I did this back around may, but desided to hold of posting the article until today, anyone who’s taken a gander at the internet today can probably see why. I watched the following five movies in this order: Back to the Future, Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, Back to the Future Part II, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and Back to the Future Part III. 542 minutes in total, just over 9 hours of movie.
The main piece of this five movie marathon is Back to the Future II, and the reason I am watching it now is because the future sequence of the movie takes place in 2015. But I can’t just watch B2F2 without watching the rest of the trilogy. I can’t watch B2F3 without watching National Lampoons Chirstmas Vacation before it (you’ll see why) and in order to give the marathon a centerpiece I had to make it an odd number, so I threw Who Framed Rodger Rabbit into the mix since it is also a Robert Zemeckis film.
The DVD’s – all 5 movies in the marathon are in my personal DVD collection. If I remember this correctly, and I think I do, shortly after the Christmas when I was 18 my mother took me to the mall, I didn’t have a car at the time, or even a driver’s license. My mother hates malls and hates shopping, so what she did is parked and sat in the car reading for an hour or two while I went about the mall. I think it was on this excursion that I got the Back to the Future Trilogy Box set, which came in a nice shiny foil cardboard sleeve and an extra thick DVD box to keep all three discs in. lots of special features including a featurette about the film hosted by Kurt Cameron before he became a real ass hole. I would have really like to see a few episodes of the cartoon as a feature (just like they did with Ghostbusters II and Beetlejuice), but this is not to be, luckily I do have one episode still on tape, it was a good show despite certain YouTubers opinions, come on even Bill Nye was in the show during the live action sequences, and this was before he became the “Science Guy”.
I was kind of disappointed when I got my first DVD player and found out that they had not released B2F on it. I did however find on Amazon that they had released the movie (the full trilogy if I’m not mistaken) on VCD, and I was very tempted to get a copy of it. If I had it would be the only officially released VCD within my collection.
My rare copy of Rodger Rabbit was a gift from a friend, and you can read more about that in my earlier post on that movie. Christmas Vacation, there’s nothing too interesting about that DVD, I got it from a store called Movies You Buy, which was a half used video and half adult video store not far from where I lived, which has only recently closed, sad to see it go for any number of reasons. I probably got that movie in 2004, and watched it a great deal since then.
Back to the Future – it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen this movie. As a kid I probably saw it several hundred times, but as an adult, not that much. It’s kind of strange, but when you’ve seen a film many many times, then don’t watch it for a long time, then go back to it, you don’t even have to be paying that close of attention, and you’ll notice things you’ve never noticed before. I haven’t been paying the closest attention to any these movies.
For some reason I had it in my head that the adults from the first portion of the movie were adults and then were made to look younger for the 1950’s portion of the movie. This theory doesn’t make much sense when I write it down, but I was pretty young when I first saw this movie. As it turns out, they actually split the difference during the movie Loraine was 24, George was 21, and Biff was 26, so they were slightly older then the high-schoolers they were playing, but considerably younger than their adult counterpart. Also Marty (Michael J. Fox) was 24 at the time of the movie, though he was playing a high schooler as well. Now that I look at it, I wonder why they decided not to go with true teens to play the teens in the movie, as it turns out the “teens” from the Breakfast Club were also in their 20’s, maybe real teens are just too difficult to work with in the film industry (hard to believe I know).
I forgot the whole sequence where Marty goes to the café in the 50’s and orders a Tab and then a Pepsi Free. It’s a pretty funny sequence, but what’s interesting is that that joke is now dated and wouldn’t make sense to the younger generations who might watch this movie. Tab is still around but hardly relevant (though Tab Energy is my personal favorite energy drink), and Pepsi Free is now called Caffeine Free Pepsi, and I don’t think you can even get that at most restaurants.
