I will be watching Back to the Future Part 2 tonight. Because the film means something to me.
When I was about five or six years old, I had a cassette player, and a tape with an abridged audio book of Back to the Future – with a storybook of photos and captions from the film to accompany it. I adored it.
I enjoyed the story for the time travel, but mainly for the sheer adventure of it. But the second film, although regarded not as favourably by others, was the one I fell in love with.
My brother informs me that we watched the second film on VHS from Blockbuster video, in preparation for the release of the third film. This was my Star Wars – a film series that I was just the right age for, exploding my imagination.
It was almost certainly the first story I encountered with time travel and paradoxes. The way it revisits the events of the first film, putting a different spin on it, but throwing those events into jeopardy – that sense of danger and narrative complexity, of truly riffing off of established events, making a sequel which is so much more than ‘just another film in the series’ – all of this has had so much of an influence on what I enjoy.
It could even be considered the most formative influence in terms of the kinds of narrative, and adventure stories, I like – predating my first exposure to Doctor Who by a number of years. It definitely shaped my status as a fan not of sci-fi in general, but of that core of adventure, and enjoyment.
But the thing that grabbed me – that still makes me punch the air – is that ending. The cliffhanger, the way it propels the action forward, at a point when you think it’s all been solved. Yes, the first film has “…where we’re going, we don’t need roads..”, but that’s merely a “..and here’s what happens next..”. This cliffhanger is “we’ve just solved everything – but now everything you know has been thrown for a loop”. There’s a sense of real, traumatic danger, which you’d probably only otherwise get, perhaps at the end of the third act, normally.
And then the ‘coming soon’ – again, probably my first, accompanied by the fact we’d see the conclusion in the cinema!
Today has significance, as one of those days where the lines blur between fiction and reality, and you think – but what if?
It’s what fires my imagination, keeps me wanting to write – it shapes our culture.
Which is why it’s saddening to see so many hollow references to the films over social media today. As if merely the shallowest of links to the iconography of the series will somehow ‘engage’ people. It’s tasteless, really. Even the appearance of the Delorean car, seemingly everywhere, totally ruins the magic.
when I was a kid, thinking about living through the day Marty went back to the future was awesome. turns out it’s just #brands and bad jokes
— dan sinker (@dansinker) October 21, 2015
So you can keep your snark and your promotional, opportunistic tweets. I’ll be watching the film again, and when that music plays, I’ll be a grinning six year old, all over again.