Friday, August 26, 2011

Random Shots: Back to the Future Part II

Over the past month I've mentioned a bunch of things that I hate, so now for something I love: the Back to the Future series.  Maybe it's because I like history so much, but objectively, I can still say that this is one of the few movie trilogies out there that is consistently good.  Of particular note is the second installment of the series, which is of course Back to the Future Part II from 1989.  It is fondly remembered for two things: one, a story which weaves a new plot line seamlessly on top of the events from the first movie, and two, a speculated view of the future.  In the movie's first act, Doc Brown takes Marty McFly to the year 2015 to keep his future son out of trouble.  With the year 2015 rapidly approaching, and the fact that I taped the first to movies this past weekend, I thought I'd take a look at the technologies and events that were predicted in this scene in a new segment I like to call "Random Shots".

Flying cars: No.  Since so may science-fiction-based predictions of the future have involved flying cars or the like, the writers may have included them just to be ironic.

USA Today takes over the newspaper industry: Not yet.  In order to warn Marty of the trouble his future son and daughter will get into, Doc shows him a newspaper with the events on the front page.  Blink and you'll miss it, but the paper boasts a readership of 3 billion people every day, and since that's roughly ten times the American population at this point, this likely indicates worldwide expansion - something I wouldn't count on with a name like "USA Today".  Still, with local newspapers nationwide folding under the effects of the late-2000s recession, USA Today could either benefit from this or take a hit too...  Who knows.

Queen Diana: No.  Another headline from the aforementioned newspaper reads, "Washington prepares for Queen Diana's visit".  As you may know, the real Princess Diana of the United Kingdom died in a car accident in 1997.  Speaking of which, not that I'm hoping for this per se, but there's still time between now and 2015 for Queen Elizabeth II to die and pass on the crown to Prince Charles and his new wife, Lady Camilla.

Holographic advertisements: No.  As part of an advertisement for the fake film Jaws 17, a holograph-generated shark jumps out at Marty and pretends to eat him before vanishing.  In a related note, 3-D movies have come back in style since the late 2000s, and some devices, most notably the Nintendo 3DS (2011), are able to create this effect without needing users to wear glasses.  But still, 3-D doesn't work that way.  Oh, and the Jaws franchise has been dormant since 1987.

1980s Nostalgia Cafes: Not yet.  50s nostalgia cafes are ubiquitous, but sadly I have yet to see a restaurant themed after the 80s.  But somehow I just KNOW Universal Studios will open up a Cafe '80s in their parks by 2015, just to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If not, PLEASE DO SO UNIVERSAL.

Ridiculous future inflation: Not yet.  In the movie's 2015, a USA Today newspaper costs US$6, a bottle of Pepsi costs anywhere up to $50 (unless Doc was just being generous), and Biff's taxi ride cost around $175.  So far, the US Dollar inflation rate from 1989 to 2011 is over 80%*, so at the most, by the real 2015 prices could double compared to what Marty would be used to.

Hands-free video games: Yes.  In the Cafe '80s scene, Marty sets up and plays an arcade machine of Wild Gunman, prompting some 2015 kids to say, "You use your hands?  That's like a baby's toy!"  Having heard that, I assumed they were referring to mind-controlled games, which are certainly not available on a large scale.  But for a while, even, we've had camera-based control systems like the PlayStation 2's EyeToy (2003) or XBox 360's Kinect (2010).  Or maybe they thought the old U-Force (1989) for the NES would catch on.

Hoverboards: No.  In order to replicate the skateboarding scenes from the previous movie, Marty gets chased by Griff Tannen's gang on hoverboards.  No, you bojo, they won't work over water - or any other surface for that matter.  This was just a special effect created for the movie - although it was joked about by some crew members to be real**.

Stand-alone Pontiac dealers: No.  During the hoverboard chase scene, a Pontiac car dealer can be seen in the background (look for the "neck-tie" logo).  For a long time in the real world, Pontiac cars didn't have their own stores; they were sold along with other GM brands, usually Buick and GMC.  I'm using the past tense, however, because in 2010, in the aftermath of General Motors' financial troubles, they retired Pontiac along with three other brands.  But again, it's not like they could've predicted a financial recession of the magnitude we got.

