Book Review: Back to the Future – The Ultimate Visual History (by Michael Klastorin, with Randal Atamaniuk)
Throughout the years, my fascination with the making of films and animation, has led me to seek out some large and thorough tomes.
In the summer of 1995, one making-of book that I never knew existed, caught my eye when my family visited Universal Studios Hollywood.
This was the first time we’d been back since Universal had opened Back to the Future: The Ride. Our family rode it 3 times over the course of the trip, I geeked out over the Time Machine displayed next to the ride, and of course, we made a stop at The Time Traveler’s Depot, a short walk away.
I recall products from a miniature diecast toy of the Time Machine, to notebooks with the Gray’s Sports Almanac cover on them…but there was one item that made me take notice.
It was a book, titled Back to the Future: The Official Book of the Complete Movie Trilogy. Though only 80 pages, the book instantly caught my interest, with the myriad behind-the-scenes pictures inside. Once I started reading it, it also provided commentary, and revealed to me information on how the film series got started.
Over the years, larger and more thorough making-of books would catch my eye. They included J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars, as well as The Complete Making of Indiana Jones (also by Rinzler).
But I and many fans of Back to the Future wondered, if such a 100+ page book could ever be in our future. Many of us had seen and heard numerous making-of materials on DVD, and seen countless interviews in various media, and knew this information could fill more than just the 80 pages of the official book. It also turns out, someone who worked on the trilogy, thought the same.
That person was Michael Klastorin. Not only was he a unit publicist on Back to the Future Parts II & III, but he had also wrote the included information for the Official Book I had picked up at Universal, in 1995.
Michael’s attempts to have a thorough making-of book didn’t catch much attention when he pitched it around the time of the first film’s 25th anniversary, but as the 30th anniversary approached, the publishing house was intrigued, and told him to go for it!
With help from Randal Atamaniak, and the blessing of the series’ co-creator/co-writer Bob Gale, Michael combed through his collection of information, scoured the Universal archives, and conducted new interviews with many of the cast and crew.
The result, is the 224-page Ultimate Visual History…and it is one of those books that will provide you with Back to the Future trilogy information, the likes of which you never dreamed of!
The shooting schedule for the films? It’s laid out for us to know what went on, and when. Abandoned concept art? We get plenty of that. Summaries of the early drafts of the screenplays? It’s there for you to see how the stories evolved!…and, a whole lot more!
Over the years, one bit of lore regarding the first film, has fascinated many fans: the original casting of Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly, when Michael J Fox was unavailable. Imagery of Stoltz has often been hard to come by, but here, Klastorin provides plenty of pictures, not to mention information on the first 6 weeks of shooting with Eric on the set.
One of the fun things I like about the book, has been seeing some art and information, that I’ve come to wonder about as the years have gone by.
In one interview on the Blu-Ray release 5 years ago, concept designer Michael Scheffe made mention that he was tasked with coming up with a futuristic, amphibious flying vehicle for Doc Brown in the year 2015. Those words intrigued me, and in Klastorin’s book, Scheffe’s concept (as well as many more for the trilogy), are on display for all to see!
Of course, Michael also goes a little into the future, beyond the three films. The final pages tell about the development of Back to the Future: The Ride, and the Saturday Morning Cartoon, Back to the Future: The Animated Series.
You’ll learn more about what the first iteration of the ride was to be, as well as some strange changes some at CBS wanted to include in the animated series’ second season (fortunately, Bob Gale didn’t take their advice).
But, that’s not all!
Much like hardcover books in recent years that have included goodies and reproductions of props or related material, The Ultimate Visual History provides Back to the Future fans with quite a few items!
A few of these items, include Doc’s drawing of the Flux Capacitor, a lenticular picture that shows Marty and his siblings disappearing (similar to the effect in the first film), and even a fold-out poster for Jaws 19 (pulled from the same art that was used on the posters outside the Holomax theater in Hill Valley, in 2015).
If there’s a downside to the book, it’s that some of these items are glued onto some pages, and may require some extra care to remove. Personally, I think it would have been more interesting to include them in a large envelope at the back (maybe with a note from Doc Brown telling how these valuable items could disrupt the space-time continuum, if they fall into the wrong hands!).
Despite being a popular film, Back to the Future has not garnered as huge a fanbase as the likes of Star Wars or Marvel’s films have. In the 25 years since the trilogy was released, we saw the animated series only last two seasons, and the iconic rides at the Universal theme parks be replaced by other rides (the last one still functioning is in Universal Studios Japan, and word right now, is that it will have its final ride in February of 2016).
Even so, Back to the Future still has a pretty dedicated fanbase, and oftentimes, when something big is coming down the pike, it is usually at the behest of co-writer Bob Gale, to ensure that what is being done, isn’t going to turn the dedicated fanbase upside-down.
In a Q&A at the We’re Going Back fan event during the second-to-last week in October of 2015, Michael Klastorin mentioned how when the Official Book came out almost 25 years ago, he was stuck with a locked-in page count and imagery, and was just allowed to put words to the pictures. With his latest work, Michael gets to create a through line through the timeline of the trilogy, along with a small bit of information about the Ride and Animated Series.
As much as I’d love a book twice as thick as what we have here, Michael Klastorin has fulfilled my wish and that of many other fans of the trilogy, by giving us an educational history lesson, in the evolution of a film that noone in Hollywood wanted to make (other than Steven Spielberg), into a series that is still finding fans almost 30 years later!
As mentioned above, Mchael Klastorin attended the We’re Going Back fan event in October of 2015. This event celebrated 30 years of the film trilogy, as well as brought many fans (including myself) out from all around the world. We got to walk on Courthouse Square at Universal, visit actual locations from the films, and even get the chance to meet various people who had worked on the trilogy.
Michael was in attendance with his latest book release, and I knew for sure I’d be going home with a copy of The Ultimate Visual History, to read on the plane home.
When I got the chance to speak to Michael, he thanked me for my kind words regarding the Official Companion book that had intrigued me as a 15-year-old from Iowa.
He did get a chuckle when he found out what my name was (seriously, there seem to be a lot of Michael’s connected around the film Back to the Future, as well as the 1980’s time period!), and added a little note to me in the front of the copy that I purchased from him.
After all is said and done, I can’t help but wonder what-if…what if in 1995, my 15-year-old self had come across the Ultimate Visual History?…if only I had a time machine…