Several months ago, Julie Luu approached me about the possibility of presenting her first film at movie night – and she was highly specific about what she wanted to do: Show Back To The Future Part II on October 21, 2015 (the date to which Doc and Marty went forward in the film). It seemed like a great and original idea, and I happily shuffled around the movie night schedule (moved to Wednesday, didn’t try to avoid overlap with SFN) to show it.
Then, about a week before “BTTF2 Day” the mania hit social media so hard that everybody and their mother was showing the movie on the day of. It was in theaters! So naturally, I kind of lost my enthusiasm for it at least a little bit. I mean, we did it, but despite the fact that Julie was really clever and ahead of the curve to suggest it, so many people caught up that it made me sad. Oh, well.
As often happens, without a short from our presenter I came through with an MST3K short – in this case Design For Dreaming, because the creepy lady dreams of going into the future. Here it is:
But of course the draw was Robert Zemeckis’ second foray into the McFly universe. All things considered, I’m really torn about this movie. For one, it’s clearly not as good of a film as the first one (naturally) and that’s a strike against it that will never go away. For another, it’s so very derivative of the first film that each of the first two times I watched it (once around the time of its release in 1989 or soon thereafter, once a few months ago after we showed the original at the Cinema BBQ event) I was supremely disappointed in just how blatantly Zemeckis tried to not just imitate but duplicate the first film – I won’t pull too many punches regarding that in my review. But this time…knowing that the copycatting was inevitable and just trying to be a bit zen about that – it’s an entertaining movie. Perfect? Not at all. But it was more or less fun, as long as you can drop the hypercritical side of things. So what happened?
Well, just like the first film predicted, we start out with Marty’s kids going wrong in the future, and Marty, Doc, and Jennifer jumping forward in time (mere hours after Marty returned from 1955) to 2015. For some reason, Zemeckis did not want to give Elisabeth Shue a large speaking in this film, so he basically knocked her out (twice) so that Marty and Doc could do everything themselves.
The basic plan here is to have Marty (who looks amazingly similar to his son Marty Jr.) stand in for the doofus kid and refuse to participate in a theft organized by Griff Tannen (who, again, looks remarkably like his grandfather Biff) – a theft that starts the McFly family’s future demise. This happens in a Tannen/McFly confrontation in a diner (that’s not familiar) and ends up with…well, just look:
Yeah, Marty steals a kid’s scooter and turns it into a
skateboard hoverboard resulting in Biff Griff and his gang crashing in a chase. Of course, in this case Griff actually gets arrested for the crash (the manure redux will come later, in 1955) and the photo newspaper changes to indicate to Doc and Marty that the future future has been changed.
But it can’t be that simple. Marty is given the clever idea to buy a sports almanac that details results from the past for betting purposes. Doc is 100% against this idea and tosses away the almanac, but sneakster Grandpa Biff overhears the whole thing, and uses an opportunity to steal the time machine DeLorean and give the Almanac to Biff in 1955.
We take a small side trip to the 2015 McFly household to retrieve Jennifer, who has been returned “home” by police who found her unconscious (I told you they knocked her out of the film) using her fingerprint to ID her. The only real purpose to this scene is to set up the decline of the McFly Empire (sure, we’ve already prevented the Fall, but still…) based on Marty’s inability to back down from being called “chicken” – a new motif that will carry into the third film. Marty will eventually need to better himself in 1985 in order to make the future in 2015 hunky-dory, but that won’t come tonight. Finally, we head back to 1985…
…to a big surprise. Biff Tannen is now one of the richest men in the world (allegedly modeled after Donald Trump, which I find curious as I didn’t realize he was a thing in 1989) as a result of his betting on sports events. Not only is the new 1985 a world of eternal nightfall and dirty neon (think Blade Runner), we find that worse than that Biff has (secretly) murdered George McFly and (not at all secretly) married Lorraine. Marty is naturally distressed about this, and learning about the cause he and Doc resolve to go back to 1955, where Grandpa Biff gave Little Biff the fateful Almanac.
Both Marty and Doc seem shocked by the coincidence that Grandpa Biff decided to go back to exactly the day of the Enchantment Under The Sea dance to do it. I mean, wasn’t the damn date saved in the LED panel of the DeLorean? Anyway, at this point Marty has to steal the Almanac back from Biff while avoiding running into himself as we recapitulate the final act of Back To The Future. Like, the whole thing.
Finally, with the Almanac goal accomplished and Biff dumped into a second truck of manure, Doc in the now-flying DeLorean rescues Marty with a long strand of…I don’t know what it’s called, you know, that string of little triangular colored plastic flags like you’d see decorating a cheesy 1970s car dealership?…one of those things, despite the fact that it could not possibly hold Marty’s weight even if he had landed the lead role in The Machinist. At any rate, this device forces Doc to set Marty down before landing to pick him up, and this gives the famous lightning storm a chance to strike the DeLorean with just Doc in it, sending it back to the late 1800s. (Let’s ignore the fact that the car was definitely not going 88 miles per hour at the time.)
So Zemeckis sets up the final sequel (we hope…we hope…Robert, did you learn ANYTHING by watching Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull???) with Doc sending Marty a telegram from the distant past. Not that he sent it through time, it just had to sit around in the Western Union office for 70 years. Not Really The End.
I’d like to point out that BTTF2 and BTTF3 are clearly one single story. We have a convenient cliffhanger in the middle, and we have an intermediate accomplishment that allows us to complete the three-act structure within the bounds of BTTF2, but it was obviously a single story that desperately underused Elisabeth Shue, unless her only acting ability at the time was “passed out”. And the three-act structure may have never stood out more blatantly than in this film, where the future (cause the conflict), alternate present (discover and resolve to solve the conflict), and past (solve the conflict) neatly split it out.
Also, for as irritating that it is that the entire third act duplicates the third act of BTTF, it’s actually really cleverly (and well) done. It’s hard to tell what is old footage with Marty2 greenscreened in, what is B-reel footage from the original, and what is reshot with the same actors. I’m sure that all three techniques were used, but it’s basically seamless, and for 1989, that’s impressive.