From urban planning to hoverboards to Elisabeth Shue.
Back to the Future II has a place in America’s heart despite being inferior to the first film in pretty much every way aside from Elisabeth Shue. That much is clear from all the coverage evaluating what the 1989 movie got right and wrong about 4:29 p.m. on Wednesday, October 21, 2015—the precise date and time when Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and Shue’s Jennifer Parker arrive in the future at the start of the sequel. Whether we love this third-rate movie out of respect for the outstanding original, or some shared Gatsbyan lust for the perfect tomorrow, or a totally-not-author-specific-boyhood-interest in Elisabeth Shue, it’s in the cultural canon to stay.
In any event, October 21, 2015, is upon us. Robert Zemeckis and company evidently didn’t care much about making accurate predictions, but in many cases they did a remarkably good job spotting what was to come. What the film couldn’t possibly have predicted, perhaps to its credit, is just how much the Internet loves lists. We couldn’t quite crank it up to 88 in the spirit of the speed that breaks the space-time continuum, but here goes nothing:
1. Where we’re going, we do kind of need roads
Doc Brown’s famous line gets points for effort: America in 2015 does need roads, but not only roads, and not quite as many as it used to need. Unlike Hill Valley in the movie—a totally car-reliant place, with plenty of roads despite all the flying cars, and nary a transit vehicle or bike lane in sight—U.S. cities are becoming increasingly multi-modal with their transportation systems. Even Los Angeles!
2. And we don’t have flying cars
But not for lack of trying. As Scientific American notes in its own evaluation of BTF:II, several companies have made a push toward cars capable of taking flight. The most advanced effort comes from U.S.-based Terrafugia: its standard-sized two-seater with retractable wings will reportedly go on sale in 2017 for a cool $279,000 a pop. Another firm called AeroMobil hopes to put its own flying car up for sale in 2018, according to SciAm. As far as more household names go, Toyota has said it’s working on a car that hovers slightly above the road—impressive, sure, though not really Doc Brown-worthy tech.
Nor do we really need flying cars with the rise of driverless cars. Although Heinrich Bülthoff, a German scientist leading a project called MyCopter, wants to combine the two concepts into pilotless plane-cars. Bülthoff evidently has a time machine, too, as he seems to know when he’s going to die; via CNN:
"The timescale is to have them available by 2050," says Dr Bülthoff. "But I am not likely to be around in 2050, so I'm quietly optimistic that we will have one before that."
3. But we do have this guy, so …
Doc Brown, sir, you are not.
4. Anyway, traffic is still terrible
“The skyway is jammed,” Doc tells Marty in Movie 2015. “It’s going to take us forever to get there.” The same can be said in Actual 2015 (especially if you’re in China). And the Hill Valley skyway jam points to another thing the movie got right about modern metro area highway congestion: road pricing—the only real solution to bad traffic—still hasn’t been widely implemented.
5. Yet car companies are still claiming it isn’t!
In Movie 2015, Marty sees a commercial for Wilson Hover Conversion Systems, a company that converts regular cars into flying cars. Ad spokesman Goldie Wilson III assures potential customers that they “don’t have to worry about traffic” if they buy his product (for a mere $39,999.95)—just like all those misleading car commercials showing sports coupes whizzing down empty roads today.
6. Food waste can serve as a fuel source …
Organic waste has been known to power a car or two in our time. Coffee grounds, in particular, once energized a wagon up to 66.5 mph—within reach of the 88 needed to break the time barrier. That’s not exactly Doc Brown pouring the rest of a Miller High Life into the flying DeLorean to reach Movie 2015, but it’s in the same ballpark. (Side note: Who’s leaving floaters in the McFly household? Come on, people.)
7. Even for actual DeLoreans
A Japanese recycling-tech firm has plans to drive a DeLorean through Tokyo on the Actual October 21 that’s reportedly powered by “bioethanol produced from cotton fibers of old clothes.”
