[This viewing occurred as part of The Full Zemeckis. Here’s the corresponding Day One article, which you may wish to read first. If not, proceed, you crazy rebel, you.]
WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME (Isla Nublar)
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Feelin’ kinda Zemeckis, you guys. I’m watching this at the end of a weekend marathon of every Robert Zemeckis movie ever, so I’m coming down off of I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Used Cars, and Romancing the Stone. Also, I’ve been awake for about 24 hours because I have a terrible work schedule. Agh.
So, I’ve followed Robert Zemeckis on his way to making Back to the Future. What’s carried over from his previous films?
This guy? Who’s he? Mr. Zemeckis, is this man bothering you?
That’s Bob Gale, who co-wrote the Back to the Future script with Robert Zemeckis. They’re both named Bob, isn’t that cute? Let’s call them the Bobs. And let’s keep them the Bobs, because the Bobs divided is a terrible thing.
Pictured: a terrible thing.
Bob Gale previously worked with Zemeckis on I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars, and I pretty much loved those movies. They were funny, dark, whimsical, and there were incredible gags that relied heavily on setups and payoffs that were miles apart. These are the things that I adore about Back to the Future. However, Bob was nowhere to be seen in Zemeckis’s next project, Romancing the Stone. And even though I didn’t really enjoy it, that movie was enough of a box office smash to allow the Bobs to get together again and, backed by a sizable budget increase, swing for the cinematic fences. And swing they did, giving the world an epic time travel comedy that has etched itself into the very fabric of our popular culture.
Watching Back to the Future at the tail end of the Zemeckis films that preceded it gave me a unique perspective as to how we got here in the first place. I feel like I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars are more relevant to the creative process, while Romancing the Stone just proved Zemeckis could successfully please an audience by ripping off Indiana Jones.
One thing I Wanna Hold Your Hand did remarkably well was poke fun at the absurdities of the past, which is of course at play in Back to the Future. Also, while many have said that BTTF is a heartwarming, family-friendly picture with touches of Frank Capra sentimentality, I’ve previously pointed out that I find it to be a rather nihilistic dismissal of fated love. Marty is only out to save himself, not his parents’ marriage, much like the characters in I Wanna Hold Your Hand don’t care what it takes to meet The Beatles.
Though Marty never assaulted a police officer.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a portrait of some very self-centered characters, and that carried over to Back to the Future, though the stakes were heightened and the ruthlessness was diminished, which is a bit of an odd trade-off considering that Marty’s own existence is on the line, but the characters in IWHYH are certainly far more passionate about achieving their goal. Which, again, is an odd trade-off… perhaps Marty’s will to live is a discussion for another week.
Used Cars isn’t afraid to go even darker, which is what makes it so successful as a flat-out comedy. I’ll admit, I was surprised that this was written by the same Bobs that gave us Back to the Future, but even though Marty McFly’s adventure is a bit more light-hearted, it still earns a place in the Zemeckis/Gale “Protagonists Who Will Stop at Nothing” trilogy. And again, the setups and payoffs, wow. While I Wanna Hold Your Hand had its share, Used Cars and Back to the Future are like Rube Goldberg machines that take two hours to complete. The fully-stocked Chekhov’s arsenal of well-structured jokes in Back to the Future are so notorious that they had to give them their own special feature on the Blu-ray box set.
What’s that? Turn it on for my next viewing? You got it.
Oh, you know what other skill Robert Zemeckis brought over from Used Cars? You’re never gonna believe this, but filming cars.
You should be watching this movie right now.
I love seeing the DeLorean in action, and Robert’s knack for making that car look ever so good in motion definitely came pre-loaded after his work on Used Cars. Of course, some of that talent comes from the stunt drivers, the editors, the director of photography, etc. Actually, that’s something worth investigating: which members of the crew on Back to the Future did Zemeckis carry over from his previous films?
Not to mention cast members.
When I did the Give Tony Scott a Fair Shake marathon last year, I noted that Tony continued to work with many members of the crew he worked with on Top Gun, his first major hit, whereas several names from behind the scenes of his debut film, The Hunger, never showed up again. Is that the case with Zemeckis? Did the team that brought him box office gold with Romancing the Stone get an invitation to return for Back to the Future, and was anyone from I Wanna Hold Your Hand or Used Cars left behind? It’s time for a spreadsheet.
Hey, are Hollywood job titles total bullshit? Sorry, that was a hell of an ordeal. What’s the difference between a sound supervisor, sound editor, and a sound caterer? Anyway, it seems like there’s a lot of overlap between Stone and Future. Not sure why they went with new editors on BTTF, but everybody else stuck around. And way to go, Charles L. Campbell, you must know a thing or two about sound. Oh, I didn’t put the producers on the sheet because there were several for each, but it’s interesting to note that Romancing the Stone is the only film that didn’t have Steven Spielberg and Bob Gale as producers. And it also didn’t have Bob Gale writing the script. Maybe that’s why it sucked.
Now that I’ve seen the early days of the Bobs, I wonder if Back to the Future would have worked it were as dark as I Wanna Hold Your Hand or Used Cars. I think a time travel dark comedy by the two could have been a real triumph, but I’m glad we have the film we do. I’d much rather the two of them collaborate on some new films that capture the same tone as their first two projects together, but that’s a topic for The Full Zemeckis: Day Two.