Friday, September 6, 2013

Going Back To My Future?: The Conundrum Behind Depicting Future Events Within One's Own Lifetime

Ever had a moment when you're in the mood to watch something in particular - kind of like a craving for your favorite candy - only it's for your eyes? Maybe it's the Flux Capacitor in me, or the decade of my birth summoning me, but I needed some Back to the Future action!

This trilogy is one of those high concept stories that came out of nowhere and became an instant classic worldwide and helped fuel my imagination at an impressionably young age. The reason I have a few strains of white hair already may be due to the fact that I tried to reenact the famous "weather experiment" with a remote controlled truck. Trust me on this, guys - it doesn't work. Don't ever try it.

The first film stands great on its own. Though it starts in 1985, the concept is ... timeless! Moving on to Part II, it's not really my favorite of the three, but it does prove how chaotic time traveling can be when used for personal reasons. The biggest problem, however, is the fact that they travel to the year 2015. That seemed really far away as a five-year-old. But now, it's less than two years away!

Folks at their respective research and development jobs have a lot of R&D to do if we hope to have portable fusion generators, flying cars, hoverboards, and pizza hydrators by then. Tick tock, tick tock!

Watching this trilogy again, at my age, helped chill some stresses and made me feel like a boy again. At the same time, my picking-stories- apart side came out in full force and spotted more holes than Biff's logic. The second movie wasn't necessary, if you think about it ...

"Hey, Marty! Make sure your future son doesn't do this and don't give in to people who call you 'chicken'. See you in the future!"

Holes aside, it's a great story and it's by far my favorite Christopher Lloyd movie. But then I got to thinking (dangerous pastime, I know): what effect does a story like this have with audiences in the long run? Because it dated itself by presenting an inaccurate future, is it less valid than it once was? Depends on what you're going for.

The advantage of stories that depict a near future (Back to the Future, Terminator, Blade Runner, among others) is that it speaks to the audience now, and there are enough familiar things going on that the ideas seem plausible and may be something to look forward to.

The disadvantage is when kids watch it, and when they become adults later on, you run the risk of, "I thought this was cool as a kid?"

This is only my opinion. I have no problem with a story that goes back in time or takes us to the distant future, but if its the near future, it better find a way to win over my suspension of disbelief. For time traveling, it's trickier, but there's always the default explanation that everything in the story now takes place in an alternate reality.

Then you have stories like Avatar, Ender's Game, and The Hunger Games that either don't provide an exact date (which means the story will always take place in the future for the foreseeable future) or, if there is a date, it's so far down the line that everyone who is alive now will be long since dead before we get there. Shut up and take my suspension of disbelief, at that point - and my money!

This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. If we're dead- set on taking audiences to the near future, nothing's stopping us, but it may serve us and our stories well by doing a little research in what technologies are being developed today, when do we expect to have access to such technologies, and how will they effect everything from world governments, global markets, and little Jimmy on his way to his first day of school. This may make our stories ... timeless!

Thanks for stopping by! I'll be seeing you in the future!

What do you think about stories that date themselves with near futures that don't turn out the way they were depicted?

I'm David, and "I was at the very first Salt Lake Comic Con!"

Recap (with photos) on Monday!


  1. I think the timeless ones work better. (And thanks for reminding us that 2015 is just two years away.) Because we'll eventually get to that point and realize it wasn't anything like we were shown.
    The second Back to the Future was definitely not my favorite. Too dark.

  2. It's a conundrum, because with a near future story, I think it might resonate more with the audience now. This could happen to me in my own home and very soon. The tension rises because the audience can totally see themselves in that situation...but of course it loses the timeless factor and won't have that effect for long. It's a talent to achieve that immediacy without dating it.

  3. I dropped the ball on getting the ticket to the Salt Lake Comic Con. I heard that they all sold out in short order, so I never tried to get one beyond that notice. I guess I'll have to try again next year.

    As far as Back to the Future's success goes, I think it's one of the first movies that realized hiring a super good-looking teenage male role for the lead would drive sales. Michael J. Fox was a pinup for teen girls and I remember the girls in my high school just lusting after him, having pics of him in their locker, etc.

    So I don't know if it was ever so much the story as it was just a decent plot that showed Michael in Calvin Klein underwear and looking extremely cute and vulnerable.

  4. I've always loved Michael J. Fox and that was probably what drove me to watch all three movies. I know everyone loves them, but I never quite connected.

