In his piece on Back to the Future trilogy, Tim Carmody focuses not on the 2015 future of the movies (hoverboards, self-drying jackets, Mr. Fusion) but on what the movies can tell us about technology in the 1980s. This riff on Back to the Future's cassette tape method of time travel is quite clever:
I sometimes call this "the cassette era," and sure enough, cassettes are everywhere. Marty has a Walkman, a camcorder, and an audition tape for his band; the Pinheads have recorded a demo even though they've never played in front of an audience.
As a material support for a medium, the cassette has certain advantages and disadvantages. It's more portable and sturdy than reels or records, and it requires less user interaction or expertise. It requires very fine interactions of miniaturized technology, both mechanical and electronic, in the form of transistors, reading heads, and so forth. Magnetic tape can actually record information as digital or analog, so it's curiously agnostic in that respect.
Cassettes can also be easily rewound or fast forward. It's easy to synchronize and dub the contents of one cassette onto another. And users can easily erase or rerecord information over the same tape.
This has clear implications for how we think - and especially, how our predecessors thirty years ago thought-about time travel. It is no accident that many important time travel films, including the Terminator franchise, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, and yes, the Back to the Future movies, appear at this time. In all three cases, time travel is accomplished with a technological mechanism that allows its users precise control of where they arrive in the timestream. (In earlier time travel stories, travellers slide down a river or awake from a dream, but in the 1980s, the H.G. Wells/Doctor Who conception of time travel through a technological device pretty definitively wins out.) And in all three cases, the goal of time travel is to save and/or rewrite events within a specific person's lifetime, without which a future timeline will cease to exist.
This summer in London, Secret Cinema will build a replica of the fictional Hill Valley town seen in Back to the Future:
Fabien Riggall, founder of Secret Cinema which has presented more than 40 immersive cinema screening events, said: "We shall play heavily on the innocent dream-like world of 1955 and the nostalgic pre-mobile phone world of 1985. We want the audiences to forget their current world and take an adventure."
The recreation will include a DeLorean "time machine" to shuttle audience members between 1985 and 1955 sections of the town, and an "Enchantment Under the Sea" afterparty. Tickets cost £53.50, or about $90 US.
It's fascinating to watch the Back to the Future movies now not for their nostalgic depiction of the 1950s or jokey guesses at life in 2015, all hoverboards and flying cars, but as a vital document of the 1980s. After all, next year, we'll be as far removed from 1985 as the filmmakers were from 1955. The first film especially fixes that time's preoccupations and possibilities in amber.
Theory: Robert Zemeckis intentionally made Back to the Future not as a contemporary film set in the present but as a period piece set in 1985.
Back To The Future is both undeniably timeless (its place in pop culture is beyond question) and incredibly dated (it's very much a product of its time). Interestingly, it's a period piece made in 1985 that depicts 1985 as an era as distant-seeming as its version of 1955. Of course, when Back To The Future was first released, 1985 just looked like "now." It's entirely possible that director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale referenced Ronald Reagan and Eddie Van Halen and dressed Fox's Marty McFly up in a denim jacket and Calvin Klein underwear because they wanted Back To The Future to exist in the same universe as The Breakfast Club, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, and other teen films from 1985. But I'm going to give them way more credit than they probably deserve. I think Zemeckis and Gale knew all the timely accoutrements signifying "the present" in Back To The Future would inevitably look like 1985 within just a couple of years; in fact, they were banking on it. Zemeckis and Gale were trying to create an archetypical representation of 1985 just like they did for 1955, with its soda fountains, social repression, and subjugated black people. In this way, Back To The Future only gets better the further we get from the '80s. Everything that defines Marty McFly-how he walks, talks, acts, and dresses-acts as instantly recognizable shorthand for the year he comes from.
If Back to the Future were made today, Marty would have travelled back in time to 1980. See also timeline twins.