Back to the Future Part II

When Back to the Future became an instant phenomenon, with a joke ending that implied a sequel, you know a sequel was guaranteed at some point. Director Robert Zemeckis said that no sequel was planned, and he and co-writer and long-time collaborator Bob Gale had no intention of making a sequel. But when Universal Pictures told them that there would be a sequel, with or without their involvement, they agreed so long as both Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly) and Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) returned. They also regretted the sequel baiting ending, as it forced them to stick to the future for at least the start of the movie, and that Jennifer (Marty’s girlfriend) would also be involved, instead of going for an entirely new adventure.

Because Zemeckis was working on Who Framed Roger Rabbit at the time, Gale wrote the majority of the first draft on his own. Right away, two significant cast changes needed to be made. First, Crispin Glover demanded a lot more money for the sequel. Considering Glover didn’t get along with Zemeckis on set, I’m sure it was about more than just the money. It soon became clear that he wouldn’t return, which affected the movie’s story going forward. Second, Claudia Wells (Jennifer) left acting in 1986 when her mother got cancer, so she stayed at home to take care of her. She would eventually return to acting in 2011, but she also started a clothing store in 1990, which she’s still managing today. She also voiced Jennifer in Back to the Future: The Game. That’s the Telltale Games sequel in which Fox and Lloyd also returned for, as well as Tom Wilson (Biff Tannen) in the 2015 re-release.

Thus, they replaced Glover with Jeffery Weissman as George McFly, and Wells with Elisabeth Shue for Jennifer. They also greatly reduced George’s role in the movie. The original plan was for some of the movie to take place in 1967, where George was a college professor and Lorraine (Marty’s mother) was a flower child protesting the war. Partly because of George’s recasting, they instead decided to go back to 1955 and toss in time paradoxes as an additional plot point.

They found the 2015 portion of the movie to be the most challenging. Production designer Rick Carter wanted to create a very detailed future, vastly different from Blade Runner. They spent months planning what 2015 would look like, both visually and story wise. Visual Effects art director John Bell said they were not given a script for their design, and were only told it would take place 30 years in the future, and would feature “something called hoverboards”.

Speaking of the future, Gale went full-blown comedy in his approach. They wanted the future to be a relatively nice place to live so that the people caused most of the problems in society, not the technology. That’s vastly different from the more pessimistic view often seen in science fiction at the time. To take full advantage of Fox’s extended break in his schedule, due to Family Ties ending, they shot Part II and Part III back to back.

Unlike the rushed production behind the first Back to the Future, they had two years to build all the sets and work on the script before they started filming. Of course, with a much more ambitious sequel, they also needed those two years. The makeup they used to age the characters was groundbreaking for the time, but Fox also described the process of time consuming. “It took over four hours, although it could be worse,” describing being transformed into his older self. Zemeckis apparently often only slept a few hours a day. He frequently flew back and forth between the sets of II and III, often on the same day, as he supervised both films. On that note, Part II was filmed in Burbank. Part III mostly filmed in other parts of California.

Back to the Future Part II also features what was groundbreaking visual effects at the time, involving Industrial Light & Magic. It was among the legendary visual effects company’s first forays into digital composition. They used a VistaGlide motion control camera system, which they needed for the film’s most complex scenes. These scenes involved Fox portraying three different characters on-screen at the same time – Marty Sr., Marty Jr., and Marlene (Marty’s future daughter), all of which interacted with each other. These types of scenes weren’t entirely new, but with the VistaGlide, they were able to shoot a completely dynamic scene with a moving camera during these moments. They used this technology any time a character interacted with their past or future self.

As for George’s replacement, most of the George footage used came from Glover’s performance in the first movie, while for any new footage, Weissman wore prosthetics that made him look more like Glover. This resulted in a lawsuit between Glover and Universal Studios, which settled out of court. It also brought forth new clauses in the Screen Actors Guild, preventing using an actor’s likeness without their consent. This seems all the more important these days with deepfake technology becoming both more realistic and more readily available.

Because they replaced Jennifer’s actress as well, they needed to completely reshoot the first movie’s ending. The result is a scene that’s almost identical in terms of length and tone, although the lighting is a bit different, and Lloyd adds a humorous pause after Marty asks what’s wrong with him and Jennifer in the future.

