Friday, October 14, 2005

Back to Courthouse Square

Weekend Assignment #81: Share one of your favorite science fiction movies. Note that this doesn't have to be the "best" science fiction film ever, or the most popular, or the most significant; it doesn't even have to be a good science fiction film. It just should be a science fiction film you enjoy watching over and over again -- the kind that always sucks you into the couch whenever it's on TV.

Extra Credit: Who is the coolest science fiction character ever? Note that this character doesn't have to be in the film you've selected as your favorite -- consider the entire genre.

On display at Universal, circa 1986-1987Whenever I think about what my favorite movies are, Back to the Future is the first one that comes to mind.  I'm not sure it's my absolute favorite film of any kind, but it's got to be right up there. 

Why?  Well, for one thing, it's a time travel movie, and I'm a sucker for time travel stories.  The time travel aspect is well-thought out, and a lot of fun, while still allowing room for speculation on how it all works.  Someone once wrote an entire article for Starlog about the "second" Marty McFly, the one who grew up near Lone Pine Mall instead of Twin Pines Mall.

Second, it's got backstory, further developed in the second and third movies.  I love a rich, detailed story, the sort of thing that usually develops only in a series of books, movies, or tv shows. The first movie is perfectly constructed, with every line of dialogue paid off in some way later on.  Everything fits together, everything makes  sense in context, and everything leads into everything else. I love the parallels from film to film, such as Marty being awakened by Lorraine (or her ancestor), and his having the same basic reaction every time.  The only plot elements that don't have a "through line" from the first movie to the last are Marty's "chicken" bugaboo and Doc's interest in the Old West.  These omissions from the first film are a big part of why the second and third movies aren't quite as satisfying as the original.  The "chicken" bit and the Old West seem tacked on as afterthoughts, which of course they were.  I'm  sure that if Bob and Bob (writer-director Zemecki and writer Gale) had known that there would be sequels, they would have found a way to lay in these plot elements from the beginning.

And of course, it's a comedy, and it has a happy ending.  By and large, I don't like depressing films.  I like life-affirming stories, with likeable characters trying to do the right thing.  Doc Brown and Marty McFly fit that paradigm perfectly.  It takes him three movies to fully recover his initial optimism, but Doc Brown ends up with a philosophy that really works for me: "Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one!"

Oh, and by the way...did I not say just two nights ago that I'd been to Hill Valley?  Well, here's your proof!  I took these pictures myself, in different decades!

the Courthouse,1955 version, circa 1988.

The Hill Valley courthouse in Courthouse Square, 1955 version.  I shot this photo in 1987 - or did I?

the courthouse, 2015 version, circa 1989

The Hill Valley courthouse in Courthouse Square, 2015 version.  I actually took this photo in 1990 or so.  Notice the lack of water on the mall, and the missing clock, not to mention the absent gargoyles.  Apparently, Universal finally had need of the courthouse for different purposes than keeping the Back to the Future Part II configuration for the tourists, and was starting to dismantle the 2015 elements.  It was supposed to look like this, as seen in a screen capture from the DVD:

2015 version on DVD, from BTTF Pt II.

And here's the 1955 version again, as seen in the first film:

1955 version on DVD, from BTTF.

More recently, it's often been without the clock tower entirely, let alone the clock:

Non-BTTF configuration.

This was in the early 1990s, I think,but it may have been late 1980s.  Too bad I've never gotten in the habit or organizing and labeling my photos!

Unfortunately, I can't find the photos from our best BTTF photo shoot ever.  In 1989, John and I were at Universal Studios, one of half a dozen visits we've made together.  I've been there just as often without him, mostly during the run of Quantum Leap on tv (1989-2003).  But John and I were there together on the 1989 trip. Back to the Future, Part II had already come out in the theatres, but the 2015 dress for the storefronts and theatre of Courthouse Square were still mostly there. 

There was filming on the lot that day, so the trams of the Universal Studios Tour got backed up, waiting for the cameras to stop rolling.  Our tram happened to get stopped for about ten minutes in Courthouse Square, in full view of the futuristic storefronts.  John shot about a roll of film in those ten minutes.  Darn, I wish I could find those photos!