  5. It's always funny to watch those old Twilight Zone episodes that take place in the "future" of 1974 or something like that. Then it's always like, why aren't we flying around in rocket ships and stuff? Dang it. But "Family Guy" did a good parody of that when Brian and Stewie go into the future and Brian says, "What gives, everything looks the same?" And Stewie says, "What'd you expect, it's only been 30 years." That's more or less how it is. I mean sure now we have all that iStuff but basic things like cars and airplanes and such are not extremely different from back in the 80s. Really if I traveled i time from 1985 would it really be that different since kids are playing with Transformers and watching Superman movies?

  6. My first thought is if you're worried about what people will think of your book 30 years from now, you're in good shape. I'd be a lot more worried about what would happen the first few years after it was released.

    My second thought is that the book 1984 did a great job at this. The events in the book didn't happen but they still seem like they could have happened had things gone a different way.

  7. Most movies and books set in the near future don't last long enough to date themselves. Still, if you do want something that's timeless I think leaving it a little vague is good. (I realized they couldn't do that in BTTF II because they were playing within a certain person's lifespan)

  8. Congrats on going to Comic-Con and I think a well thought out story/movie trumps how 'right' the movie is about the future. I just want to enjoy the movie and maybe even be mystified.

  9. I love those movies too! And while it is definitely cheesy and laughable to think--this is what they thought 2015 would be like?--it's still fun to watch and imagine the future in different ways. I think that's what makes futuristic stories so enjoyable, the unknown! Great post!

  10. Yeah Time travel always runs the risk, although They have said flying cars would be here since what the year 2000 in older movies, lol. People and their flying cars.

    For me, my craving is often Gremlins, both movies. I love to watch them.

  11. The future is catching up lol
    I love these movies regardless of how different they are from reality. I think researching technologies and such is a great idea, but personally, I like it better when there are no dates and always have that option of "being in the future."

    Enjoy your weekend ;)

  12. I only saw Back to the Future last year, because my boyfriend made me watch it with him after finding out that my mum had never allowed it because "it's stupid." I thought the first movie was hilarious, and we ended up trying to watch the second one on two occasions, but never quite got through it. I think that setting something in the near future can be risky in terms of getting it all wrong and then the people of that time just shaking their heads when they look back on it, so I'd be more inclined to set things like that either in the very distant future, in an alternative universe, or without setting a date.

    Great post David :)

  13. You know, I honestly never gave these movies that much thought. I don't think I'm very deep. I just watched them then and now and enjoyed the story. I loved the Back To The Future movies! And Christopher Lloyd is great (as is Michael J Fox)

  14. It would seem that leaving the dates out leaves things open. It's funny to watch things like The Time Machine by HG Wells or something by Jules Verne, and realize we are the future they'd envisioned.

  15. I totally wish I was at Comic Con, but alas --- I am not. :(
    And I love Back to the Future movies! Granted, they aren't as cool as I once thought they were, but they're still cool. I'm all about the futuristic stuff, although, you're right - it does pose some problems. Still, I kind of get a kick out of letting my imagination run wild with possibilities!

  16. I've never really thought too much about it. I guess suspension of belief (and thought) comes natural to me ;)

  17. I've been thinking about this a fair bit this summer with Khan being used in Star Trek (his backstory is that he came to power during the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s...)

    It doesn't bother me too much, even when a date is mentioned, it's only meant to represent 'the near future' and in BttF's case, the ages of Future Marty and family would date it anyway.

    Ultimately the quality of the story is all that's important, and if the story's engaging, I can look past any understandable factual errors!

  18. Hey David, I remember when Back to the Future came out in '85. I was in my twenties then, and it was a huge hit. At the time it was the title that people thought was really unique, and didn't make sense. I really love this movie still, and I'm not a fan of science fiction or fantasy. As far as the film not being 'accurate' about it's prediction of the future, it's only a movie, I wouldn't over think it too much.
    Of course we don't have pizza re-hydrators or hover-boards, or time travelling DeLoreans. I never thought that these things were meant to depict actual things we might have in the future, they're only things that added to the movie and its 'futureness'. Just like the flying cars and houses on poles in the sky on the Jetsons.
    I still like the BTTF movies, and Christopher Lloyd is one of my favourite actors! He's so funny.

  19. I'm going to throw this out there, if 1984 still stands as a classic, then near future stories have a shot. I think it may just depend on the story itself. :)