Indeed, you too can still buy the old car (though not one powered on organic waste) straight from the factory. Flux capacitor not included.
8. Still, we don’t really have hoverboards
Unlike Marty’s 2015, Actual 2015 doesn’t have a legit hoverboard to call its own. There’s the Hendo: a maglev board that once got an inch of air for seven minutes before falling to the ground. (The Hendo 2.0 will launch—you guessed it—on October 21.) There’s also a Lexus prototype that came out this summer. The device reportedly floats via “liquid nitrogen-cooled superconductors and permanent magnets,” the only catch being you need to be above metal to actually achieve liftoff.
9. And we definitely don’t have hover boards that travel over water
Via Scientific American:
Canadian inventor Catalin Alexandru Duru set the Guinness World Record for the farthest hover board flight on a device of his own design in May 2015. He flew just over 275 meters, at an altitude of about five meters, over a lake in Quebec before losing power and falling in.
Congratulations, Canadian inventor Catalin Alexandru Duru. You not only have a world record to your fantastic name, but you have paid tremendous homage to the hoverboard scene in BTF:II where Marty stalls over the water.
10. But you can still get arrested for riding them!
Just like Biff and company in Movie 2015, Wiz Khalifa was arrested during a hoverboard situation in Actual 2015. The rapper was reportedly pinned down by customs security at LAX this summer after refusing to get off the board (described by Gawker as “essentially a gold-plated Segway without handlebars”). Let’s hope “hovering while black” doesn’t become a thing in the Actual Future.
11. USA Today is still a newspaper
And one that covers hoverboard-related arrests, at that!
12. Pepsi is still a drink
And it’s trying to cash in on BTF:II, offering a limited edition version of the futuristic movie bottle for the totally reasonable price of $20.
Speaking of product placements, there’s a great story involving Ford and BTF screenwriter Bob Gale, via Esquire:
[B]efore production began, someone from Universal's product placement department tried to meddle, telling Gale that if they changed the car to a Mustang, Ford would pay them $75,000. Gale's response? "Doc Brown doesn't drive a fucking Mustang!" (This classic response has been printed up on t-shirts that you can buy at DeLorean car shows.)
13. Nike is still a shoe company
And it’s even trying to create power laces. The company announced the move in January, with a goal of releasing the self-tying shoe that Marty wears by October 21. But there haven’t been many updates, and a tweet that seemed to reveal the design turned out to be a false alarm.
14. Automatic jacket driers, however, do not exist
Is it me or is the robotic voice that tells Marty his jacket is dry the same one from "Fitter Happier" on OK Computer? Hey, an android’s gotta work.
15. It’s true, Millennials do dress a little funny
BTF:II fashion is a few degrees more space-age than what passes for clothing in Actual 2015, but in the sense that casual wear now works as everyday wear—think Zuckerberg’s ubiquitous t-shirt and hoodie—Movie 2015 wasn’t too far off. Here’s costume designer Joanna Johnston and visual effects art director John Bell talking to The New York Times:
The residents of Hill Valley also seem to make some strange fashion choices. Mr. Bell and Ms. Johnston exaggerated the designs so that almost everything was asymmetrical and overly colorful. But underlying their choices was another accurate directive from Mr. Zemeckis. “I was told that people were going to be wearing their athletic clothes all day, which they didn’t then,” Ms. Johnston said. “And now they do all the time.”
16. And are generally still snake people
“No, no, no, no, no, Marty, both you and Jennifer turn out fine,” says Doc Brown at the start of BTF:II, declaring the entire premise of the trip to the future. “It’s your kids!” Typical Millennial wanting all the attention.
17. But they do actually prefer being downtown!
Is it just a coincidence that Biff and his gang knew they’d find Marty Jr. hanging out in the town center at the retro Cafe 80s? Or is it clear sign that the BTF:II creators knew Millennials would someday return to the metropolitan core as part of a broader urban renaissance sparked by the creative class!?