I did notice one continuity paradox from the film that is by all accounts a mistake. There are two schools of thought with time travel, for argument sake let’s call them Scenario A and Scenario B. Scenario A states that when time traveling, whatever you do in the past can alter the future. This is the scenario that most time travel stories use, and key to the B2F plot. Scenario B states that anything you do in the past, has already been done, your actions have already caused the events of your present and the past cannot be changed, this is a less popular scenario but it is used to a degree in both “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and also John Varley’s “Mammoth.” Now with that in mind, think back to the scene where Marty McFly is playing the song “Johnny B. Good” at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. Injured guitar player Marvin Berry, calls his cousin Chuck and tells him to: “Listen to this.” and everyone in the audience laughs at the connection. But just a second, Marty came from a time where he knew the song Johnny B. Good, but this was before he went back in time to play the song. There are only two possible ways for this to have worked, the one everyone probably assumes, is Scenario B, but this is the only time Scenario B is in effect in the film. The other possibility is that when Marvin gets back on the phone, Chuck says something to the effect of “Hey I just wrote that song.” This second part of the conversation is omitted; we are to assume it is Scenario B in effect, thus making it one of the few mistakes in the films continuity.
I would like to say I noticed this next thing on my own, but unfortunately I was informed of it by a Facebook post I had read. Marty meets doc at the twin pines mall to videotape the first time travel. Marty accidently goes back in time to 1955 when the mall was just a farm. In fact it is Peabody’s Farm, I just noticed and love the connection there, Peabody was the time traveling dog from Rocky and Bullwinkle. While at the farm Marty accidently runs over one of Mr. Peabody’s prized Pine trees. When he comes back to the present the mall is now called “Lone Pine Mall.”
The Nerd did a great video on the Back to the Future video game for the NES, plus another video on some of the other B2F games. But the one you need to see is the “Back to the Future ReRevisited” video, it’s one of his absolute best. I’ve personally played the game on Vizzed Board, and I have a higher respect for the Nerd as a gamer, because I couldn’t even make it to the second level.
Who Framed Rodger Rabbit – I’m not going to go into this one too much because I already did a post on the film. I just want to point out again the incredible ability that Robert Zemeckis had in directing two majorly influential films from the 80’s, both B2F and Rodger Rabbit, pretty much at the same time. This might put him in line as the greatest director of all time. I can’t think of any other director that has produced two utterly stunning and completely unrelated films at relatively the same time. Maybe, just bear with me a second, he had a time machine of his own. I see no other way around it.
These two movies might be completely different; however they are set up almost the same way. they both have very intense conflict toured the end, that makes you think that that happy ending isn’t coming. Even after you’ve seen the movie several times you still can’t help but think that: Marty can’t get the DeLorean started or Rodger and Jessica are going to get dipped. I’d like to do an experiment and watch both movies at the same time and see how, minute by minute they sync up with each other. B2F is 116 minutes long, Rodger Rabbit is 103 minutes, the question is, should I start them at the same time or have them end at the same time?
Major props to Christopher Lloyd, for being able to play Dr. Brown and Judge Doom, two completely different characters, and significantly different forms of acting too. As a kid I don’t think I realized that they were in fact the same person, despite having seen both movies quite a few times. I’ve seen Christopher Lloyd in a few different roles now and it’s suprizing that Doc Brown is actually the most normal person he played. The artist he played in Cheers is perhaps the most bizarre.
As for a minor detail I noticed this time around. The kid’s that Eddy Valiant is riding with on the back of the red car, are smoking Lucky Strikes.
Back to the Future Part II – I’m not going to sugarcoat it, there is a lot wrong with this movie. Not necessarily a “bad” movie, but when sandwiched between the other two it gets the reputation of being the worst. I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars, where the first one is a full 5 out of 5.
So what makes this movie so much worse than the other two? There are several things: complexity, reruns, blatant rip-off of another film, bad predictions/depections of the future, reckless meddling with space/time continuum, keeping face, and most importantly lack of comedy. This may take a while, but let’s go through this piece by piece.
Complexity. Time travel stories can often be complex, and in a way that’s what makes the first B2F so good, it’s very straight forward (relatively speaking) and easy to understand, but with B2F2 the story is much more complicated, involving alternative realities and tangents and so on. Now being a complicated movie alone is not necessarily a bad thing, however when its part of a trilogy, and the first part is set up to be fairly simple and straight forward, veering off in a completely different direction becomes a problem.
