Friday, January 18, 2013

Why we need a Back to the Future remake


I know what you’re thinking. There are too many remakes already, don’t give Hollywood any more ideas. Normally, I agree, and I’d hate to see most of my beloved 80′s movies remade. To be fair, they did a good job with Footloose, but the less said about Red Dawn, the better.

Most of the time I’m ambivalent about remakes, but this is one case in which a remake is a good idea. I know, it sounds sacrilegious, but hear me out. This is not another case of Hollywood being out of ideas, it's Hollywood having a very good idea.

Besides, it’s not like we’ve never had good remakes before. Some of our most beloved movies are remakes. Ben Hur, Wizard of Oz, and The Muppet Christmas Carol are fantastic remakes of previous films.

Each was more than just a cynical cash grab; it was either an improvement over the previous version, or it added something new the original lacked. That’s the key to a proper remake: there’s a good reason for it, and Back to the Future has a very, very good reason for being remade.

It came out 30 years ago.

In the original movie, Marty McFly travels back in time 30 years from the 1980′s to the 1950′s. If they remade Back to the Future in the next few years, ideally 2015, Marty would travel back thirty years and find himself in 1985, when the original movie came out. The span of time from the 80′s to the 50′s is the same time period as today and the 80′s. How can that not blow your mind? Or make you feel really, really old? (If you need to take a moment to tell some kids to get off your lawn, I'll wait.)

It's a head-scratcher, that's for sure.

When Marty arrives in the 1950′s, everything is more primitive. Television has three stations and is only available in black and white. Cars are huge behemoths. The clothes are strange. No one knows what a Pepsi Free is, and a Walkman is so advanced it’s seen as alien technology. The 1980′s, naturally, was a technological wonderland full of DeLorians, video games, and multiple Pepsi products.

We all dressed like this, if I remember correctly.

A remake would completely flip that perspective. Now the 1980′s is the primitive time, and I’d love to see the kind of culture shock a teen of this era would experience back then. (Yes, this was explored a bit in Hot Tub Time Machine, but as we all know, a DeLorian is way more awesome than a hot tub.) Suddenly there’s no such thing as DVR or TiVo. Video games are purely 8 bit affairs. Cassette tapes are the hot new music item. MTV only plays music videos. Phones don't have the internet, and the one person who can actually go online is Matthew Broderick.

Elijah Wood and his funky hat can't believe it.

What teens of the 80′s think of an iPhone or iPod? What if you told them you could carry all your music in your pocket? Not just an album, your entire collection? What if you told them that in a few years the Berlin Wall would come down, and the guy from Knight Rider was going to sing on top of it? Oh, and the USSR would be no more? How would they react to the idea of a black President?

It would be interesting, to say the least, to look back on the 30 years since that movie came out. How much has changed? How much is still the same? And where are we now compared to where we thought we’d be? This remake would be a chance to compare the real 2015 to the fictional one imagined in Back to the Future Part II. I can imagine a scene with an 80′s character, asking about the world of the 21st century, wondering if we have floating skateboards and flying cars.

Of course we should have flying cars. What could possibly go wrong?

Back to the Future was a love letter to the 1950′s and full of nostalgia for a simpler time. A remake would be pure, unapologetic 80′s nostalgia, and this presents an interesting question: what did we think we’d be nostalgic for and what will we actually miss? It’s hard to predict nostalgia in the present because you need time to miss it first. Only when you have some distance, say 30 years, will you have a more accurate bead on what associate with the 1980′s.

This is totally how I remember the 80's

The sequel tried to predict our 80′s nostalgia. In Back to the Future Part II, Marty goes into an 80′s themed restaurant. As the movie came out in 1989, they had no idea what parts of 80′s culture would be revered and what parts we’d quickly disavow. It wouldn't be until The Wedding Singer that we started getting proper 80's nostalgia.

Thirty years later, we can see that Back to the Future II got a few things right. Retro video games are insanely popular, and you can often find a retro arcade cabinet in an arcade. (Though it’s usually Ms. Pacman over Wild Gunmen.) People still break out their 80's fashions when they want to be retro, and there is a big collectors market for 80's memorabilia. (Thanks to ebay.) However, no one’s clamoring for the return of Max Headroom, nor anything remotely related to him, and fewer people know who the Ayatollah is.

Reagan/Khomeini 2016!

The 30 year gap is just part of the reason I’d love to see a remake. Another is the actual plot, because Doc Brown building a plutonium powered time machine would be very different today. In 1985, Doc got the plutonium by working with Libyan terrorists. Imagine trying the same thing in a post 9/11 world. Would Doc still have connections to terrorists? Would Marty have to spring him from Gitmo?

Thanks to the Patriot Act this movie is five minutes long.

Then there’s Marty meeting his mother. This time she’d be an 80′s teenager, and she’d be very different from a 1950′s teen. What kind of 80′s teen hijinks would Lorraine be getting into? How far would she want to go with him compared to her 1950′s counterpart?

It's like this, only with crimped hair, jelly bracelets, and a jean jacket.

Of course, Marty will still have to get his parents together, this time at a big high school dance at the 80′s. One of the most classic movie scenes of all time is when Marty rocks out to Johnny B. Goode, concluding his performance with the kind of chaos that he tells the audience “your kids will love.” What would he play this time in the 80′s? Guns & Roses? Lady Gaga?

This is called 'American Idiot.'

In the end, while this is a remake, that thirty year gap would mean it’s an entirely different movie and one worth watching. Right now there are no plans to remake it, but if there’s a chance, I want to see this happen. If they start this year, it can be out by 2015. Since Hollywood is so out of ideas, they are welcome to steal this one.

Either that, or they’ll just remake Hot Tub Time Machine. (Oh, wait.)

1 comment:

  1. I think it would be cooler to see a continuation of the story. I'd use Marty and the Doc, but it would be another teen (not a son/daughter). Maybe Doc builds another time machine (he's done it twice already - DeLorean & Train), and visits Marty. The teen ends up using the time machine... I like the idea of going back to the 80's, but I don't care for a remake.