Who you gonna call? McFly!
The Hollywood films of the 1980s are sometimes dismissed by critics and scholars for their commercial, please-the-mainstream sensibilities. But ask real people under the age of 50 to name their favorite movies, and they’ll almost certainly mention a few from that golden decade of blockbusters. At or near the top of their lists will likely be “Ghostbusters” (1984) or “Back to the Future” (1985), two enduringly popular crowd-pleasers that remain rightfully beloved in our nostalgia-driven culture.
They’re still so front-and-center, in fact, that they’ve inspired two new tomes that illustrate how they were made. Each hefty volume — billed as “The Ultimate Visual History” — works from the same celebratory template, unspooling detailed stories about each movie’s back story and sequels, alongside scads of beautiful, oversized, behind-the-scenes-images.
The books also contain removable “souvenirs.” “Ghostbusters” devotees will find a business card for Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman and a storyboard of the slimy sequence at the Sedgewick Hotel. “Back to the Future” die-hards will freak out over the pullout “Save the Clock Tower” flier and a poster for “Jaws 19” — a sequel envisioned in “Back to the Future Part II” that, thankfully, never got greenlit in real life.
What you won’t find, especially in the “Ghostbusters” history, is writing that’s consistently compelling. That’s disappointing, if not terribly surprising, from a history that places such obvious emphasis on the visual.
“Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History” — written by Michael K last orin, who served as a unit publicist during the production of the second and third movies — provides the more interesting read. That’s partly because the film’s mythology lends itself to tear-and-save mementos and comes with the built-in advantage of lots of backstage drama.
The most well-known bit of “BTTF” lore, covered in detail here, involves the replacement of the movie’s lead. Due to Michael J. Fox’s initial inability to be freed from his responsibilities on the TV show “Family Ties,” the role of Marty McFly first went to Eric Stoltz, a fine actor but one whose approach to the material did not mesh with director Robert Zemeckis’s nor that of his fellow screenwriter, Bob Gale. The movie moved forward anyway, until nearly the production midpoint, when Stoltz got fired and replaced with Fox, who was finally able to wriggle free from playing Alex P. Keaton long enough to transform into Marty.
Images of Stoltz in character have appeared publicly before, but this book provides an even more striking glimpse at that alternate version of “Back to the Future,” with stills of the “Some Kind of Wonderful” star in numerous scenes — sitting next to a younger version of Marty’s mother (Lea Thompson) or holding a camera while Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) explains DeLorean time travel — that would later become forever associated with Fox.
Both books drill down into the nittiest of gritty details. If you ever wanted an extensive breakdown of each iteration of the“Back to the Future” screenplay or an explanation of the practical effects behind the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s maniacal, melty rampage through the streets of New York City in “Ghostbusters,” look here.
Given the sustained interest in “Ghost busters ”( recently rebooted with a female cast in a comedy slated to open next July) and “Back to the Future” (currently being developed as a stage musical), placing these books on your coffee table won’t necessarily scream of being stuck in the ’80s. It might even suggest that you’ve still got a finger on the pop culture pulse — as well as the proton pack and the flux capacitor.
“The Ultimate Visual History” volumes for “Back to the Future” and “Ghostbusters” should please nostalgia geeks.