Reruns. We already watched a movie that had a modern (then modern) character trying to survive in the 1950’s, so why would we want to watch half a movie based again on the same idea? We end up rewatching a lot of the scenes we just saw in B2F1, which is not exactly a great thing. That being said, you get to see the same movie from different points of view which is interesting, and it makes the first movie seem that much more real. You realize that things were happing outside of what the camera was showing you. So this is more a push then a true factor for making the movie “bad”.
Blatant rip-off of another film. What film you might ask? “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Yeah, I never really noticed the connection before; of course I’ve seen this movie much less than the other two, so there’s plenty to be noticed. The scene in which Marty and Doc go to the bleak alternate reality where Biff is a billionaire has so many similarities to the quintessential sequence in IAWL where George Baily (Jimmy Stewart) goes running around his personal alternate reality nightmare. In both movies, the once peaceful town is now in advanced states of urban decay, both town centers are distinguished by casinos, both characters run around looking for answers, decent women from one reality have turned into implied hookers, the bad guy is in charge of everything, and the main character stumbles upon the grave of a beloved family member. They probably could have done something more original.
Bad predictions/depections of the future. The depiction of 2015 (the current year in case you forgot) is way way off. Personally, with the way things are going, I don’t think this would even be an accurate depiction of 2085. Flying car? No, people are such bad drivers that it would probably be a bad idea. Self-lacing shoes? I suppose it could be done if needed, but the need is not there, same goes for the auto-adjusting self-drying jackets. Hoverboards? I wish. Laser knockout device? Even if the technology was available it’s unlikely that Doc Brown could have gotten his hands on one. If you look at a movie like “Tangents” (known as “Time Chasers” to you MST3K fans out there) they go 50 years into the future, and their depictions are much more conservative, as Servo eloquently points out “so 50 years from now it will be 3 years from now.”
Reckless meddling with space/time continuum. In the first and third movie we are warned by Doc Brown constantly of meddling with history. However this movie starts off with Doc Brown picking up Marty and telling him: “It’s your kids Marty, somethings got to be done about your kids” which leads us to the best Family Guy reference to B2F. Why would Doc Brown completely change his personal rules? Is he returning the favor for Marty saving his life? That’s possible, but if that were the case why did he alter the future for Marty’s son instead of Marty himself, why didn’t he tell him to not get so upset when people call him a coward, and how that will have a serious consequences on his future. Which brings us to our next point.
Keeping Face. Evidently it is very important for Marty to prove he is not a coward, chicken, yella’, etc. You can see how this would affect someone of Marty’s build, small guy having to prove he is not small, basically a subdued Napoleon Complex. Now I may have missed it somewhere along the line, but I don’t think that this ever comes into play in the first movie, so why choose the second movie to add this. It would not be nearly as big a problem if it was not such an important factor in this and the next movie.
Lack of comedy. This is probably the biggest problem with the entire movie. The first movie is billed as a Sci-Fi comedy, but in this one there is almost no comedy at all. There are a handful of funny things in early parts of the future sequence with some of the devices and comments about things that have happened, but they’re not all that funny to begin with, and then they are heavily suppressed when you see the bleakness of the rest of the film. Again a heavy time travel movie is not necessarily a bad thing, but when the first movie is a light and fun sci-fi teen comedy and the second one is something completely different, there is a major problem.
I could go on, but I’m not going to. Let me just end by saying that this movie is not as bad as I’ve made it out to be, it all comes down to the fact that is follows a tremendous movie, and then is followed by one almost as good, it’s bad by perspective. On its own it is mediocre, not bad, not terrible, just okay. The mistake was making it so intrinsically connected with B2F1, i.e. having Doc Brown appear from the future at the very end of the first movie.
National Lampoons Christmas Vacation – My aunt used to video tape things for me, she had cable, and when something was on that I wanted to see (or see again and again) we would call her and she would tape it for us. For some reasons they were showing B2F3 around Christmas, and the first movie on the tape was… you guessed it, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.
