This about sums it up.
Google “Back to the Future Day” and start scrolling if you think I’m exaggerating with the headline. Everyone’s in on the festivities — corporations, political candidates, thinkpiece mills, everyone. Nothing and no one in the news right now is safe from a tie-in. To wit:
There’s a very specific analog between Biff Tannen, the bully and bad guy in almost every timeline in Back to the Future Part II, and a certain political figure who is rather popular in the United States right now. He’s been handed the keys to fortune, he’s unrepentantly used that fortune exclusively for himself, and he’s even become a public advocate for plastic surgery for women in his family…
Bob Gale—writer of Back to the Future Part II and man who helped predict the IMAX theater and the self-checkout line—in these past few months, were you thinking what we’re all thinking?
“We thought about it when we made the movie! Are you kidding?” he says. “You watch Part II again and there’s a scene where Marty confronts Biff in his office and there’s a huge portrait of Biff on the wall behind Biff, and there’s one moment where Biff kind of stands up and he takes exactly the same pose as the portrait? Yeah.”
Of course, in the movie, Biff uses the profits from his 27-story casino (the Trump Plaza Hotel, completed in 1984, is 37 floors, by the way) to help shake up the Republican Party, before eventually assuming political power himself, helping transform Hill Valley, California, into a lawless, dystopian wasteland, where hooliganism reigns, dissent is quashed, and wherein Biff encourages every citizen to call him “America’s greatest living folk hero.”
That’s cute, but unlike Biff, Trump can’t predict the future. If he could, he would have dumped his inheritance into an index fund and become much richer than he is now. But I digress. What explains the strange cultural attachment on display today to the idea of the future in “Back to the Future II,” which, er, isn’t a good movie? The original is a masterpiece, one of the best comedy-fantasies Hollywood ever produced. The sequel is a rehash of most of the best gimmicks from the first one and operates, as I remember it now years later, mainly as an extended trailer for “Back to the Future III.” (Which was terrible. My only memory of it is that it was set in the old west and involved a train.) I remember walking out of the theater after watching II and feeling ripped off, as though I’d just paid to see a long promo for another film. In fact, I suspect one of the reasons “Back to the Future Day” has caught on is because the futuristic stuff — the hoverboard, the auto-laces on Marty’s sneakers — is the only part of it that stayed with the audience over the years. Most people who’ve seen the first one can tell you the entire plot from memory, but all that really remains of II for many, I suspect, is Marty’s initial future shock and dim recollections of Biff turning the world into his own version of Pottersville. Meh. It’s more useful as a larkish prediction of what life might be like in 2015 than as entertainment.
Which brings us back to Foster’s point. Why fetishize the date of “the future” in BTTF II more so than any other mediocre time-travel movie? Maybe it’s just a matter of the audience for the BTTF movies having been so much larger than for other time-travel pictures. It’s a reference point that all sectors of American culture can access at a moment when people are consumed with how far technology has come (or hasn’t come) from the expectations of their youth and where it’s going. Or maybe it’s a pure nostalgia trip (gulp) where everyone gets to reminisce about a sweet film — the original, not the sequels — from a more innocent time that was set in what’s widely remembered, rightly or not, as an even more innocent time. That’s why the sequels never managed the emotional pull of the first movie; BTTF was the story of a kid who didn’t fully grasp the humanity of his parents until he got to relate to them as kids. Nostalgia for BTTF is nostalgia on top of nostalgia. “Back to the Future Day” is in that sense really about pining for the past.
Or maybe the Internet’s just silly and looking for pop-culture detritus to fill the time. Speaking of which, enjoy this clever “honest trailer” for the trilogy. It’s better than either of the two sequels. But not the original, of course.