Dimitra in the special effects show, August 1990The rest of these photos are from before and after that day.  The earliest ones, including the DeLorean with the logo and the video displays, are from 1986 or 1987.  Most of the others are from August, 1990, the trip during which Tracy, Teresa, Dimitra and I first met Scott Bakula.  That's Dimitra getting out of the DeLorean in the Universal Studio Tour's Special Effects show.  The same show is also the source of the DeLorean model shot, and the Courthouse FX shot.  And the picture of the hoverboards and other props probably dates from 1992 or 1993, when Back to the Future...The Ride was finally up and running in California, having premiered in Florida first.  I love that ride!  The pre-ride has a number of nifty little ancillary films featuring Doc Brown, and of course Christopher Lloyd and Thomas F. Wilson star in the ride itself.  Some of this stuff used to be available online as Quicktime films, but not all of them.  I think I still have them on my Mac--the ones that were available, that is.  I wish I could get good copies of all the ride films!  Trust me, it wouldn't diminish my appreciation for the ride itself.  It's my favorite non-Disney park attraction in the world.

more Delorean FX, 1990.

Props on display, early 1990s.

My second favorite sf film, if it counts as sf rather than fantasy, is probably Pleasantville (1998).  It has many of the same strong points as BTTF - good, likeable characters trying to do the right thing, humor, an intricate exploration of the nature of reality, and a basically positive ending.  Maybe I'll write about it some other time, but I'm tired now, and this entry has too many photos as it is! 

Honorable mentions go out to two early, silent sf films. 
A Trip to the Moon  (Le Voyage dans la lune), directed by Georges Méliès, goes all the way back to 1902.  It's imaginative and funny, one of the first films to feature special effects, and probably the very first sf movie.  Am I right on that last part, John Scalzi?  (He says yes.) Incidentally, someone really needs to write up this movie properly for IMDB.  The listing for the English version is sadly bare, except for a reference to the rock group Queen, and the date doesn't match the one for the French title.  I've tried to send the basic corrections; we'll see if they go through.  My other honorable mention is for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari) from 1920.  I saw this in college, and was extremely impressed with its surreal, Deco-inspired sets, all odd angles and disturbing images.

Extra Credit:  I've gotta go with Doc Brown on this one, until or unless there's a Quantum Leap movie.  Christopher Lloyd has had a very interesting career, from Reverend Jim on Taxi to the Klingon who indirectly killed Kirk's son, from Uncle Martin the Martian to dead Uncle Fred to weird Uncle Fester, from a baseball-loving angel named Al to evil John Bigboote from Planet 10, from Judge Thatcher to Judge Doom. I've enjoyed his work in almost all of those roles. But his best character is Dr. Emmett L. Brown, a man brilliant enough to invent a time machine, but foolish enough to think he can get away with giving the Libyans "used pinball machine parts" instead of plutonium, and to take Marty's modern-day expressions a bit too literally:

Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the earth's gravitational pull? - Dr. Emmett L. Brown



ondinemonet said...

ROFLAMO! OMG...we have so much in common, I went with Doc Brown too! LOL. Great entry.

Always, Carly :)

deabvt said...

Boy, Karen!  This was the perfect question for you!

ryanagi said...

Excellent choice! John and I both have a real soft spot for anything "time travel" related.

monponsett said...

I threw up on my husband on the BTTF ride at Florida. "Back to the hotel!"

cinisoul said...

Back to the future was a fun movie. It was funny how Marty had to get his parents together.

slacbacmac said...

Agreement thru the Jay=Page^> Christopher Lloyd has snuck into my
entire video=tape (?!) collection. He plays a mean Klingon in Search
For Spock. WE should all "start thinking 4th dimensionally". lata

globetrotter2u said...

I rarely watch TV, I think I'm just too ADD to sit still very long, but I happened to walk into the family room on Sunday where my hubby had the TV blaring and I walked into the middle of Pleasantville. It was about at the part where the husband was angry at the wife because she didn't fix his dinner or lunch the right way. Anyway, I watched it through to the end, and finally sort of figured things out about the black and white/turned color stuff. But I was really sorry I hadn't seen the beginning to find out how the hero got to Pleasantville in the first place.
I remember taking the family to see BTF when we were on vacation in Florida. It was a fabulous movie and the only kind of Sci-Fi stuff that I can actually watch. The rest are too scary for me.
Great pictures, Karen! No wonder it's hard to keep them all organized!