Saturday, November 22, 2014

Telling the Tale of a Trip Through Time

1955 Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd): It was nice talking to you. Maybe we'll bump into each other sometime in the future.

1985 Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd): Or the past.

I thoroughly enjoyed the original "Back to the Future."

When I saw it, it was pretty obvious that a sequel was planned — if not already in the works — and that was OK with me.

But I was disappointed.

See, I already knew "Back to the Future" was going to end up being a trilogy; consequently, I knew that the second installation would be incomplete, as second chapters in trilogies always are. They are extensions of the original — and promises that conclusions will be forthcoming — but they do not provide satisfactory resolutions. After all, gotta save something for Part III, right?

But there were other problems with this sequel.

In many ways, I thought Derek Armstrong of made a good point when he wrote, "A successful sequel duplicates the characteristics that drew audiences to the original, but [director Robert] Zemeckis saps the buoyant spirit from the series by presenting a world dominated by the pimp–like, unimaginably wealthy and vulgar Biff."

The dark vision of the future in "Back to the Future Part II" offered little of the joy of the original — only most of the original cast.

I must say, though, that I appreciated the detail of the research. In the scene where young Biff was driving along and listening to the football scores on the radio, I can say that the scores are accurate from Saturday, Nov. 12, 1955. I checked on this once when the movie was showing on TV and was able to quickly confirm the authenticity of the scores in the sports almanac.

UCLA really did kick a late field goal to beat Washington, as Old Biff bet a skeptical Young Biff would happen while they sat in Young Biff's car and they listened to the final minute of the game on the car radio — and all those other scores that were mentioned by the radio announcer were accurate, too — but Biff shouldn't have been so surprised that UCLA pulled off a come–from–behind win.

UCLA was ranked fourth in the nation and ended up going to the Rose Bowl. Washington hadn't won a game in a month. As any sports fan can tell you, near upsets happen all the time; truly talented teams frequently find ways to overcome.

Of course, Biff confirmed that the scores matched the scores in the almanac — something he shouldn't have been doing while operating a vehicle, but perfectly in keeping with his character.

(Considering the size of the almanac and the movies' attention to detail, I — as a former sports copy editor — found it difficult to believe that every score of every sports event over half a century could be contained within its covers.)

There was a dark side to "Back to the Future Part II" that was more personal for Marty McFly, as observed.

I guess the point that the "Back to the Future" series made so well was Doc Brown's repeated admonition not to meddle in future (or past) events. His intention was to use the time machine only for research purposes, to observe and learn, not to become involved.

It isn't a new theme, this idea that history cannot be altered, and it would be a wise rule — if time travel were possible. But it isn't, and so the influence of the insertion of a visitor from another time remains theoretical.

Still, it makes sense, doesn't it? I'm a Southern boy so I liken it to something I saw all around me when I was growing up — dominoes. If you look at time like a row of dominoes — I don't know what the dominoes would represent; increments in time (days, weeks, months, years), I suppose — and if you further assume that one at the end of the line is not permitted to remain standing, its fall will affect the next domino, and that effect will continue until there are no more dominoes standing.

If you apply the domino analogy to the context of the "Back to the Future" movies, especially Part II, you do get to see an apocalyptic vision of a radically altered future.

And that seems to have been what Zemeckis was aiming for.

There really was a lot going on.

"I should have brought a big yellow legal pad to the screening," Roger Ebert wrote, "so I could take detailed notes just to keep the time–lines straight."

Ebert wrote of the "paradoxes" of time travel. That's probably the best word for it. I have to admit it was not what I was expecting. Given the nature of the first movie in the franchise, I expected something similar. Zemeckis threw me a curve.

But it intrigued me. What did the final installment in the trilogy have in store? We only had to wait six months to find out.