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October 21, 2015 –BACK TO THE FUTURE Day

Written by Steve Segal

At precisely 4:29 p.m. on the day of October 21, 2015, Marty McFly and Doc Brown arrive from 1985 in the Doc’s souped-up DeLorean time machine.

The 2015 depicted in Back to the Future Part II (“BTTF2”) is a shiny but bleak world where technology has begun to run amok and human interface is subsidiary to being wired in.

It’s taken twenty-five years for the future to catch up with BTTF2, so let’s consider some of the movie’s ideas and technological trappings that have actually come to pass.

Early on in BTTF2, Doc Brown tells Marty about visiting a futuristic rejuvenation clinic where he gets a change of the blood, new hair, a face lift and a replacement spleen and colon, adding thirty to forty years to his life.

New-age health spas and cosmetic surgery gurus were an easy punchline in the late 1980s, but the bigger joke nowadays is how the vacuous and narcissistic self-enhancement culture is still very much all the rage. We also live in a time when bionic implants are no longer the stuff of science fiction.

Pepsi “Perfect” will become a reality this month with a limited edition issue served in the same funky futuristic curvy bottles as shown at the Café 80s in the movie. The Pepsi Perfect gag mocked with sharp accuracy the tendency of marketers to constantly rebrand their products—the filmmakers were clearly having a laugh over the failed “New Coke”—but just look now at all the iterations of any given product: Coca-Cola; Pepsi; Diet Coke; Diet Pepsi; Coke Zero; Pepsi Free; Pepsi Clear; Cherry Coke; Vanilla Coke; Coke [your name here]; Coke Life and etcetera.

The future McFly home predicts and showcases a lot of tech that has become reality: biometric and voice-activated environmental control and home security systems; wide flat-screen televisions and flexible LED screens, with the capacity to display multiple channels simultaneously; personal video goggles that also answer the telephone; and live video chatting where intrusive bits of a user’s private meta data—vital statistics and personal likes and dislikes—instantly pop up onscreen, accurately foretelling an interconnected world of diminished privacy.

The one bit of BTTF2 technology prevalent in the future McFly home that now seems ludicrously out of phase with reality is the prevalence of fax printouts. Not only have email and smart-phone photo and texting replaced faxing, but the world in general has taken a giant leap towards a paperless society—books are still printed but e-readers are a new form of mass media, making BTTF2’s MacGuffin of the sports almanac all the more antiquated.

Speaking of antiques, a sly sight gag shows the contents of a 2015 antiques shop, and among the ’80s items on display are a video game cartridge and an Apple Mac Plus personal computer.

When BTTF2 was released in 1989, the Mac Plus was then merely a year or so past its prime, but at the rate PCs were becoming obsolete, it didn’t require a crystal ball to predict the archaic Mac would be little more than an illuminating doorstop in no time. Today’s iPad and iPad Mini are descendants of the Apple Macintosh; the tablet computers of today are real tech that the makers of BTTF2 predicted over two decades earlier. As for video games, BTTF2 accurately predicted a future when user interface could be hands free.

Another background sight gag is played for laughs but inadvertently predicts the decline of physical media—take a close gander at the garbage piles in the alley where Doc and Marty land and you’ll see stacks of shiny laserdiscs and CDs tossed out with yesterday’s trash. Laserdiscs were still the premium home video format for serious cinephiles in 1989 (DVDs would not be introduced for another half decade or so), so the filmmakers were clearly poking fun that the shiny platters would soon be outmoded for a better technology. Little could the filmmakers have predicted how quickly laserdiscs and CDs would bite the dust, or foreseen the subsequent movement towards “ether-ware” where music and movies live in the so-called “cloud.” We’re not yet at the point where physical media is completely gone, but we’re certainly living in a time when actual discs are no longer the predominant delivery mechanism for viewing/listening to recorded content.

The Hill Valley Texaco selling “havoline” is operated by robotic attendants, predicting a future where menial labor would be supplanted by automatons. See also the mechanical waitresses at the Café ’80s.

Across the street, the local cinema boasts a “HoloMax” theater showing Jaws 19. Here be an instance where the studio and the world’s most powerful filmmaker (Steven Spielberg, who produced all three BTTF movies) make themselves the butt of a joke, by suggesting not only that Universal and Spielberg’s Jaws would continue to be sequalized ad infinitum (by Spielberg’s firstborn son, Max, no less), but that even in the future, “the shark still looks fake.”

Okay, so the studio mercy-killed the Jaws series after Part 4, and we don’t yet have HoloMax theaters, but hologram technology is very real and increasingly in vogue (Tupac, Elvis and Michael Jackson have all been “resurrected” to perform in virtual concert) so it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the next gateway to a movie ticket upcharge. Considering today’s ubiquity of the fake digital mini-IMAX theaters, the saturation of 3D movies in the marketplace, and the propensity for a studio to milk a film series to its death and beyond, this quick bit of Jaws 19 foolishness has obliquely proven to be one of the more damning predictions of today’s Hollywood franchise mentality. Heck, even going to the cinema has become a predominantly digital experience, with celluloid stock and film projectors supplanted by high-def cameras and laser video projectors. Marty McFly’s quip about the shark still looking fake is, finally, an accidental but scathing rebuke to today’s plasticine computer-generated digital visual effects.

The Nike auto-lacing shoes depicted in BTTF2 were a neat visual pun in 1989, but are soon to become a reality—in honor of Back to the Future Day, the shoe company is reissuing a 2011 Air Jordan retrofitted with auto-rollers to tighten the laces. Illuminating logos have long been a reality, but here’s hoping the glowing lights on the new Jordans stay lit longer than the ones shown in the movie.

Alas, some of the film’s loftier ideas and inventions have not come to pass.

Cars can’t fly yet, so put away that $39,999.99 earmarked for that Goldie Wilson III hover conversion. Even so, BTTF2’s visual depiction of crowded speedways in the skies of 2015 is rapidly approaching reality, no thanks to the ever-increasing prevalence of remote-controlled drones.

We’re no closer to mass-marketed cold fusion, so the home energy device dubbed “Mr. Fusion” is not yet available at your local brick-and-mortar store. There’s still no such thing as the Black & Decker Hydrator, and automatic dog walkers are not yet on the market. Wearable tech is becoming more fashionable, but there are no self-drying or auto-fitting garments on the runway, and as far as I know, one cannot yet purchase a handheld sleep-inducing alpha-wave generator.

Surprisingly, hoverboards are closer to reality than you may think, as a series of You Tube videos clearly demonstrate. The physics are similar to the magnetic fields used in the operation of high-speed mag-lev trains, but even if the eventual hoverboard rider would be restricted to gliding over dedicated magnetic trails, the science is sound and the future looks bright.

As for the abolition of all lawyers, humanity is still working on it.

Finally, the movies BTTF2 and BTTF3—shot back-to-back and released six months apart—presaged the current climate of splitting a long movie into two separate halves. Next time you complain about two-part sequels like Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the upcoming splitter Avengers: Infinity War, remember to thank Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis for blazing this particular trail.

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