Back to the Future II’s 2015 Predictions Were Surprisingly Good – Vanity Fair
In designing the future, the team was able to flex their creative muscles. Itâ€™s true that â€œnot Blade Runnerâ€ can only be carried so far as an edict, but Bob Galeâ€™s screenplay provided valuable clues as to how the Bobs, [Gale and director Robert Zemeckis], wanted the twenty-first century to appear on-screen. Technology would be more ubiquitous, but in a helpfully efficient way, not an oppressive one. Instead of trying to predict where technology was headed in the real world and forecast those guesses on-screen, Gale went for humor, expanding upon some of the gags from the first film, like Marty inventing the first skateboard, and including some in-jokes to mock 1980s popular culture, like theÂ seemingly endless JawsÂ sequels and even the momentous appeal of Zemeckisâ€™s own Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
However, even without trying, the filmmakers did make some accurate prognoses. For example, the residents of Hill Valley have thumb-pads that enable them to make quick payments, as Old Biff does after exiting the taxicab. In fact, thumbprint technology is completely integrated into Zemeckis and Galeâ€™s future, with its uses including, but not limited to, the ability to unlock doors, just as it has become a popular means of punching in at workplace time clocks and unlocking telephones in recent years. â€œThe big crime was going to be peopleâ€™s fingers being cut off,â€ the director told his team before filming. â€œPeople will cut off fingers, and theyâ€™ll run the tissue to the bank, the A.T.M., and get your money out.â€ Much has been made of the filmâ€™s prophetic inclusion of videoconferencing, multi-channel television viewing, and flat screens. In Hill Valleyâ€™s future, cosmetic surgery has become easy and commonplace. Doc Brownâ€™s face is made more youthful by visiting a â€œrejuvenation clinic,â€ and careful observers will notice the presence of Bottoms Up, a breast-enhancement company, which advertises on the McFly television and can be seen in the background of some future scenes. There is instantaneous written correspondence, although the film inaccurately thought there would be an expansion of fax technology, which, of course, was superseded in the real world by e-mail and text messaging. In both the fictional and real 2015, televised advertising is virtually omniscient, like Goldie Wilson IIIâ€™s hover conversion commercial that broadcasts over the square, and personally targeted ads are indeed part of everyday life nowâ€”just not often in the form of a large digital shark projecting from movie-theater marquees.
Perhaps the best, and most underrated, example of one of Galeâ€™s jokes turning into a reality can be found in the first draft of the the sequel script. Marty inadvertently stumbles upon a Huey Lewis and the News concert, but realizes in short time that the band isnâ€™t actually there. Instead, itâ€™s a realistic hologram on a theater stage, eternally preserving his idols in their best physical condition. In the real world, holographic concert technology has been on display at least since 2012, with deceased music artists like Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur â€œperformingâ€ in front of audiences of thousands.
Animator John Bell, who proved to be an invaluable addition to the creative team, designed many of the ancillary aspects of the future set. Even in its earliest version, specific elements, like flying cars, were written into the 2015 portion of the film. Years before Gale submitted his first draft to Universal, during that â€œunofficial pre-productionâ€ period, Amblin and ILM took baby steps toward pushing the sequel toward the green light, which included coming up with elements of Hill Valleyâ€™s future landscape. â€œI was less than a year into my employment at ILM at the time,â€ Bell says. â€œI had just finished working on Star Trek IV and was in between projects. Back then, there were just two other people in the art department with myself. One of the producers at ILM, Patty Blau, came into the art department, knowing there wasnâ€™t a lot going on, and told me about the project. At that point, all we knew was that Bob was going 30 years into the future and there was something called a â€˜hoverboard.â€™ They asked me to just come up with some ideas.â€
Over the course of the next six weeks, Bell completed dozens of detailed images: a vibrant town square, the interior of Docâ€™s laboratory, and the Hill Valley courthouse with large glass windowpanes above the clock and a monorail nearby. The artwork was sent to the director, who left them to languish in storage as filming began on Roger Rabbit in December 1986. Bell started working on Ron Howardâ€™s 1988 film, Willow, without giving Future too much of a second thought, until a phone call came from Rick Carter that August. â€œThe film has been green-lighted and weâ€™re getting ready to start,â€ he said. â€œWe have a script now. Can you come down to Los Angeles and come up with some designs for some specific vehicles and moments?â€ Bellâ€™s planned three-week journey to L.A. ended up lasting months.
