Who you gonna call? McFly!

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY JEN CHANEY book­world@wash­post.com Jen Chaney is the author of “As If!: The Oral His­tory of ‘Clue­less.’ ”

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.

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