18. Poverty, meanwhile, has settled in the suburbs
When Marty Sr.—good Gen X-er that he is in the movie—finds out that he lives in suburban Hilldale, he tells Doc Brown: “This is great!” But he quickly finds out the neighborhood has turned into a dump. In Actual 2015, of course, the suburbanization of poverty is a big problem, with more total poor people now living in U.S. suburbs than in U.S. cities. In Movie 2015 we get this (somewhat disturbing) exchange between two police officers bringing Jennifer home:
Officer Reese: Hilldale, nothing but a breeding ground for tranks, lobos and zipheads.
Officer Foley: Yeah, they outta tear this whole place down.
19. Along with recreational drones
They can’t yet walk your dog through the suburbs, like they do in BTF:II’s Hilldale development. But recreational drones do exist in Actual 2015, and have become so pervasive that the federal government has finally taken an interest in regulating them.
20. We have not, in fact, abolished all the lawyers
Speaking of regulations—Doc Brown was wrong about that one.
21. We do not, in fact, still use fax machines
Though a few probably exist somewhere (such as wherever they store the old props to BTF:II).
22. We do use lots of fingerprint identification technology
Not quite as widely as the characters use these scans in BTF:II—to enter their homes, for instance, and to pay for their cab rides. But the iPhone’s Touch ID sensor has made the technology a part of everyday life.
23. Not to mention flatscreen TVs and video conferencing
Marty Sr. gets fired by his boss via a Skype-like video chat, broadcast on what appears to be a wall-mounted flatscreen, after making some sort of covert deal with a coworker played by Flea.
24. Flea still rocks
25. The movie’s Cubs are better than ours
In BTF:II, Marty sees that the Cubs have won the 2015 World Series. The joke, for sports fans, is that Chicago hasn’t the World Series since 1908. But what astonishes Marty is not that the Cubs won it all—it’s that they played Miami, which didn’t have a franchise when the movie came out. This lack of astonishment suggests that the Cubs did finally win a series sometime between Movie 1986 and Movie 2015. Which only adds to the joke’s insult.
In Actual 2015, the Cubs are still technically alive in the playoffs, and just one round away from the World Series. But as of this writing they have their work cut out for them to beat the Mets. (And even if they win, they can’t face Miami in the championship. No matter how often Marlins Man shows up.) Enough with the Curse of the Billy Goat or Bartman—isn’t it time for Second City to lay blame on Robert Zemeckis?
26. So are the movie’s wearables
Several characters in Movie 2015 have wrap-around glasses that, while far more invasive and high school science teacher-esque than Google Glass, also seem far more integrated into daily life than the wearable tech of Actual 2015.
27. And we don’t have anything even close to a sleep-inducing alpha rhythm generator that erases your memory
Or maybe we do have these and you just don’t remember them because every time you see them someone uses the device on you. It’s possible!
28. But theoretically, at least, we could have a time machine some day
At least one that moves forward. You just need to go really fast. In a fantastic brief history of time travel, in the September issue of Scientific American, Tim Folger writes that it’s “already happened.” Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, for instance, spent 803 days in space. Since time passes more slowly when you’re in motion, and Krikalev was going 17,000 miles an hour, he technically aged 1/48 of a second less than people back on earth—put another way, writes Folger, he traveled that far into the future.
“Time travel to the future, we know we can do,” [J. Richard Gott, an astrophysicist at Princeton University] says. “It’s just a matter of money and engineering!”
But going there won’t get us another Back to the Future movie; according to Zemeckis, the series is definitely done. And good luck getting back once you’re there. According to Folger, going backward in time is a much bigger problem that scientists haven’t cracked because it requires a “tweaking of fundamental physics.”
29. Not theoretically: Elisabeth Shue still looks great
30. She’s married and you’re still not her type
Touché. Hey, there’s always the future.