Chicago Cubs win the MLB World Series: Not yet.   Another headline from the aforementioned newspaper, also repeated later in television form, was that the Chicago Cubs swept the MLB World Series against the Miami Gators.  Let's set aside the fact that the Cubs are widely regarded as one of the worst baseball teams in the league, and look at their opponents.  The Miami Gators are a fictional team, since at the time of the film's writing, there were no pro baseball teams in Florida.  Since then, however, they got two: the Florida Marlins (based in Miami) formed in 1993, and the Tampa Bay Rays in 1998.  Weirdly, the inverse of the event happened in real life: in the 2003 World Series, the Marlins beat the Cubs in the National League Championship (the semi-finals before the World Series), and went on to beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Classic video gaming: Yes.  The antiques store Marty buys the Gray's Sports Almanac from also displays copies of NES video games such as Jaws and Who Framed Roger Rabbit in the front window.  Retro video gaming has come back in vogue in certain circles, assuming it never left.  Although, no one's gonna call those particular games "classics" any time soon; more likely than not, they're just ads for producer Steven Spielberg's previous works.  Since 2006, GameStop stores (at least nearby my home) stopped dealing in... pretty much everything made in the 20th century, but just recently rival chain Game Trader has picked up the slack.

Paperless books: Yes.   When Marty buys the Gray's Sports Almanac from the aforementioned store, the sales clerk mentions that books aren't being written on paper anymore.  Today we have e-book readers such as the Amazon Kindle (2007), to say nothing about the Internet.  But it's not like paper-based books are going extinct any time soon, not by 2015 at least.

Fingerprint-operated doors: Yes.  Eventually, two cops come across the unconscious Jennifer (put asleep by Doc because she saw too much) and take her to her (future) home.  The doors in their home are operated by a fingerprint scanner, technology which has been available for a while now.

Watching multiple TV channels at once: Feasible.  Marty McFly Jr. gets home from his activities and watches six television channels at once, triggered by voice commands.  Similar technology is available to consumers, such as Google TV (2010), letting users run apps side-by-side with TV programming on the same screen.  As for a more authentic setup, complete with voice commands, it's certainly possible with enough hardware and technical wizardry.

Re-hydrated food: No.  For dinner, the 2015 McFly family shares a pizza which was sold shrunken, with the water molecules taken out, then "cooked" in a re-hydrator which brought it back to normal size.  Yeah, I don't think anyone's been able to do that yet - and having the same technology shown in another movie (Spy Kids, 2001) doesn't count.

Glasses-based video phones: Feasible.  During dinner, one of the future McFly kids takes a call on a video phone in the form of glasses.  Video eyeware is currently sold by companies such as Vuzix, but it ain't exactly widespread.  However, this does remind me of something else that shaped the present since this movie was made: the prevalence of cell phones and, eventually, smart phones.

Video conferencing: Yes.  Future adult Marty has two TV-based video calls in this scene, one with co-worker Douglas Needles and one with his boss Ito Fujitsu.  This technology is has been used by businesses and consumers everywhere for a while now.  Skype (2003) says hi.

Internet-based financial transactions: Yes.  Needles (played by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers who, incidentally, have a new album out next week) coerces future Marty to take part in some shady business deal, the details of which we never learn.  He initiates this... whatever by scanning his (credit?) card in a reader.  In the real world, e-commerce is widely used (including by yours truly), but few personal computers have an actual credit card reader.  Not many people could have predicted the immense influence the World Wide Web had on our lives since the 90s, but this came close.

Japanese boss: Yes.  Immediately after caving into Needles' peer pressure, future Marty's boss, Ito Fujitsu calls in to tell him that he's been fired.  Although the rise of Japan in the business world was a serious presence before the movie was written, they're still a major player today.  Although, if the movie were re-made today, his boss would more likely be from China or India because... never mind.

And finally... Time Travel: No.  Although to be fair, Doc's time machine was invented in-universe in 1985, and he's pretty much the only one who has it.

*"Inflation Calculator".  Retrieved 26 Aug 2011 from

**"Back to the Future Part II".  Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.  Retrieved 26 Aug 2011 from

Next episode: I had mentioned a certain episode of Second Opinion a while back, and I'm finally delivering on it.  Hint: it's a tribute to the Super NES's anniversary.

...Wait a minute, the Marlins did WHAT!? :D

No comments:

Post a Comment