Tape’s and taping stuff off the TV was a funny thing, you got whatever movie it was that you tapped (with a few alterations do to censorship) plus any number of commercials, or snippets of other TV shows, etc. etc. these commercials at the time of the taping and shortly after are little more than a nuisance, but as time goes on, they become a time capsule. If you want to know what life was like for the average person in the 80’s and 90’s watch the commercials on one of these tapes. This tape opens with part of a sketch from Living Color, which you can see here it still seems funny even today, There is also a Stetson Colon Commercial, which has a catchy jingle and I wish was significantly longer, because it’s just so beautiful.
This thing is getting really long and a little out of hand, so I’m not going to go into the movie very much at all. In fact while watching it I probably paid the least attention to it, then any of the other movies. On minute he’s driving, next he’s sledding, next the old woman is singing the star spangled banner and the movie’s over. At least that’s how it flowed for me.
Here is my personal story with NLCV which I don’t think I have shared on this blog yet. Back in the early 90’s they showed NLCV on ABC for the first time, around Christmas of course, and my Bedtime was 9:00. For some reason I thought that they were showing it at 8:00 on a Sunday, so I would get to see about half the movie. However I was wrong, at 7:00 they showed an Olsen Twins movie, and somehow they managed to stretch that movie on for two hours and NLCV didn’t come on until 9:00 and all I got to see was the opening cartoon, the Christmas Tree Farm, and maybe the part with Elaine in it, and I was mad, because I had to wait another year until the next Christmas when they showed it again, and this time had the forethought to ask my aunt to tape it for me, which she did and which I’ve watched many many many times since. Because of this whole incident I still don’t like the Olsen Twins, and it could very well be the starting point of my whole problem with kids in general (subject of a much different post).
Back to the Future Part III – okay let’s wrap this thing up. A lot of people seem to hate on this movie, some of them even more so then B2F2. I’ll concede that it is not as good as the first movie, but then again very little is, I personally think it’s a much better film then the second, and also a better film then a lot of other films too. I’d probably put it in my top 100, without a problem, maybe even top 50. This film is exactly what they should have done with B2F2, wrather then mucking about in the future and alternate reality, they should have just done a flash back historical film like this. There are ample time periods to travel too.
This film plays heavily on the Keeping Face personality flaw with Marty, however unlike in B2F2, this is not a mistake or bad writing, the concept was established in the previous film. also it plays nicely with the wild west theme of the movie, where keeping face is a major aspect of a lot of western movies, and the general experience of the west, it was also nice to mention Martin McFly, an ancestor of Marty’s who had the same problem which eventually cost him his life.
I saw this movie maybe a dozen time’s before my dad told me that Michael J Fox played both Marty and Shamus in the movie, I didn’t realize it was possible to have the same actor on the screen at the same time, of course I was fairly young. the character was much different too so you have to give Fox a lot of props for his acting ability, and this movie showcases it even better than the other two.
As I had mentioned before, this movie was on a VHS, but there were some problems with it. The beginning was when Dr. Brown says “We may need to blast” which is okay, that’s pretty close to the beginning, nothing too interesting happens before that. What was not okay was where it ends, Marty Takes Jennifer to see the broken remains of the DeLorean, and then the tape ends just before the train shows up. I knew about the train, I must have seen the movie complete at some point before I got the tape, and I also knew about it from the cartoon, but it wasn’t until I got this DVD box that I actually saw the train again. For a lot of us, myself included, this was our first experience with the world that is Steampunk.
The end, I might also add, though happy is a bit of a tear jerker. When Jennifer asks Dr. Brown about the fax she brought back from the future that erased itself and he explains that the future is unwritten for everyone. It’s kind of touching, and a powerful message. Plus it draws on all the emotion that you’ve endured through an epic 3 movie adventure and pulls them to the surface. It’s a great end to a great franchise, and I think I may make a habit of watching it yearly, though maybe not with National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and Who Frammed Rodger Rabbit along with it, I’m already watching them once a year at least (for Christmas and Easter respectively). I thank you for sticking with me through this rather long post. Who knows what the future may bring.