BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
Twenty-three year old Michael J. Fox had always been the first choice to portray seventeen year-old Marty McFly, but he was unavailable due to scheduling conflicts with his work on the smash hit TV series Family Ties which had been running since 1982. Co-star Meredith Baxter (she played his mother on the show) was pregnant at the time, which meant he had to carry a lot more of the show than usual. The show’s producer, Gary Goldberg, simply could not let him go, so it was decided to cast Eric Stoltz as Marty instead, based on his performance in Mask (1985).
Eric Stoltz & Christopher Lloyd in an early unused shot
Six weeks into the shoot it became apparent to writer/director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale that Stoltz, was not right for the role because he took the comedic role far too seriously. Stoltz agreed and left the project. He was a method actor and, as such, insisted on being addressed as Marty or McFly throughout the shoot. When Chris Lloyd (Doc Brown) was told that Eric was to be replaced, he asked, ‘Who’s Eric?’ When told, he replied, ‘Oh, I really thought his name was Marty’. The only time Stoltz would break from character was in between takes when he was actively flirting with Lea Thompson (she played Lorraine McFly). Incidentally, her character was given the name Lorraine by Sheinberg after his wife, actress Lorraine Gary. Miss Gary is best-known for portraying Chief Brody’s wife, Ellen, in Jaws (1975).
Lea had not been needed on the day Stoltz was fired, so she decided to take a long weekend in Europe where her then boyfriend, actor Dennis Quaid, was shooting another movie. A series of frantic phone calls, to her agent and finally to her, got Lea back on the set in time to re-shoot the scenes she had completed with Stoltz. Thomas F. Wilson (he played Biff), was told there was some ‘bad news’ and he was to report to the producers’ in person. The gentlest of men, (nothing like the bully he plays), Wilson burst into tears, fearing he had been fired. ‘We’ve had to let Eric go’, he was told. He knew Stoltz only as Marty, so did not immediately know who they were talking about. Both Crispin Glover (George McFly) and Stoltz were hot-headed character actors who frequently clashed with director Zemeckis throughout their time on the set.
Thomas F. Wilson as ‘Biff’
Jennifer & Marty – Claudia Wells & Michael J. Fox
By the time Stoltz was let go, Meredith was fully back on Family Ties, and a shooting schedule that allowed Fox to fulfil his commitment to both projects was devised. He would tape the series in the daytime and shoot his scenes in the movie at night, getting by on about five hours of sleep each night. Re-shooting Stoltz’s scenes added $3 million to the budget. Signing the diminutive Fox (he is 5’4” – 1.63m) for the role created another problem, however. Melora Hardin had been cast as Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer, but that was when Stoltz was to play the lead character. She was too tall for Fox so she was replaced by Claudia Wells, an actress similar in height to him. When it came time to shoot Back to the Future II and III, Claudia would herself, on learning that her mother had been diagnosed with cancer, relinquish the role to Elisabeth Shue. As for Chris Lloyd, (who was 6’1” tall), he would be required to hunch over in his close-ups with Fox in order for both actors to appear in the same frame.
Mrs. Sid Sheinberg – Lorraine Gary
Universal Pictures head, Sid Sheinberg, disliked the film’s proposed title and sent a memo to the producers (and to Steven Spielberg), stating that nobody would go to see a movie with the word ‘future’ in its title. He therefore wanted it changed to ‘Spaceman from Pluto’, in order to tie it in with the ‘Marty-as- an- alien’ jokes that popped up in the film. Spielberg diffused the issue by sending a response memo which thanked him for sending a wonderful ‘joke memo’ that everyone got a kick out of. Sheinberg was too proud to admit he had been serious and the issue was never again raised.
Marty McFly, Doc Brown & the DeLorean
Initially, the time-travelling machine was to be a refrigerator but the idea proved too logistically cumbersome and troublesome to move it about so it was agreed to use a car instead. The DeLorean was deliberately selected for its general appearance and especially for its gull-wing doors which would make it more plausible for people of 1955 to presume it was, perhaps, an alien spacecraft. After the film’s release, John DeLorean sent a fan letter to Zemeckis and Gale, thanking them for immortalizing his car. DeLoreans are still built today in Texas using old stock and reproductions. They even feature a flux capacitator (for decoration). Although the movie romanticized the DeLorean DMC-12, it is still regarded as one of the worst cars of all time.
Marty & his parents circa 1955
Back to the Future contains a rather glaring plot-hole that has never really been explained satisfactorily. In fact, the makers of the movie do not even try to do so. When Marty goes back to 1955 he has a profound effect on his mother (Lorraine) who is seventeen years old at that time. Indeed, she gets the hots for him and even kisses him at one point. He is there in town and at the high school for eight whole days, yet twenty-six years later neither she nor his father notice the staggering resemblance of their son Marty to the young man who was instrumental in getting them together back in ’55.
In the fifties it became a fad for a while for young men to stitch their names into their underwear. Marty is wearing his Calvin Klein s from the 1980s, so Lorraine assumes Calvin Klein is his actual name. Interestingly, Disney flatly turned down the entire project because they considered the premise of a mother falling in love with her son (time travel or not) to be too risqué to fly under the Disney banner.
Heavy metal music fans will recognize the famous rock stars Marty mimics during the latter part of his performance at the school dance. He kicks speakers (The Who), completes a full circle guitar strum (Pete Townshend), lays on the floor of the stage and plays his guitar a la Angus Young of AC/DC, hops across the stage with one leg in the air (Chuck Berry style), and emulates the guitar solo style of Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. All things considered, the movie is a whole lot of fun. No wonder it proved to be the highest-grossing film of 1985 and went on to spawn two sequels.