Back to the Future II

A look back at a rare sequel that equaled its predecessor, or dare I say surpassed?
August 24, 2009
"Time" for the second installation of my Retro-Junk treatment of Back to the Future!

Personally, #2 is my favorite in a close race for best of the series. The absolute coolest part about this movie is it's convoluted story. BTTF 2 expands on the concept of the original by putting Marty and Doc in the position of having to correct a contamination of the past caused by their own attempt to manipulate the course of the future. I mentioned in the last article that the time traveling extravaganza which was BTTF 1 ignited a lifelong love of science fiction for me. So I guess if #1 was the spark, #2 was the fuel. #2 did many things #1 did, but either added to or twisted them in ways which made it a more than worthy sequel.

By the time it was released in November 1989, I had recently turned 9 yrs old. Multiple political crises in Europe and Asia signaled the demise of totalitarian socialism. The cause and effect of history was in the air, and into my lap drops this gem.

As I recall, I had ten dollars of birthday money, and my mom suggested that I "treat" my dad to a movie I wanted to see (that's right, $5 movies). Unlike #1, I remember watching #2 for the first time clearly... and on the big screen to boot! It was amazing. My dad and I talked about it all the way home in the van. I think he was as excited by it as I. The discussion was basically me being confused and him explaining a time continuum and the relativity of Doc and Marty's perspective.

See, BTTF 1 was easy to get: Marty goes back, interrupts his parents' meeting and compromises his own existence. Okay, gotcha. But this time, I just couldn't understand. How did the weird scary 1985 happen, and why did they have to go back to 1955 to fix the bad 1985? And how did this bad 1985 happen when they started out in 2015 anyway? There was just so much going on, I think it lost me early on. But I loved it anyway, and was determined to get it. Luckily, just as we were hitting the off ramp toward town coming back from the movie, it finally all dawned on me and the glory that is BTTF 2 was suddenly clear. Forever more, time travel wasn't just kinda neat, it was AWESOME. Thanks Dad :-)

Last time, we left Marty at his Hill Valley home in the new 1985, and it is here that BTTF 2 begins. It's safe to say, things are good for the McFly's. The family is fit, successful, and happy; and there's a brand new Toyota 4x4 waiting for Marty in the garage. As he contemplates taking it "for a spin", his girlfriend Jennifer walks up. Wait a second! That's not Jennifer, at least not the Jennifer we knew from last time!

Yes, it's fairly common knowledge that the original Jennifer actress wasn't available for this movie so they hired Elizabeth Shue. Personally, I didn't notice until someone else pointed it out years later. They did a really good job re-shooting the scene. But it's still super interesting to look at them next to one another.

There are several little things to notice. First and most glaringly, Jennifer's hair is way different than her #1 counterpary. And Michael J. Fox is significantly more mature looking in #2. Second, Marty has a watch on in #2 and not in #1! Lastly, there are different blinds and no stickers in the window in #2. Otherwise, except for the lighting too, the scenes are very similar, and when viewed separately, almost unnoticeably similar.

This sign is awesome. In BTTF 1's 1955, Marty passes a downtown Hill Valley sign with all the symbols of the local civic organizations around it. Here we see the same thing, only in the air of course. Notice Goldie Wilson Jr. is the mayor. More on that in a minute. Also notice at the bottom, "Ejection Seats Save Lives". Nice. ILM did such an amazing job on these movies. You can even make out what looks like the famous clock tower down in the middle of Hill Valley.

Before any of the events that set BTTF 2 and 3 into action begin to occur, one problem must be resolved. Doc is old in BTTF 1. Even in 1955, he was already old; and if we say Doc was only 40 in 1955, he was then a very sprightly 75 in 1985. This presents a problem as BTTF 3 has Doc meeting Clara Clayton and raising children. So, the writers added in this scene where Doc removes a thick layer of skin, revealing a younger healthier self underneath, having gone through a "rejuvenation clinic" and "adding a good 30 or 40 years" to his life. Hm! How convenient!

So, Doc has brought Marty to 2015 after finding out Marty and Jennifer's kids get sent to jail due a series of bad judgments. To demonstrate, and to set up another classic BTTF changing newspaper because events are altered gag, Doc shows Marty a USA Today covering the local events of Hill Valley. I won't go over each of the headlines, but suffice to say, they are hilarious... Man killed by falling litter, President says she's tired, Thumb bandits strike...

Silly screenwriters in the 80s, they thought giant laser discs were the next big thing. It seems they're disposable laser discs even!

Marty explores Hill Valley of 2015...

Here's Goldie Wilson III, presumably son of Mayor Goldie Wilson Jr., son of Mayor Goldie Wilson Sr., elected in 1985 because Marty in 1955 planted the idea in his head at Lou's diner the day George McFly didn't get hit by a car. Brilliant. Right after this, we see that hover conversions cost only $39,999.95. What a deal!