Overall, Back to the Future Part II didn’t do nearly as well as the first, both critically and commercially. Don’t get me wrong, it was still successful in both aspects. It still earned $332 million worldwide on a budget of $40 million. It’s still the 3rd highest grossing movie of 1989, behind only Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Batman. It received a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 6.2/10, unlike the first movie’s massive critical praise.

Roger Ebert gave the movie 3 out of 4, criticizing its lack of the “genuine power of the original”, but he still very much enjoyed the comedy and the hoverboard scenes. Empire Magazine’s review called the movie well-directed and “solidly entertaining”, although they called it the weakest of the three movies. The Chicago Reader gave the movie a negative review, complaining about the movie being formulaic. In 2018, Gale attributed the movie’s negative reception to the darker aspects of the story. He said the audiences “were absolutely surprised by it. The whole 1985A stuff … we went places the audience was not ready to go. That is some of my favourite stuff in the whole trilogy.”

Despite the more mixed reception, the movie won several awards, including both the Saturn Award and FAFTA Award for Best Visual Effects. It also received an Oscar nomination for the same respective category.

As for the movie itself, as a kid it was my favourite of the three. These days, I consider it to be the weakest, but still a great movie overall. The biggest problem is that it takes Biff, a delinquent in the first movie, and turns him into a straight up villain. The nightmare version of 1985, while entertaining and a good exploration of the dangers of time travel, takes things way too far. I’m pretty sure that if a city fell that far, with the high school burned down, rampant crime, and a complete change in government structure, there would be some sort of government intervention. That and, most of the good people would just leave.

The future portion of the movie is the most fascinating. Zemeckis said that it was by no means a serious attempt at predicting the future, and he even described it as his least favourite part of the movie’s production. That said, as much as it’s a comedy that includes flying cars, it got a surprising amount of stuff right. Culturally, it shows an overreliance on nostalgia in the entertainment business, even if it joked with “Jaws 19”, when the series officially stopped with 4 (there is an unofficial Jaws 5 to be fair). It shows flying drones used to help gathering video footage, wide-screen flat panel TVs, tablet PCs, smart home technology, video chat, animated billboards, and wearable technology. It even shows scanning payment methods, even if people generally use cards instead of fingerprints.

That’s not counting the intentional attempts to re-create the technology in the movie.

Perhaps most impressively, they were only one year off with the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. The movie takes place in 2015. The Cubs snapped their 108-year championship drought in 2016; the longest Championship drought in professional sports history. Coincidentally, in 2015, the Cubs were knocked out of the playoffs on October 21, the same day that the Back to the Future Part II future sequence takes place. As a joke, the Back to the Future’s official Twitter joked that Marty and Doc’s time travelling caused “a rift in the space-time continuum” that led to the 1994 strike, which cancelled the 1994 world series, thus delaying the prediction by one year. Also, the actual winners of the 2015 World Series, the Kansas City Royals, previously hadn’t won since 1985 … the “present year” in the Back to the Future series.

But the most accurate prediction the movie made, and this was kind of a given, is that people are just as capable of being scum in 2015 as they were in the 80s, and the 50s. But that’s just human nature, there doesn’t seem to be any changing that.

As for the trip back to 1955, that’s probably my personal favourite part of this movie. It shows the first movie in a different light, seeing some in-between moments that we never saw in the first movie. While it does show Biff as more of a monster than a delinquent like in the first movie, in the case of Marty returning to fix his mistake that caused the nightmare 1985, you can understand Biff’s rage. Apart from that, the way that Part II’s Marty interacts with the first movie’s events, and how he must avoid being seen by his past self or his parents, makes for a sequence that is both entertaining and intense. There’s even a moment where Doc Brown encounters his younger self in a moment that’s simultaneously tense, heartwarming and funny.

The final action scene, involving Biff chasing Marty, the car and the hoverboard, is arguably the best individual action scene in the trilogy. It’s got a near perfect miss of sneaking around, tense music, equally tense acting, a couple great stunts, and a finale reminiscent of a famous moment from the first movie that doesn’t feel formulaic. Of course, it has the train sequence in Part III to contend with. That’s also arguably the best.

