Movie Musings: My Top 10 Reasons why The Back to the Future Trilogy is the best Trilogy of All Time
By the time you are reading this, I’ll have been in Los Angeles, CA, for several days.
I’m here in The Golden State partaking in one of the biggest events of my life: We’re Going Back – The 30th Anniversary Fan Celebration of Back to the Future.
I almost decided to do the Fan Celebration event 5 years ago in 2010, but as many of us weirdos know, 2015 is a really notable year for the film’s fans.
In fact, the year 2015 has a significance across all 3 of the Back to the Future Trilogy of films:
- It’s 30 years since the release of the first Back to the Future film
- It’s the year that Marty, Doc, and Jennifer travel to in Part II
- it’s the 25th anniversary year for Part III
With this collusion of the trilogy’s events swirling around this time and date, I felt it’d be a great time to release my Top 10 list, regarding why I believe the Back to the Future Trilogy is one of the greatest trilogies of all time.
Back to the Future’s films, notably the first one, have been quite clever in setting up story points in the beginning, that you then don’t quite see coming down the line. This makes the audience actually sit up and take note. That story Lorraine was telling about how her father hit George with the car? The flier lady telling the history of Hill Valley’s Clocktower? Doc’s explaining about how he came up with the idea for the Flux Capacitor?…they all end up becoming story points later on!
In commentary during Back to the Future, co-creator/co-writer Bob Gale claimed that he and Robert Zemeckis are big believers in this formula, and you can also see it in their other works…though here, it really feels like they put it to good use!
Though this was originally going to be about Industrial Light & Magic, I widened the scope, to also include the physical effects, notably those overseen by Kevin Pike, and Michael Lantieri.
The trilogy takes advantage of animation, optical effects, miniatures, wire work, and much more, with no computer finessing at all!
Much like films such as Terminator 2, many effects are accomplished by multiple means, oftentimes making us wonder just how they achieved certain scenes.
A perfect example is the hoverboard effects, which were accomplished with wire rigs, actual skateboards, optical effects, and more. All these different techniques combined to make those of us believe that Robert Zemeckis and his crew had gotten ahold of the ultimate Christmas gift.
In a commentary at The University of Southern California, Zemeckis mentioned how oftentimes, audiences want to experience the same stuff in a sequel, as they experienced in the first film.
With the plot of Back to the Future Part II, Zemeckis realized the film afforded them the chance to do something that no other film could: go back into your first film, and see it from a different point-of-view.
The plot to get the Sports Almanac from Biff in the past, soon had Marty and Doc tip-toeing around Hill Valley, 1955, trying to avoid their ‘other-selves.’ This led to some intriguing camerawork, and played up the concept of what could possibly happen if you interfered with your past self…creating a paradox!
When it comes to most trilogies, the third film is often the most derided. While many consider The Godfather to be a trilogy, so many then mumble that they watch or even enjoy Part III of that series.
Though not as aloof in time as Part II, Part III does bring back the idea of a major time-revelation, placing Marty and Doc in a specific time-and-place for the majority of the running time, and leaving them with the problem of getting Back to the Future.
Part III also ends up flipping Marty and Doc’s roles, with Marty taking the more serious tact as Doc loses himself in a romance with Clara Clayton…something that Doc’s scientific knowledge never counted on.
It’s not very often that a certain place can become as iconic over the course of a film series. When deciding how to stage Hill Valley’s downtown area over the course of several timelines, the decision was made to utilize a location on Universal Studios’ backlot. The creative freedom could afford the crew to change out a lot of things without interfering with real-life businesses, which would have happened if they filmed on a real city square.
The set would also be transformed in Part II to a future vision of what the square would look like, along with a portion meant to represent an alternate 1985, in which Biff Tannen has altered the timeline. Much of that set was shrouded in darkness, with plenty of un-PC buildings and services.
For 1885, the production moved up to gold country in Sonora, in order to showcase a town that sprang up along the railroads, which would have been impossible to make convincing on the Universal backlot.
Much like John Williams became a household name with his scores, I think the name Alan Silvestri would not have been as popular, if he had not done the score to the Trilogy, let alone the first film.
Silvestri manages to hit the sweet-spot, of giving us a low-key, emotional score, but ready to burst forth from that, is a bombastically fun and energetic theme. The theme has been one of my favorites ever since I first heard it at the age of 6, and ranks up there with the themes to Star Wars, and Indiana Jones (in my mind, at least).
