Ricky Church reports on the Back to the Future legacy panel at Fan Expo 2018…
Every now and then in the movie industry, there comes along one film that breaks through the mould to become a seminal and beloved part of pop culture. Jaws, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Star Wars are all examples of such films. One film, though, that accomplished this to a great degree in Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future and its subsequent sequels in the trilogy.
At the Fan Expo convention in Toronto, Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Tom Wilson got together to talk with the fans on their experiences making Back to the Future and its enduring legacy.
One of the most famous aspects of the trilogy, perhaps the most famous one, is how Lloyd’s Doc Brown makes a time machine out of a DeLorean. That car has become one of the most popular cars in movie history and is instantly known for its iconic status. The DeLorean was even a featured part of Ready Player One where the lead character drives it in the film’s opening race and climactic battle. However, despite its cool look and design, the cast was fairly and hilariously frank with just how uncomfortable it is.
“The thing about the DeLorean was there was about 90 of them,” Michael J. Fox said. “They had them cut halfways, lengthways, one has the top missing and every single one of them was uncomfortable. There is no flux capacitor so it was just metal digging into my arm and leg. And then when we’d have me, Einy and Elizabeth Shue it ranked. Well, it was mostly me who made it rank.” Christopher Lloyd echoed Fox’s sentiments about how tight it was, recalling the moments in Back to the Future Part II where Marty, Doc, Jennifer and Einstein are all crammed into the DeLorean. Of all the cast members though, it’s fitting that the person who has the most embittered feelings towards the car is Biff Tannan’s Tom Wilson.
“The DeLorean is not built for a normally sized person like myself,” Wilson had joked. “I’m stealing the DeLorean and look at it. It’s a tiny car. I think it’s a Hot Wheel. So Biff is stealing the DeLorean and he has to do it fast and it takes me about 3 ½ minutes to get into the Delorean, get my legs to origami myself and then to close the door, my head goes above the roofline of the DeLorean so with it closed I’m just in a fetal position.”
Lea Thompson was the only one among the four who never had any direct contact with the car on the films, though she does have one memorable moment with it years later. “I never got to be in the DeLorean until I did Dancing with the Stars. They told me to drive really fast towards a camera and it doesn’t drive well. I was like ‘No, I really don’t think I want to kill you’. That was my only experience driving it and it does not drive well.”
Thompson would later go on to talk about how subversive a role Loraine McFly actually was. “I thought it was the greatest script and the greatest part. I mean, just the idea that I would have the hots for my son. Literally the best thing ever! I have a subversive sense of humour anyway so I thought it was awesome and demented. It was one reason so many people didn’t want to make the movie in the first place because it was so integral in the story and they were like ‘This is disgusting and sick’.”
It’s crazy to think now that there was even a possibility Back to the Future might not have been made. Of course, it had one big name behind it in the producer’s chair who helped the project along: Steven Spielberg. Fox went on to talk about some of the behind the scenes drama and how Spielberg kept the studio heads off Zemeckis’ back. “I remember Bob was very sensitive at the time because he had just come off Cocoon I think and they dumped on the film which hit him really hard. He was trying to re-gather his steam so Steven stepped in to protect the situation, protect the script and protect Bob. He got him through the machinery to the point the studio believed in what he was doing.”
Thompson echoed Fox’s thoughts, though also added Spielberg “didn’t throw his weight around at all. I don’t remember seeing him very often. He knew Bob Zemeckis is a great director and he was so fun to watch as a director. That’s the reason so many of you can watch it 50 times and still see something new. He was always trying to pack every single frame full of exciting details. I remember him saying ‘If someone sees this 5 times maybe they’ll notice this’”.
“Zemeckis was amazing to me,” Lloyd added, “because he could do so many things at once. We’d be on our lunch break and someone would come in with a new fang-dangled way of doing something, a new gadget, and Zemeckis would just eat it up. He knew how to talk to actors simply and to the point and come through for you. He was amazing.”
Speaking on the film’s enduring legacy and why it remains so beloved today, Wilson had an interesting theory for its popularity. “Back to the Future happened, in my opinion, right at the intersection of so many things in culture. It happened at the very beginning of VHS tapes. Of rental. Of cable television. The first movie that you loved and have the ability to watch 600 times. It was very early in that world that we know now. Before Back to the Future, that didn’t exist. You had to wait for it to come on TV and then watch it and then maybe wait a year and see it again, like Wizard of Oz. And then of course just the rise and power of popular culture. It was a perfect storm movie in my opinion.”
Back to the Future struck a chord with both audiences and the cast as they reminisced about the making of the film and its messages. “I always thought it had deep meaning,” Thompson said, “to see your parents when they were young and to see we’re going through the same things and also the idea that if you do the right thing at the right moment, it could change your whole life.”
“So many people tell me about the big events in their life because of this,” said Fox. “People have learnt English watching it over and over again or went on their first dates to this. Musicians have told me, very flatteringly, they picked up a guitar because of the ‘Johnny Be Good’ scene. It’s really powerful to hear that.” There’s no denying Back of the Future remains popular, but its legacy is that of a great film that is loved equally by its cast just as much as its fans.