Something I forgot to mention in last week’s review. The soundtrack for the full trilogy is composed by Alan Silvestri. It’s a brilliant soundtrack, capturing the optimistic adventure tone of the story. The main theme is very memorable. Some of his other movies include Predator, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Abyss, Forrest Gump, and The Mummy Returns. Most noteworthy, he composed the soundtrack for 4 different MCU movies – Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, and both of the Infinity Saga Avengers movies. There’s plenty more under his belt, but that’s a fairly impressive career right there, and some of those soundtracks are very memorable.

It’s also worth mentioning the acting a bit. Fox and Lloyd are just as entertaining as in the first movie. While Biff is taken a bit too far in this movie, Wilson performs his role quite convincingly. You believe that his rage completely took over after the second Marty returns to 1955 to ruin his newfound hope for the future. In the nightmare 1985, he’s so much of a psychopath it’s almost frightening, yet entertaining at the same time. Although this sort of acting doesn’t work all that well for this movie, it works wonders for his character in Part III. Then there’s Lea Thomas as Lorraine. She put in a well varied performance the first time round, and not only does she show all of that versatility here, but she also shows a feistier side on several occasions, along with complete depression during the nightmare 1985. Fox, Lloyd and Wilson are the true stars of the show, but Thompson’s performance in this movie is every bit as good.

A lot more could be said about Back to the Future Part II, with both the behind the scenes tales and the movie itself. It’s best left to be experienced though, whether you’ve never seen it, or you want to watch it again after having not seen it for years. Although it feels like they intentionally turned Biff into a monster just to give this movie a straight antagonist, and took it too far, he is a worthy adversary for Marty throughout the ages. The future portion of the movie is fascinating, just to see what they got right, and where they were way off. It’s not as funny as the first movie, and there’s virtually no drama (which was a major part of the first movie’s success), but it’s still a good movie in its own right. As such, this is still an easy recommendation in case you somehow haven’t seen it yet.

Next week, I’ll wrap up the trilogy with Back to the Future Part III. Part of the reason I decided to look at this trilogy in February is because III takes place in the Wild West, and I happened to do a Western theme month last month. I like linking these theme months together whenever I can. I’m planning on an essay style post after that. I’d like explore some of the ways I believe the Star Wars sequel trilogy could have been improved on, while sticking with the same general story. After that, March will be my second annual Bad Movie Month, followed by looking at four very significant Box Office Bombs in April.


About healed1337

I am a relatively new comic book fan writing this blog for other new comic book fans and/or people who are interested in comics but don't know where to start. I've always been interested in writing, to the point where I have a college Creative Writing Certificate and I'm currently a year 2 Journalism student. I also have another blog where I mostly make fun of bad movies - As for how I got into comics, I've always had a passing interest in superheroes: most notably Batman, Spider-man and the X-Men. Until February of 2011 (I think,) my only experience with any of these franchises came from the movies and video games. Shortly after I bought Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 however, I decided to check out X-23, Wolverine's female clone. I ended up reading her Innocence Lost origin story and enjoyed it. From there, I started reading various X-Men comics and it quickly exploded into my newest hobby. My other interests/hobbies include video games, movies, music, playing sports, my dogs and weird news.
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3 Responses to Back to the Future Part II

  1. Paul Bowler says:

    Love looking back at the Back to the Future films like this. It’s a great trilogy. The second film is indeed probably the weakest, but it’s still a really fun and exciting adventure. Its depiction of the future setting is especially good. While it may be a bit too complex in places, Part 2 paves the way nicely for the conclusion of the trilogy. Will look forward to hearing you views on that next time.


    • healed1337 says:

      It kind of feels like they were forced to make Back to the Future 2, so they used it as a bridge to make the sequel they actually wanted. If that’s the case, what they came up with for Part 2 is still very good. It’s just not the masterpiece that the first movie is, or the well-rounded finale Part 3 became.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s always so frustrating and even saddening to know that originally the director had no plans to make sequels but the company decided to intrude and speak in dollar signs and force everyone’s hands into making a sequel… While I’m happy now that it ended up being a trilogy, a fun one, I probably would’ve been very happy if the first was a stand-alone too. Looking forward to your article on the next one too.


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