Silvestri’s score for Part II explores some darker and more bombastic themes, while Part III’s score mixes between ‘westernizing’ the film’s themes, and actually delving into some softer tones for Doc and Clara’s romance.
What’s also notable, is that unlike some other themes that get recycled into other movie commercials or promotions for other properties, the Back to the Future theme has remained exclusive to its series.
By now, Marty’s breathless question about his friend making “a time machine out of a DeLorean,” has probably become one of the Top 5 lines from the film series.
I had never seen a DeLorean at the time I saw the first film, but after I did, suddenly it was another vehicle to add to my mental database regarding cool-looking cars…though for me, it was the added accoutrements that Kevin Pike and his guys added to it, that made it impressive.
Past interviews have said that the design was meant to evoke the work of someone who had put the machine together in their garage, and I think that’s why it looks so cool. It’s got that ‘used-universe’ feel like I had seen on the ships in Star Wars, and maybe that’s part of the appeal, as well as the fact that the cooling vents on the back seem to almost turn the vehicle’s shape into an arrow, looking like it’s ready to pierce the Space-Time Continuum.
As well, even its various transformations across the trilogy have all seemed memorable…even its tragic demise into a pile of scrap.
I have to this day, not been able to think of another series/trilogy, where its movies lined up in a straight line. Whereas most sequels take place months or years after the previous ones, the Back to the Future Trilogy can amazingly be lined up, as the sequels start mere minutes/hours after each other.
This also makes Back to the Future one of the first trilogies that could be cut together in a seamless way…though I still haven’t found the uninterrupted “Fan-edit” online, I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.
These days in most films, there’s usually a few characters in each one that just get so annoying, but even with the likes of Biff Tannen in the trilogy, almost all the characters are enjoyable, even the background ones. Though of course, Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd have excellent chemistry as Marty McFly and Doc Brown, making their friendship so believable in just a little amount of time.
Growing up, Marty McFly was one of the coolest teenagers I ever saw on screen, yet in truth, his character is not super-cool, but even so, he is relatable in being an average kid who wants to dream big, but also has some character flaws to deal with.
Even Crispin Glover for being rather strange in his mannerisms, brings an interesting chemistry to his character, where you can see him as a 50’s dweeb, but you also can relate to him in some ways.
Of course, actors like Thomas F Wilson, and Lea Thompson, got the chance to really stretch their acting chops, playing different versions of certain characters, as well as past and future relations of those characters.
I could easily go on-and-on, but I think it shows how much the cast of the film works for the series.
Yep, just think about that for a moment: there’s no film prequels, or 4th films…the Trilogy is just that…A TRILOGY!! You can deny all you want, but The Phantom Menace, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and The Hobbit Trilogy exist.
In the more than 30 years since we saw The End in Back to the Future Part III, many have pleaded and begged Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale for another story. Given their contracts, both Zemeckis and Gale would need to give approval for any continued adventures, and so far, neither is willing to budge, even with 80’s films like Ghostbusters, and The Goonies getting a second lease on life almost 3 decades later.
I know some will say that Back to the Future did live on in things such as Universal Studios’ Back to the Future: The Ride, the Back to the Future: Animated Series, and the Telltale Games‘ release of Back to the Future: The Game (which could almost function as a Part 4). However, my main area is in regards to films. Anything outside of the films I consider Expanded Universe, or Fanfiction.
Okay, I know I didn’t expound a whole lot, but those are my Top 10 reasons in a nutshell. I largely stand by my number one choice, and it’s been fun to hear Zemeckis say that he feels that three is the perfect number for the films to end on.
As well, he and the other actors and crew members have moved on. It was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment, but the biggest issue is that the adventures wouldn’t work with new characters. I likened the whole thing to being like most Amblin Entertainment films like E.T. or even The Goonies: it was a major experience in your life that you can’t relive, and trust me…you never forget your first time.
Well, that’s all for this little movie musing. Because plenty of places chose to just drop their stockpile of Back to the Future merchandise on me and many fans this week, November is going to be wall-to-wall reviews, as we dig into the Visual Dictionary, take a look at some Hot Wheels Retro Entertainment vehicles…and see how perfect, Pepsi Perfect really is!