One of the things we love about science fiction movies is the storyteller's take of futurism. Films set in the near future take on the challenge of imagining a world filled with technological and cultural changes, and yet are still recognizable and relatable to the viewer. Movies like Blade Runner, Minority Report, and A.I (hey, all based on Philip K. Dick works!) fast forward us in time to create a setting that can be used to reflect on the problems of the present, and adorn that setting with props and effects that signify "the future." Those gadgets in turn have inspired a generational of roboticists, computer interface designers, and even toy makers.
With 2015 right around the corner, we wanted to take a look back at one of armchair futurtists' most beloved movies, Back to the Future Part II. With technologies like Google Glass, video-recording drones, and ubiquitous video conferencing software, it does seem like BTTF II was particularly prescient in its wacky vision of the future. So what’s it like for a screenwriter to see elements from one of his movies coming true twenty-five years after its release? We talked to BTTF scribe Bob Gale about how he and director Robert Zemeckis went about predicting the future, how you can make an audience believe in time travel and hoverboards, and just exactly why Doc Brown infamously pronounced the word gigawatts 'jigawatts.'
We first asked Gale if he was surprised that some of what was predicted in Back to the Future Part II has come to pass. “Well yeah, I kind of am,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff we did a lot of research on, like using your thumb to make a money transaction, what the money would look like, that kind of stuff was all being theorized about back in the day. The video conferencing, there was a rudimentary form of video conferencing that that already existed back in 1989. So a lot of this stuff was me and Bob Zemeckis saying, ‘Let’s try to take these ideas to its logical conclusion.’
“One thing that’s kind of interesting, is it’s like what came first, the chicken or the egg,” Gale continues. “We know that people who saw the movie have thought, ‘Is there a way to invent a hoverboard?’ Then people are out there trying to figure that out. We did the tie-in with Nike to make the shoes, then they started thinking, ‘Maybe we can [actually] make these things.’ Some of what we predicted may be coming true because people who saw it in the movie were inspired and thought, ‘Maybe there’s a way to make it come true.’ The guys at Mattel that worked on the hoverboard replica were excited about it, they wanted a hoverboard just like everyone else.”