Back to the Future: Its enduring appeal, and why it should never be remade

Posted by ap507 at Oct 20, 2015 10:20 AM |
Dr Claire Jenkins discusses the success of the much-loved franchise and why people still enjoy it today

Think: Leicester does not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Leicester - it expresses the independent views and opinions of the academic who has authored the piece. If you do not agree with the opinions expressed, and you are a doctoral student/academic at the University of Leicester, you may write a counter opinion for Think: Leicester and send to ap507@le.ac.uk

21 October 2015 is famous amongst Back to the Future fans as it is the day to which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels, when he is sent to the future in Back to the Future II. As the date fast-approaches there has been a flurry of media interest in the film trilogy, making it one of the most talked-about series of the moment.

In recent years, following the film’s cinema re-release for its 25th anniversary, Secret Cinema’s highly acclaimed immersive screenings of the first film, and technological developments such as Lexus’ hoverboard inspired by the films, the appeal of Back to the Future seems to be increasing. Perhaps this is because nostalgia for the film and its characters has not been affected by attempts to remake or re-boot the series. Unlike many other popular franchises of the 1980s such as Indiana Jones or Ghostbusters there are no plans to remake or extend the Back to the Future series.

In fact its creators are set against the idea of a remake, with director Robert Zemeckis saying it could not happen until he and the film’s writer, Bob Gale, are dead – and hopefully not even then. In a rather grandiose claim, Zemeckis argued it would be like remaking Citizen Kane asking ‘What folly? What insanity is that?’ (Collins, 2015). But is he wrong to compare Back to the Future to, what is often thought of as, the greatest film of all time?

While Back to the Future does not have the stylistic gravitas of Welles’ masterpiece it is a great film – and one that most certainly should not be tampered with. The enduring appeal of Back to the Future surely lies within its ability to play with nostalgia, and for this reason, viewed thirty years after its release, this is only heightened. Nostalgia is created through the impeccable art direction of the film that creates a heavily mediatised version of both the 1950s and the 1980s. The artifice and saturated colour palette of both the past and present Hill Valley allow both to function as constructed versions of these time periods.

The commodified version of the 1980s that relies on popular symbols of the decade – both commercial and celebrity – never feels realistic and for this reason, as a pastiche of the time it is set, it does not age in the same way that other films of the decade have. It has always seemed like a nostalgic version of the 1980s; one that is not quite real.

Ideologically the film is perhaps more dated, its need to restore the father to a position of patriarchal authority is in keeping with the politics of the Reaganite entertainment. Those series from the 1980s that have been updated often seem out of touch – seen as Indy prevents his son from picking up his trademark hat at the close of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or John McClane and his son finally resolve their differences – once dad has proved his worth in A Good Day to Die Hard – we are reminded of the pervading patriarchy of Hollywood films, that is repeated, overused and barely relevant to modern constructions of gender.

By remaining in the nostalgic Hill Valley setting, the family values undertones of Back to the Future are pleasantly nostalgic rather than cloyingly outdated.

Indeed, although the films are undoubtedly conservative in their politics, there is some hope for Marty’s future as an enlightened young man. The climax of the final film in which the DeLorean is destroyed is both a point of sadness and optimism. With contemporary franchise cinema (particularly as typified by the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) telling stories in longer and more intertextual forms, the level of narrative closure proffered by the Back to the Future trilogy seems refreshing.

We will not see any more adventures, but we remain optimistic that Marty can shape his life freed from the constraints he felt as the series opened. This optimism is again reminiscent of a nostalgic version of the post-war American Dream. Any attempts to remake or extend the franchise undercut both the possibilities of Marty’s future and the closure the narrative provides.

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Think: Leicester does not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Leicester - it expresses the independent views and opinions of the academic who has authored the piece. If you do not agree with the opinions expressed, and you are a doctoral student/academic at the University of Leicester, you may write a counter opinion for Think: Leicester and send to ap507@le.ac.uk