Back to the Future Writer Bob Gale Reflects on the Franchise for Its 35th Anniversary
The Back to the Future trilogy features some of the most beloved films in cinematic history, thanks not only to its charming performances and ambitious subject matter, but also due to its quick-witted dialog and emotional themes, with Bob Gale having crafted the script in collaboration with director Robert Zemeckis. The debut 1985 film was followed by a sequel in 1989, which earned yet another sequel in 1990, with the overall narrative sprawling a story that moved forward and backward over the course of decades. Fans can celebrate the series' accomplishments when Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy lands on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on October 20th.
Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy will include all three movies in collectible discbook packaging plus a bonus disc including all-new bonus content. For the first time, the past, present, and future collide in eye-popping Ultra HD resolution for a time-traveling celebration. New 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray deliver the highest quality picture, more colors than ever before, and immersive, multi-dimensional sound. From filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Bob Gale, this unforgettable 35th-anniversary collection features hours of bonus features and is an unrivaled trilogy that stands the test of time making this a must-own for everyone's movie library.
ComicBook.com recently caught up with Gale to talk developing the series, what excited him about the concept, and what the future does and definitely doesn't hold for the series.
Header photo courtesy of Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images/Universal Pictures
ComicBook.com: We're celebrating the 35th anniversary of the original film and you've talked about the series passionately over the decades, so I wondered what is the question that fans ask you most about the movies and what is the question about the movies you wish you never had to answer again?
Bob Gale: Well, the question that gets asked the most frequently is "will there ever be a Back to the Future Part 4 or Back to the Future reboot?" Actually, when I do personal appearances at comic conventions and so forth, I get the host to say, "We're going to play a quick round of Jeopardy. Okay, Back to the Future for $20. The Jeopardy answer is 'no,' and the question is 'will there be part four?' The next answer, 'no.' 'Will there be a reboot?' The next question, 'yes.' 'Are you happy to be here today?'"
So it sounds like the answer to both questions is people constantly ask about another movie and the answer is always "no." Glad we could set that straight.prevnext
Time Travel Challenges
On the new Blu-ray set, we get to see an interview with you at a performance of Back to the Future the Musical, and you talk about how you supported that because it's the same story but in a new medium and a new platform. In that regard, has there ever been a project where someone wanted to reimagine the material for a new medium that did sound somewhat interesting to you?
Well, you have to remember, IDW did a comic book series that's very, very good. I was a consultant on it. They've all been reprinted in graphic novels now, so for those who want more Back to the Future that really ties in closely with the Back to the Future canon, I would recommend those. Telltale did a Back to the Future video game back in 2011, and again, I was a consultant on that. That's a very, very good Back to the Future. It deserves the "Back to the Future" name on it.
I can't say the same about the eight- and 16-bit video games that were done back in the '80s. Have you ever seen that YouTube video by the Angry Nintendo Nerd? It was one of the worst games ever made. It was just so embarrassing. Then, of course, we did two seasons of Saturday morning cartoons of Back to the Future, animated, for CBS, so those are out there, and those, for what they are, they're very, very good.
If somebody were to come up and say, "Well, here's how we'd do this as a TV series," I would look at it. The thing that people don't always understand about Back to the Future, and what really makes it work, because people say, "Oh, let's do a time travel series." Well, okay. Time travel series are really hard to pull off. Back to the Future works because it's the story of this family, and time travel is an element of it, but you are totally with those characters.
It's a terrific dramatization of a moment that every human being has in their life, which is the moment when we're kids and we suddenly realize, "Oh, my God, my parents were once kids, too." By the time you're five or six years old, and you look at your parents, and they're these God-like figures, and they don't age, as far as you can tell. They must have always been there, and then suddenly, by the time you're seven, eight, nine, you suddenly start putting it together, that my parents were once kids.
That is the power of Back to the Future. It's the human stuff. It's not the logistics of traveling through time because, frankly, you look at time travel series, both things that they've done on television, things that they've done in comic books, and they fall into this trap of using time travel as a plot mechanism. "We painted ourselves into such a corner."
The Dick Donner Superman movie, they painted themselves into such a corner that all we can do is have Superman turn the whole world back in time, which, of course, you can't even really do. As a Superman purist, that rankled me. Even if he could, that's really a lazy way of solving these problems. Figure out a way so that the character does something that is heroic and makes a difference instead of just using the time travel gimmick to reset everything.
That's why it's so hard to do a successful time travel series.prevnext
So fans will definitely be disappointed that there won't be another live-action sequel or reboot, but it's good to know that almost everything with the official "Back to the Future" name lives up to the brand and fans can seek out those projects for more stories.
Right. Now, you'll see coming out is a Back to the Future/Transformers crossover. It's adequate as a comic book series. The toy is fantastic. I'm telling you, the toy is just amazing, how they made this work. The comic book series is just to promote the toy, really.
I don't have a credit on the comic book series because I had a proposal for how they could do it. They didn't want to do it that way. I said, "Okay, look, guys. I understand what this is. You want to promote the comic. That's fine." It's basically a retelling of the Back to the Future Part II, where instead of Biff taking over the world, the Decepticons take over the world. That's what it is. It's not really that inspired, but if you're into Transformers and you want to see that, great, but I do recommend the toy.prevnext
You talk in the Blu-ray set's special features about how, while the series is so iconic now, it took almost 40 attempts to get the film made. As far as all the different tweaks and changes you made to the original movie over those drafts, do you remember what some of the significant changes would have been from what we ultimately saw?
