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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: Back To The Future Part II – 30th Anniversary

“Hey Little Girl. I Need To Borrow Your…Hoverboard?!”. A 30th Anniversary celebration of Robert Zemeckis’ “Back To The Future Part 2”, the sequel to his beloved pop culture phenomenon and the greatest film ever made. A sequel that is worthy of the original and is just as beloved. Hover Boards, Self Lacing Nike’s, Flying Cars, Pepsi Perfect, Jaws 19, Sports Almanacs. The sequel has got it all! Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd return to their born to play roles as Marty and Doc as they travel to the futuristic year of 2015 in one of cinemas best sequels. 

Sometimes a films sequel isn’t planned and a sequel develops whether by order from the studio who wants to cash in on the success of the first film. Or by order of the fans who want to see a continuing story of characters they have grown to love. That was the case with 1989’s “Back To The Future Part 2”, sequel to the beloved 1985 pop culture phenomenon and the greatest film ever made… “Back To The Future”. 

Director Robert Zemeckis who has directed “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, “CastAway” and “Forrest Gump” has become one of the most groundbreaking filmmakers to ever change the face of filmmaking. He comes from the Steven Spielberg camp of filmmaking. Serving as co-writer and director to 1985’s “Back To The Future”, a sequel to the film was never intended, but its huge box office success and because of overwhelming fan demand. It led to the conception of a second installment. 

Zemeckis had agreed to do a sequel, but only if stars Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd returned as well. Once Fox and Lloyd were confirmed, Zemeckis met with screenwriting partner Bob Gale (original story and screenplay writer) to create a continuing story for the sequel. Zemeckis and Gale had later publicly stated that they regretted ending the first film with having Jennifer in the car with Marty and Doc Brown, because it required them to come up with a story that would fit her in, rather than a whole new adventure with Marty and Doc. 

The last shot of the Delorean being able to fly at the end of the original was played to be a joke, since there was no intention of making a sequel. Once a sequel was green lit, Gale and Zemeckis used this concept to form the future timeline in the sequel. Gale wrote most of the first draft by himself, as Zemeckis was busy filming “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. The first concept for the storyline was to take place in 1967, but Zemeckis later stated that the time paradoxes provided a good opportunity to go back to 1955 and see the first one’s events in a different light. This would be the perfect opportunity to use the concept of the flying Delorean. 

The greatest challenge to the team was the creation of the futuristic vision of Marty’s home town in the year 2015. Production designer Rick Carter wanted to create a detailed image with a different tone from something like “Blade Runner”. Carter and his crew spent months plotting, planning and preparing Hill Valley’s transformation into a city of the future. 

With Gale still working on the script, visual effects art director John Bell stated they had no script to work with, only the indications that the setting would be 30 years into the future featuring “something called hoverboards”. Zemeckis said he was somewhat concerned about portraying the future because of the risk of making wildly inaccurate predictions. According to Gale, they tried to make the future a nice place, “where what’s wrong is due to who lives in the future as opposed to the technology”. 

According to Zemeckis, the 2015 depicted in the film was not meant to be an accurate depiction of the future. Zemeckis said “For me, filming the future scenes of the movie were the least enjoyable of making the whole trilogy, because I don’t really like films that try and predict the future. The only ones I’ve actually enjoyed were the ones done by Stanley Kubrick. So, rather than trying to make a scientifically sound prediction that we were probably going to get wrong anyway, we figured, let’s just make it funny”. 

Despite this, the filmmakers did do some research into what scientists thought may occur in the year 2015. Bob Gale said, “We knew we weren’t going to have flying cars by the year 2015, but God we had to have those in our movie”. However, the film did correctly predict a number of technological and sociological changes that occurred by 2015, including: the use of unmanned flying drones for news gathering; widescreen flat panel television sets mounted on walls with multiple channel viewing; video chat systems; hands free video games, among other feats of technology. 

One of the new technologies created for the sequel was the pink Mattel Hover Board. In promotional material, director Robert Zemeckis explained that “hoverboards float on magnetic energy”. He also added, “they’ve been around for years, it’s just that parent groups haven’t let toy manufacturers make them. But we got our hands on some and put them in the movie.” He was only joking, of course, but interestingly enough, Mattel (whose logo appeared on the hoverboard props) soon found themselves overwhelmed with callers asking where they could buy one. 

Although they looked pretty convincing in the movie, the hoverboards were simply wooden props attached to the actors and actresses feet. To make the boards fly, the actors were suspended by cables, which were then erased during post-production. In the shots where Michael J. Fox was on a harness, the soles of his shoes had to be permanently attached to the hoverboard. This meant that he had to be carried around in between takes of these scenes.

What’s Marty without his Nike Power Lacing Mags? One of the Nike Mag sneakers worn in the 1989 classic Back to the Future: Part II sold for nearly $100,000 on eBay. The shoe, which was in pretty bad shape and somewhat disintegrating, had 220 bids and sold for exactly $92,100 according to the auction page. A small number of fans got their hands on some working Nike Mag shoes with power laces in 2016. Only 89 pairs were made. The shoes were raffled off to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Fox got the first pair of working shoes to keep. In 2011, a version of the shoe was released with 1,500 pairs auctioned on eBay to also help benefit the foundation. However, those shoes did not have power-lace capability.

“Back to the Future Part II” was also a ground-breaking project for effects studio Industrial Light & Magic or known as ILM. In addition to digital compositing (the process of digitally assembling multiple images to make a final image), ILM used the VistaGlide motion control camera system, which allowed an actor to portray multiple characters simultaneously on-screen without sacrificing camera movement.

