being unable to replicate the effect, finally settling on the simpler decals. Bob does make an interesting point in his letter: if visual effects supervisor Michael Lantieri and his crew were able to make lenticular decals for the prop boards made in 1989, how can it be so hard for Mattel to replicate the effect all these years later? You can read Mr Gale’s full letter here: Bob Gale says Mattel’s Hoverboard did not live up to his expectations; okay to throw eggs at him
In that respect, it’s a good prop replica, but it is not the greatest. Then again, what keeps it passable in my mind is that it’s an item made by the same company as in the film. And what does Mattel mainly produce? Toys! So, not every toy company is going to give you top-of-the-line stuff. That is also part of my thinking regarding toys in the world of 2015 in the Back to the Future universe. I would assume that the board Marty handled in the film was plastic as well, seeing as it’s a kid’s toy Hoverboard. One would assume the Hoverboards used by Griff and his gang are more technologically advanced (and more expensive).
Another question some may have is: is this a toy, or a collectible? To me, it’s a collectible piece, given its price-point. You’d need to have a pretty good-sized bank account to give this to a child to play with. I can only imagine what one of these would look like after being handled by children.
The final total (not including taxes and shipping and handling), was $130. While a lot of people balked at this price for the Hoverboard, I was a lot more willing to pay that than $4-6000 on the special-edition 2015 Nike shoes that came out last fall. Even a prop replica of the Flux Capacitor (i.e. the thing that makes time-travel possible!) will run you upwards of $300!
These days, almost any collectible item released will have someone say, ‘It costs this much? I’d think it would have cost that much.’ When I first heard about the Hoverboard being made, I told myself one thing: ‘unless it’s priced under $150, I won’t buy one.’ Though with the final product, I could see some saying it would could be priced in the $100 range.
Because I pre-ordered my Hoverboard in March of 2012, this entitled me to get a special bonus: a miniature Hoverboard & the handlebar attachment like we saw in the film.
Promotional information tells that this board will fit most 6-inch figures. Since I don’t have any 6-inch figures from Mattel, I decided to have a couple of my other 6-inch figures help show off this additional item:
The handlebars are on a small pivot, so they can be turned outwards or in, depending on the arms of the figure using them. It can also be snapped into the hole in the board, and removed. The rear safety strap can also be rotated. One has to wonder if this is some sort of small promotional hint that Mattel just might be bringing us those Back to the Future action figures many have been wondering about for some time.
For December of 2012, Mattel has re-opened ordering of the Hoverboard prop replica. Unlike the March pre-orders, these will not come with the 6-inch Hoverboard ‘freebie.’ Mattycollector.com has been Mattel’s place to sell higher-priced, more collectible-based material, and by the sounds of things, obtaining one of these may be easier than some of their exclusive figures.
There are fan-made Hoverboard replicas out there (some made out of wood), which I’ve seen often run for more than what Mattel is offering for their prop replica. That might be the deal-breaker for some. Some people out there can make a board that more closely resembles the screen-used props, but these can often run upwards of $150+. If you’re looking for one that seems kind of close to the film prop, and you have some extra money left over for (or after) Christmas, you may want to get yourself one. Unless you’re a perfectionist regarding props, many would be hard-pressed to find all the differences.
Once I received my Hoverboard, I decided to take it for a small photoshoot at the one place that screamed for it: The Wormhole. This humble coffeeshop in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago has gained a small following for its nostalgic theme. An old television in the back has a Nintendo Entertainment System hooked up to it, and metal lunchboxes line the overhead ducts. Though what first caught my attention, was this:
Yes, that’s a flying DeLorean hovering over the rear of the building. The guy who owns the shop is a pretty big Back to the Future fan. So big in fact, that one of the replica Flux Capacitors that was made a few years ago, is mounted on a wall behind the counter. Word was, when Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis was in town, he actually stopped by to check out the DeLorean.
The Wormhole even has its own merchandise, from T-shirts to bumper stickers, with many of them tying into the Back to the Future theme.
If you’re ever in the Wicker Park neighborhood and want a non-Starbucks cup of coffee, The Wormhole has plenty of choices, and is usually a popular hangout for many nearby college students. You can find out more about The Wormhole by clicking Here.