Today My Sexy Fiancé Veronica ™ and I went to see BACK TO THE FUTURE at the Ohio Theatre as part of the CAPA summer movie series today. Last night we saw the 1968 PLANET OF THE APES last night. Any chance to see some classics on a 35mm film print at 2,000+ seat theatre never can be bad. Now on the 40th anniversary of PLANET OF THE APE was bit more of a farce as it has aged poorly, especially in the acting department. The script was still solid, as the social commentary still resonates today. The matinée of BACK TO THE FUTURE however showed that 23 years later, the movie still had legs.
Now I was already sentimental about the film, as Robert Zemeckis’ real masterpiece always appealed to me, even more so as I became a filmmaker. Now BACK TO THE FUTURE represents one of THE most perfect screenplays and also the art direction/continuity are sheer perfection.
There are so many minute details that appear to be innocuous, but layer the movie so rich in the world they created. Here are the trivial tidbits I have picked up on this movie:
1. Eric Stoltz was originally cast and had even filmed for over 2 weeks before being replaced by Michael J. Fox. I can’t even imagine the tone the film would have had with Stoltz.
2. My single most favorite little detail is that the Mall where the test the DeLorean time machine starts off being called “TWIN PINES MALL”, and even has a giant lit marquee, but after Marty McFly goes back in time to “Old Man Peabody’s farmland…had this crazy idea bout breeding pine trees…” and Marty runs over one of the two pine trees. When he returns to 1985, the mall and marquee call the mall “LONE PINE MALL”.
3. The opening shot gives so many minor clues and character/plot details that seeing it on the big screen in 35mm make them all the more visible.
A few other things about the film and specifically the screenplay that stand out for excellence:
The original intent was for the big action scene of sending Marty back to the future with the clock tower was originally going to be an atomic bomb test site. Lack of budget caused them to re-write it for the Universal studio city square set (now burned down). That sequence is one of the most well edited/directed action set pieces ever filmed. The old trick of showing the “plan” the characters set up and how several steps go wrong along the way as it actually “happens” was so brilliantly played out that most audiences can’t help but feel the tension and be into the movie at that point. Brilliant.
A film that is essentially about time travelling incest was acceptable to the audience as a comedy because of the masterful direction and editing, controlling the tone.
Virtually everything that occurs in the movie has a purpose that either furthers the plot or the character development. Things like Marty’s desire to play at the homecoming dance, then being able to in 1955, the brief glimpse of newspaper articles referring to Doc Brown’s estate and selling 154 acres to developers, explaining how he had money. Even for a brief shot as Marty McFly awaits the alarm to go off to start his car, the sign for the Motel is impeccably made as period and relating to the fictional world.
Since I recently watched RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and FIRST BLOOD, I can’t help but say I wish they hadn’t sequelized a lot of these movies. When I was young, I wanted to see further adventures of the characters I enjoyed seeing. Now, I think they bastardized and devalued the amazing vision and uniqueness of the originals. With BACK TO THE FUTURE, I really didn’t find either sequel that appealing. PART II relied far too much on the moments of the first film for emotion. With PART III, it was the 3rd or 4th time of seeing the exact same storyline with a different setting. Ugh! By then it’s really really boring.
As for PLANET OF THE APES (1968), My Sexy Fiancé Veronica ™ found it to be very comical. It didn’t hold up well at all, even with the 35mm film print. The Gaudi inspired set designs amazed me, but I did have to point out that there was one way as a filmmaker that I had to point out that they brilliantly accomplished one thing: During Chuck Heston’s big escape from the apes, they got out the exposition of an Ape funeral and their museum. A lot of films I see, they have a flimsy excuse to give exposition, and here it was interwoven so casually and seamlessly into the narrative. Combine that with the amazing contributions of Rod Serling’s, who always had killer cool concepts.
Coming up, I can’t wait to see THE THIRD MAN on a 35mm film print. I’ve only seen it once, but any chance to see a chunky Orson Welles makes me feel better. Tomorrow I’m acting in a piece for Louie Cowan (although I suspect it was more to get use of the studio than for any ability). I am not an actor and I have no real desire to be an actor. 8:00AM on a Sunday will suck.
Just keep making it real kids,
Peter John Ross
Your friend indeed
Hall of Fame