If you’re going to tell the story of Back To The Future, one of the finest movies of all time, then any filmmaker surely knows that it’s been well covered many times before. So Jason Aron, with his crowdfunded endeavour Back In Time, opted to do the logical thing: to contact the people involved in the film, and to get them to tell the story. Thus, he doesn’t dig up anything particularly new, but it’s sometimes in the telling of the story, rather than the familiarity of it. As such, what immediately lifts Back In Time in its early stages is that pretty much all the key players are on camera, talking about the film. Furthermore, they’re willing to explore in certain cases one or two of the rough edges of the movie. So, you get co-writer and director Bob Zemeckis declaring “it’s not a perfect film”, even suggesting that there are one or two moments of the original film that aren’t in focus. He does argue, not unreasonably, that it’s a perfect screenplay that should be studied, but then Bob Gale – co-writer and producer, and the man behind the original idea – addresses how Doc Brown would be seen as a sinister character in a movie today. The point regularly comes through that Back To The Future was a product of its time, in the best sense. Steven Spielberg, Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson – they’re all on camera with new interviews too. There’s some good behind the scenes material, too. Huey Lewis, for instance, addressing a concert and telling them he’s “in the movie business” now. And, of course, the dissection of Eric Stoltz’s brief few weeks as Marty McFly. Stoltz is missing from the talking heads – as, unsurprisingly, is Crispin Glover – but Michael J Fox talks through the story of inheriting the role.
The stories aren’t new, but it’s fun to hear who’s telling them.
That said, not much time is spent, for instance, on the sequels – just the last 20 minutes or so – but you do get Robert Zemeckis discussing how difficult shooting the hoverboard sequences were, for instance. It’s a shame that the groundbreaking follow-ups aren’t given more shrift, however, especially given the parts of the documentary that aren’t quite as effective. For as Back In Time progresses, the film gets handed over more and more to the fans, and this, somewhat inevitably, is less interesting. It’s still fun, but there’s a sense that Aron could have really beefed this up if he’d just had more time with his subjects. A parallel is Caseen Gaines’ diverting book We Don’t Need Roads: The Making Of The Back To The Future Trilogy, where the author there freely admits he got a 30 minute Skype call with Zemeckis, but no more than that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Aron’s affectionate film was working within similar constraints. To Aron’s credit, he does dig out some archive material that’s not often seen. Barry Norman reporting from the premiere of the first film, for instance, and pieces of on set-photography. Yet the 94 minute movie does wobble when we’re hearing stories of the man who owns the DeLorean from Back To The Future Part III, or the couple brought together by the films. Mind you, then you get Community’s Dan Harmon throwing in some excellent anecdotes from a fan’s perspective, not least Zemeckis’ reaction one time when he was told Back To The Future had got someone’s parents together. It’s a nice piece of work, this, although I couldn’t say Back In Time is 100% essential viewing. But it’s a warm companion. Half of the film is like reading a good book on the movies, the other half is sitting in the pub chatting with other fans. It’s not a clean break, either, but you do get your money’s worth. Fittingly, the film ends on all concerned ruling out Back To The Future Part IV – even showing a picture of the T-shirts that Zemeckis and co wore to cement the fact. But I wonder if Aron may be tempted to go back in detail and look at the sequels next, which are covered way too quickly. There are, I suspect, many untold stories to be uncovered there, not least disproving Dan Harmon’s cheerful comment that “everybody knows 2 and 3 suck.” You’re wrong, Dan. You know that.
You can buy or rent Back In Time here.