Texaco is yet another real life brand popping up in the Hill Valleys of 1955, 1985, and 2015. "You can trust your car to the system with the star."

Next, Marty stumbles upon an "antique" shop where we see quite a few fun things. Roger Rabbit is presumably a nod to Director Robert Zemeckis. The Jaws game there in the front is made by the same company that produced the BTTF 2 and 3 NES games for Nintendo. See if you can figure out what the other things are.

Later inside, we find out that quaint books from the past had dust jackets... you know, before dust repellent paper. This sets up the later confusion over the exact location of the lost almanac, whose silly dust jacket is used by young Biff in 1955 to hide his girly magazine.

The almanac Marty gets from this antique store serves as this movie's "McGuffin", the thing which drives the main plotline of many movies. I've noticed its something the Spielberg, Lucas, Zemeckis gang often talks about in interviews. I think they say it originated with Hitchcock.

Inside the Cafe 80's, Marty, dressed up like his son, continues a running theme in BTTF 1 and 2 and utters the perfect line for a commercial and product tie-in, "Hey! All I want is a Pepsi." Interestingly, the person to the left of Ronald Reagan in this scene is Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution and guy the Reagan administration got caught selling arms to in order to pay for a clandestine war in Nicaragua in 1986. And now they're arguing over dinner selections! How funny... I think.

Also inside the Cafe 80's, we're treated to Elijah Wood's first on screen appearance as he and his friend struggle with the Wild Gunman arcade game. His hat looks like something from my childhood kitchen, only green aluminum.

After setting the future right once again in another spectacular feat of skateboarding, this time on a Mattel Hoverboard, Doc and Marty head back to 1985 for some well deserved relaxation. But when they realize the 1985 to which they return is a horrible dystopian version of their own, they must figure out what happened and how to fix it! Oh no!

When Marty strangely has to climb into what should be his home's window, he wakes up a sleeping young girl and finds himself in a heap of trouble. Notice the Michael Jackson poster. Apparently, Jackson was a huge fan of the movies and didn't mind the references. He pops up throughout #2 and #3 in some form or another... songs, posters, dances...

In the scene where Doc explains the alternate 1985, he holds up a paper highlighting the terrible circumstances of the time... he gets committed! Even worse, Nixon is elected to a fifth term! Ahhhhh!

Outside powerful Biff's compund, Marty watches a "documentary" on Biff's history and life. They show a picture of his ancestor, Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen from the old west, looking very different than he ended up looking in BTTF 3.

Biff's goons knock Marty out and he wakes up in the tackiest apartment ever. This really isn't that interesting for any story reasons or anything; I just love how cheesy this whole place is... leopard prints and velvet UV posters, good stuff. Tom Wilson does a phenomenal acting job in these scenes, as he does in all the movies.

Meanwhile, Jennifer has awoken after being put under by Doc. She finds herself inside her future home with her future family. These scenes are priceless as they have Michael J. Fox in drag playing his future daughter.

While hiding in the closet, Jennifer also witness her future son selecting a bunch of channels on their huge television, one of which features a commercial for "The Super Inflatable Tit".

Btw, that flat panel TV looks pretty accurate. The resolution sucks though. Futuristic movies always have to deal with that problem... the future will have many more screens that do amazing things... but the resolution is going to be just as bad as it is today?!

That's Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers!

After Doc informs Marty that it was Biff who went back and gave himself the almanac to get rich, Marty confronts him and asks about it. Narrowly escaping the wrath of his alternate self's stepfather, Marty informs Doc that they have to return to 1955 in order to retrieve the almanac from young Biff. As they prepare to go back, notice that the "time circuits" blink and short out for a second, flashing and foreshadowing the time into which Doc will be accidentally thrown... 1885.

I mentioned the above picture in my first article. Doc on the bike from #2 ends up looking a lot like that extra riding in the background from #1, and they both end up riding behind 1955 Doc working on the clock tower weather experiment at the exact same point in time during both movies. Coincidence? I'm just sayin...

I won't ruin the climactic scenes of the movie, there's really no interesting tidbits there anway. But after the triumphant victory, you know Biff has to hit some poo. It just wouldn't be BTTF without horse poo. Notice the name on the truck, D. Jones. That's the same company whose truck he hits in BTTF 1, and the name of the owner of the poo wagon into which Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen will fall in 1885.

After Doc is hit by lightning, ending up in 1885, that funny guy who taunted Happy Gilmore with "You Suck!.... Jack Ass", delivers a note from 1885 Doc to Marty, informing him that he is safe and happy. So, all there is left to do is to get the DeLorean out from the abandoned mine in which Doc left it so he can get himself back to 1985.... right?!....Right?!

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