Well, certainly the second draft that was dated April, 1981, that was the one that was rejected over 40 times. On many levels, it was different, the core of the story about Marty going back in time and interfering with his parents meeting and having to get them back together and Johnny B. Goode and all that stuff, that was all in there. The actual logistics of the time travel, Doc had a time chamber built in a refrigerator. It wasn't a DeLorean yet.
The ending of the movie was something that people had a problem with, because when Marty goes back to, in this, it was 1982 because we wrote it in 1981, the 1982 that he goes to is very much like the future as envisioned in the 1939 World's Fair. The world that we see in the movie Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow, Bob and I were fascinated by that kind of design and why don't we have all this cool stuff that they told us we were going to have at all these World's Fairs, and we wanted to put that on the screen.
That was something that people had a problem with, but that's not the real reason it was rejected. We had two reasons that were constantly given to us. One of them was time travel movies don't make any money, which at the time was an absolutely true statement. You couldn't argue with that. You couldn't point to, maybe the [1960 The Time Machine] was successful, but that was 20 years ago from when we were doing this. There were no recent time travel movies that were successful. Okay, that's a good business decision to say, "We don't want to go there."
The other one was "this is really a very nice and sweet movie, and we're looking for stuff more like Porky's and Stripes and raunchier comedies." We were told repeatedly by so many producers and studios, "Why don't you guys take this over to Disney? It's nice and sweet, and it might be perfect for Disney."
Finally, we said, "Well, okay." We didn't really want to go to Disney, but why not? Let's see what they say. They're the only place we haven't gone. We submitted the script to Disney. We sent it over there. This is the Disney prior to Michael Eisner taking it over, so it's the last vestiges of Walt's family running the store, giving us such memorable movies as The Black Hole. Again, why we didn't want to go there. We had this meeting with this executive over there, and we walked to his office, and he looks at us, he says, "Are you guys insane? Are you out of your minds? You think Disney would make a movie like this?" We're going, "What, what, what? What's wrong with it." He said, "This is a movie about incest. You've got the kid and his mother in the car. That's incest. We're Disney. We don't go there."
While everybody else thought the movie was too sweet, Disney thought it was taboo.prevnext
Are you a filmmaker who is a perfectionist and, despite how much people love the film, are there things you can find in it that you don't like or wish you could have done differently?
Not too many. I'll tell you, though, the thing that aggravates me every time I see it is, and, again, we ran out of time, we didn't have time to perfect the special effect, in the Johnny B. Goode scene, when Marty starts to be erased from existence and there's the shot where he looks at his hand, and there's a hole in it, it really wasn't supposed to be like that. Everybody else is kind of just fading out of existence, and why is there this hole in his hand? That, we were up against a deadline. We just didn't have time to have ILM do a rethink on that and figure out a better way to do that. That would be the main, number one thing that makes me cringe.prevnext
Well what's great is that you seem just as passionate about this series as fans are, even after all these years, and it's always exciting to see you chime in on debates to set things straight. Like when fans talk about the "plot hole" about how adult Lorraine and George would realize their teen-aged son looks exactly like the student they met in the '50s and you're happy to note how they barely knew Marty and how he was only at school for a week.
You see somebody who resembles somebody that you went to high school with or grade school with, what's the first thought that's going to be in your head? They must have time-traveled here, or they must be a shape-shifting alien, or that's a cloning experiment? No, you're going to say, "Oh, that's interesting. That guy looks like somebody I went to school with. Anyway, back to my business."
Or like when Netflix accidentally uploaded the wrong version of Back to the Future Part II and you shared a statement about the situation to let fans know there wasn't an intentional censoring issue.
People love the franchise so much, I love it. I'm always trying to look out for the fans. I really think that's important because we owe everything to the fans. You guys are the ones that are keeping this alive in so many different ways, and I have so much respect for the fact that the fans grow up and they are the preservationists.
One of the best aspects of making Back to the Future the Musical, is that everybody in London on the company, both on stage and off stage, particularly the people behind the scenes that are realizing the design of the show, they all saw the movie when they were kids. They love the movie, and their attitude was, "Wow, I'm honored to be able to help work on this show and bring it to the stage, and I'm not going to be the guy that screws it up. I'm going to give 200% to make sure that we can create the illusion of the DeLorean going 88 miles per hour on a legitimate stage, and everybody is going to just jump up and down and go crazy when they see that."
That part of it, for me, has been so gratifying that it has inspired people, both in show business, in the entertainment business, and outside. People become musicians because of Back to the Future, people become scientists because they admired Doc Brown. People are out there trying to invent hoverboards or other technology that they saw in Back to the Future 2. I can tell you, it's just every day, I pinch myself. I get my Back to the Future Google alerts. I devour those things. Who's using Back to the Future in what form now? Even if it's, "We're taking our football team back to the future next year with these acquisitions," or, "Medicine is going back to the suture."
Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy lands on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on October 20th.prev