Bell and costume designer Joanna Johnston collaborated on concepts for some of the futuristic costumes, particularly the look of Biff â€™s grandson, Griff, and his gang. Harkening back yet again to the original film, the antagonistic Tannens were given a band of bullies to parade around with in every time period. The costumes for the gang of 2015 would have to appear not only intimidating and distinctive, but congruous with the palette created by the art department. This was an assignment that required a lot of attention, with work beginning almost as soon as both the animator and costume designer were hired. â€œDesigning for the future was easy. You just use certain fabrics and leathers and bits and accessorize. They were pretty much all monochromatic, just with a few highlights,â€ Johnston says. â€œFor the girl, she was in the same vein, but I kept her quite girlie. She was really pretty, kind of androgynous. She was edgyâ€”sexy and tough all at the same time.
â€œThe strongest thing about Bob is that he has no fear about where to go,â€ she continues. â€œThatâ€™s why he gathers like-minded people around him. Although I was quite apprehensive about the job, because I was so new to the game, I knew I could just spin off into crazy places and heâ€™d be happy with all of that, whereas a lot of directors would want to rope you in.â€
Zemeckisâ€™s vision of the future, and the need for increased functionality of technology, also extended to the clothing. Not only did he want the designs to be original, but also practical. One of his ideas was that, in the future, clothing stores would no longer carry multiple sizes of the same item. If people outgrew a particular size, why should they have to throw out their old garments? Instead, all clothing would be one-size-fits-all and adjustable to a personâ€™s body. The result was Martyâ€™s retractable jacket and self-lacing Nike Mag sneakers. Johnston made the jacket out of rubber because of another Zemeckis idea: â€œMake it so that you wouldnâ€™t have to take it to the dry cleanerâ€™s or laundromat. You could just hose it down.â€
When Johnston was hired, Frank Marshall told her that a component of her job would involve working with Nike on product placement for the film. The executive producer grew close with Pamela McConnell at the footwear company back when Michael J. Fox was hired for the first movie. Deborah Lynn Scott outfitted him in wardrobe and brought him out to show Zemeckis, his producers, and the Amblin Trio [Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall], but she had neglected to put him in Marty-specific shoes. The actor wore a pair of white low-top Nike Bruins with a red swoosh to the costume fitting, and Zemeckis instructed the actor to just wear what he came in with. They were perfect. The next day, Scott called Marshall, frantic. She had tried to go out that morning and buy 10 pairs to use for filming, but none of the local shops were still carrying the sneaker. The shoes Fox had worn had been discontinued. Marshall called some friends who worked for Nike, who directed him to McConnell. He explained the situation and she was happy to assist. It might be because product placement wasnâ€™t as prevalent in the mid-1980s, but Nike didnâ€™t charge Universal a dime. They sent 10 pairs of sneakers, and a beautiful relationship between the producers and the company was started, which maintains its strength to this day.
Initially, Joanna Johnston couldnâ€™t care less about the attractiveness of this partnership. The costumer felt she was in no place to really put her foot down, but she was less than enthusiastic about being forced to work with a brand. Product placement, she felt, was hokey, and furthermore, she could not understand the American obsession with sneakers. In her first few weeks here, Johnston was overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of sneaker culture in the United States. On the set, Zemeckis would wear sneakers daily, and to her surprise, even Mr. Steven Spielberg himself wore his casual kicks when he visited the back lot. She was used to working with English directors who would put on a jacket and loafers when coming to set, not adults who showed up to work wearing the same clothes as teenagers at the local mall. She thought the whole thing not only distinctly American, but Californian, and in the worst way. Her opinion changed once Zemeckis hit her with another conceptual idea. He told her that sneakers werenâ€™t going to go out of style and, in fact,Â would become more feminine in time so they could be better marketed to women, even foreseeing a trend of high-heeled sneakers in the future. Inspiration was sparkedâ€”she didnâ€™t have to work within the confines of existing designs. Perhaps there were creative things the sneaker company could bring to the table. She held a meeting with Nike and, together, they came up with the self-lacing shoes, among other futuristic footwear.
With some of the costume designs in place, John Bell continuedÂ working on the incidental background elements of the futuristic Hill Valley. While he wanted to push the look of the film decades ahead of the present day, the illustrator was cautious not to move too far beyond the familiar. He implemented a â€œ15:85 rule,â€ a ratio of unrecognizable to recognizable elements used in the design process. For example, consider Bellâ€™s concept for a Federal Express mailbox. In his original sketch, it appears much like a standard U.S. Postal Service receptacle one might find on any street corner in America, but there is a red digital monitor attached where a person could input their address and other shipping information. Someone looking at the sketch can easily identify the object and its purpose, but there are elements that make it appear a little foreign.