All of this technology enabled Zemeckis to shoot one of its most complex sequences, in which Fox played three separate characters (Marty Sr., Marty Jr., and daughter Marlene), all of whom interacted with each other. Although such scenes were not new, the VistaGlide allowed, for the first time, a completely dynamic scene in which camera movement could finally be incorporated. It was also used in scenes where Thomas F. Wilson (Biff), Christopher Lloyd (Doc), and Elisabeth Shue (Jennifer) encounter and interact with their counterparts.

It took two years to finish the set building and the writing on the script before shooting finally began. During the shooting, the creation of the appearance of the aged characters was a well-guarded secret, involving state of the art make-up techniques. Michael J. Fox described the process as very time consuming. “It took over four hours to fully apply”. 

When “Hill Valley” was created for “Back to the Future”, they built the town in the pristine 1955 condition, and shot the middle of the movie, then damaged it to look a little rundown for the 1985 town, and then shot the beginning and end of the movie. When they decided to shoot “Back to the Future Part II”, they had to clean the set up and restore it to the same condition it was when they shot it for 1955. It ended up costing more to rebuild it all than it cost to build it from scratch.

Because Robert Zemeckis was filming “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” the previous year. Near the end of the film, when Marty is attempting to steal the almanac back from Biff, they get into a hover board chase and drive through a tunnel. This is the same tunnel private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) drives through to reach Toon Town in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. 

“Back To The Future Part 2” would be the first film appearance of Elijah Wood. While the majority of the original cast returned for the sequel, two actors from the first film: Crispin Glover (George McFly) and Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker) did not return. While Elizabeth Shue (“Adventures In Babysitting”) was recast in the role of Jennifer, Crispin Glover’s character George McFly, was not only minimized in the plot, but also was obscured and recreated with another actor. 

Crispin Glover was originally asked to reprise the role of George McFly. He expressed interest, but couldn’t come to an agreement with the producers regarding his salary. He stated in a 1992 interview on “The Howard Stern Show” that the producers’ highest offer was $125,000, less than half of what the other returning cast members were offered. 

Bob Gale has since asserted that Crispin Glover’s demands were excessive for an actor of his professional stature at that time. In an interview in 2013, Glover stated that his primary reason for not doing Part IIwas a philosophical disagreement on the film’s message; Glover felt the story rewarded the characters with financial gain, such as Marty’s truck, rather than love. 

Rather than writing George McFly out of the film, Zemeckis used previously filmed footage of Crispin Glover from the first film as well as footage of new actor Jeffrey Weissman, who wore prosthetics including a false chin, nose, and cheekbones to resemble Crispin Glover. Various techniques were used to obfuscate the Weissman footage, such as placing him in the background rather than the foreground, having him wear sunglasses, and hanging him upside down. 

Crispin Glover had filed a lawsuit against Zemeckis and Gale on the grounds that neither owned his likeness nor had permission to use it. As a result of this suit, there are now clauses in the Screen Actors Guild collective bargaining agreements, which state that producers and actors are not allowed to use such methods to reproduce the likeness of other actors. Till this day the reason for Glover not returning is still unclear, both Bob Gale and Crispin Glover have their own side of their stories and still have not come to an agreement. 

Astronomer Carl Sagan considered this the greatest time travel movie ever made. He praised the accuracy in handling the multiple time lines as what would really happen if time travel were possible. In “Back to the Future: The Video Game”, Carl Sagan is the alias used by Doc Brown when visiting Hill Valley in 1931.

To keep production costs low and in order to take advantage of an extended break that Michael J Fox had from “Family Ties” (which was ending its 7 season run when filming began), it was shot back to back with “Back To The Future Part 3”. The second film was produced on a $40 million budget and released by Universal Pictures on November 22, 1989. 

Robert Zemeckis considers the sequel to be one of his favorite, and strangest films. Unlike the first film, the sequel received mixed reviews from critics but became a fan favorite and grossing over $332 million worldwide, making it the third highest grossing film of 1989. “Back To The Future Part 2” was the first film to be released onto videocassette by MCA/Universal Home Video.

Animation supervisor Wes Takahasi, who then was the head of ILM’s animation department, worked heavily on the film’s time travel sequences, as he had done in the original film and in Part III. As the film neared release, sufficient footage of Part IIIhad already been shot to allow a trailer to be assembled. It was added at the conclusion of Part II, before the closing credits as a reassurance to moviegoers that there was more to follow.

While Part 2 starts off as the fun, bright and breeziness of the first film. It does get darker especially when the sports almanac changes Hill Valley into a dystopian style world. In tone it is a very different beast compared to the original or even Part 3. 

“Back to the Future Part 2” tells a complicated tale, sections of which will be virtually incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t watched (or doesn’t remember) Part I. If you’re in that unfortunate category. 

Director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale have not been content simply to settle for a weak copy. In the new movie, they do return to themes and situations from the first film, but they often find clever twists and sometimes spin the movie off in surprising directions.

Their view of the future, for example, is imaginative and amusing. In 2015, shoes lace themselves, men wear two neckties at once, lawyers have been abolished, skateboards are replaced by flying hoverboards, the Jaws series is up to number 19 and the Chicago Cubs finally win another series. And if you laughed at the problems Marty had ordering a Pepsi Free in Part I, you’ll chuckle when he encounters a drink called Pepsi Perfect in Part II. (He gets it at a restaurant called Cafe ’80s, a nostalgia place where the waiters are Max Headroom-like versions of Michael Jackson and Ronald Reagan.)

Whether it’s “Back To The Future Part 1, 2 or 3. The trilogy as a whole has been beloved since it’s release no matter what installment it is. Every year there is conventions celebrating the film, a stage musical, endless merchandising and special screenings all over the world. It’s a trilogy that means so much to people, including me. It’s very special to me and it is literally a part of my life. Whether you re-watch it in the past, present or future it’s a milestone in filmmaking and will forever live on as the iconic film trilogy it is. 

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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