Product & Book Reviews

Movies Your Nerd Will Love: The Timeless Back to the Future (and its Evil Sequel)

Now that they’re getting to be an age where they can handle a little more action and complex themes, I’m starting to introduce my Nerds to some of my favorite science fiction movies. In a previous Raising Nerd post, I mentioned passing along my love of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Science Channel’s How It’s Made. Similarly, I’m always looking for opportunities to pass on my favorite movies and the things I love about them that make them classics: great stories and characters, special effects magic, and cool gadgetry.

I’m not getting too crazy, of course. I haven’t shared Alien or The Thing, or even Revenge of the Nerds just yet (we’ll get there though). But I’m starting to test the waters with some iconic, visionary flicks – movies that jolted my curious mind and made me dream and gasp and laugh…and crave more.

So, to that end, last week RocketteGirl, Lightning McQueen and I watched Back to the Future. In the 2015 documentary Back in Time, commemorating the film’s 30-year anniversary, Steven Spielberg called it “inarguably, the greatest time travel movie ever put on film.”

I agree.

But, more importantly, so do my kids. They loved it so much – the humor, the visual effects, the music, the thought that their dad might have been young once…and a dork – that even before young George McFly clocked Biff outside the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance, my girls were asking, “when will they make the next movie, daddy?” You can imagine their thrill when I said, “The next one? They already made TWO more.”

Two days later, we retreated from 90-degree heat in the DC area to take in Back to the Future Part II (BTTF II), a movie I probably hadn’t watched since its release in 1989. I remembered it being a little edgier and, as is often the case with sequels, not nearly as good as the first film. But I figured, sure, it may be darker, but it’s got a lot of the original movie’s footage woven throughout. In other words, even if I wouldn’t dig it as much as my kids would, I thought it was safe for their consumption.

Oof.

I cringed through most of it. Some of that was because of the higher level of violence and gunplay than I recalled, as well as an uptick in the use of foul language (not that my kids haven’t heard some of those words before). But these weren’t the biggest problems I had with the movie.

While the original Back to the Future story, characters, and mostly-practical effects hold up so well today, BTTF II felt extremely dated, not to mention disjointed. In addition to some questionable acting performances (including some changed actors and no Huey Lewis!), overt product placement, and distracting makeup effects, here are two major reasons why I think BTTF II fails while the original continues to shine:

  1. The sequel spent most of its energy trying to knit together endless plot threads, timelines, and scene fragments from two movies. Sometimes this was seamless but, mostly, it was a confusing mess, especially for my younger viewers. Both my kids, at one point or other, got up from the couch to go do something else while the movie rolled noisily on like a runaway dump truck on fire. With some urging, they both came back to enjoy the ending.
  2. More reliance on green-screen and CGI, or computer-generated, effects – a technology that was just starting to mature in the late-80s when BTTF II was shot. Even at eight and six years old, my girls noticed right away that the primitive CGI “looked so fake.”

Despite all its story flaws and technical weaknesses, I still believe there are some very good reasons to let your Nerds watch BTTF II, or at least as much as you and they can stomach:

  1. The amazing accuracy of some of its predictions for tech that would exist by October 2015, like flat-screen TVs, “Google” Glasses, and Nike’s self-lacing shoes. Also the movie’s other hilarious technology swings-and-misses, like ubiquitous flying cars and the Cubs winning the World Series (I know that last example isn’t technology-related, but I couldn’t resist!). These predictions are a great opportunity to discuss with your Nerds what kinds of gadgets they’d like to invent or ask what innovations might exist 30 years from now.
  2. Like with the excellent original, there’s even more opportunity to discuss the possibility of time travel and what might happen if one interfered with events of the future or past.
  3. Thomas F. Wilson plays young, old, and future Biff to perfection.
  4. Your Nerds have to watch BTTF II as a bridge to the trilogy’s marginally-better final chapter Back to the Future III!

11 more time travel movies your Nerds will love:

  • The Final Countdown (1980 – PG)
  • Time Bandits (1981 – PG)
  • Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989 – PG)
  • Flight of the Navigator (1986 – PG)
  • Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (2009 – PG-13)
  • Meet the Robinsons (2007 – G)
  • Men In Black III (2012 – PG-13)
  • Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014 – PG)
  • Interstellar (2014 – PG-13)
  • Project Almanac (2015 – PG-13)
  • Primer (2004 – PG-13)

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