It's the final day of Alternative Draft Week, where we look at alternative drafts from the movies you loved (or hated). In some cases, these drafts are said to be better, in others, worse, or in others still, just plain different. Either way, it's interesting to see what could've been. We started out with Roger's review of James Cameron's draft of "First Blood 2". We followed that with my review of "The Last Action Hero." Then came Ron Bass' draft of Entrapment. Thursday was a big one, as I reviewed the original Leigh Brackett draft of "The Empire Strikes Back." And today we have another big one, the "1967" draft of Back To The Future 2!
Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy
Premise: When Marty McFly realizes that his trip to the future has resulted in 1985 becoming an alternative Biff-dominated universe, he must travel back to 1967, where Old Biff first triggered the time shift, to restore balance and reestablish the space-time continuum.
About: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale were originally going to set their Back To The Future sequel in 1967, but later decided to move it to ’55 (again). This is the ’67 version.
Writer: Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale
Details: 146 pages (first draft)
To me, Back To The Future is the best popcorn movie ever made. It was that rare bird that could hang with all the big summer movies, yet still have you thinking and talking about it after it was over. Zemeckis has gone on record as saying that he’d never worked harder on a screenplay than he did with Bob Gale on Back to The Future. And it shows. That screenplay is airtight, which is hard enough to do under normal circumstances, but nearly impossible to do with a time travel script. It’s the best example of setups and payoffs in the history of movies. It’s the best execution of heavy exposition in a movie I’ve ever seen. It’s three of the best characters ever written. And it’s just one of the most entertaining movies ever.
Back To The Future 2 though……….
Ehhh……..Not so much.
And that’s because there were a lot of things working against it. First of all, Zemeckis and Gale didn’t even want to write a sequel to the film. The whole “Continued” thing at the end of the first was a joke, and forced them into a beginning they didn’t necessarily want (what do you do with Jennifer, the girlfriend, when you don’t even want her in the movie?). On top of that, Crispin Glover was becoming public lunatic number 1, making all these bizarre demands and wanting to be paid as much as Michael J. Fox.
This made writing the script extremely tricky. How do you write a script if you don’t even know if one of the main characters is going to be in it??? In retrospect I’d actually argue that they should’ve paid him. I mean, he’s one of the most unique and memorable characters in history. How do you replace that? Add on to that that the team clearly didn’t have as much time to figure out the story and clean up all the time travel holes as they did with the original, and you realize why the movie feels half-baked.
I know that some of you are hoping this “1967” draft contains the magic pill that would’ve made the perfect Back To The Future 2. But that’s simply not the case. It’s clear that the two Bobs are still trying to find their way here, and hadn’t yet zoned in on the sweet spot of having to go back to the original Back To The Future. Had they figured that out earlier, and had time to really hone in on it, we may have gotten a better protagonist flaw than Marty getting upset when people called him “Chicken.”
Suffice it to say I would LOVE to know the exact timeline of all this (when they started this draft, when Glover dropped out, when they decided to turn it into two movies, when production officially began) because it would allow me to know just how much time they had to write Back To The Future 2. If anyone has that info, please leave it in the comments section, because I thought the Crispin Glover debacle went right up to the start of filming. But Geoge McFly is not in this draft, so they obviously knew it already. And since the decision hadn’t even been made to turn part 2 into two movies yet, I’m assuming this was relatively early on. It would just be nice to know the details.
But let’s get to the script, shall we?
Back To The Future 2, the ’67 draft, starts off exactly like the film. Marty, Doc, and Jennifer fly into the future, where Doc alludes to the fact that something’s happened to their children. After they land, instead of Jennifer being put to sleep, the three get split up, and both Marty and Jennifer start looking around the Courthouse Square. This is where Marty first spots the sports almanac, and decides to take it back to the past. In this version, Marty’s obsession with money becomes a much stronger driving force behind his character. Both his future and present self are looking for any way to make a quick buck, and that central flaw informs his choices in a way the final film only touched on. While this unifies the future and present storylines better than the film does, it feels forced, which is probably why the Bob’s ended up downplaying it.
Just like in the film, Old Biff spots the time-traveling Delorean and steals Marty’s sports Almanac to travel back to the past. However this time, he travels back to 1967, the year a 30 year old Biff inherits 20,000 dollars. The idea is that *that* would be the year he could start betting a lot of money. Then, exactly like in the finished film, Doc, Marty and Jennifer go back to 1985, only to find out it’s an alternate universe 1985, where Biff rules Hill Valley, and that Biff must have found Marty's almanac, traveled back, and gave himself the book.
So BACK to 1967 they go!
It’s clear that the Bobs were really trying to figure shit out here, and weren’t entirely sure how to do it. Marty disguises himself as a John Lennon type hippie, only to find out that everyone in Hill Valley hates hippies. When Marty is found roaming the streets without a draft card, he’s arrested and thrown in jail, only to be rescued by who? Why, a Flower Child Lorraine, who’s since married George and has two kids (but not yet Marty!). George, unfortunately, is studying writing at a faraway college, so Lorraine still lives at home with her parents. We then get a recreation of the scene in the original film, where she brings Marty back to her house for supper, and there’s some nice additions with Marty’s brother and sister, all of 2 and 4, being thrown into the mix, but obviously without the sexual tension between Lorraine and Marty, it doesn’t come close to the genius of the original. But everyone will be happy to know that Uncle Jailbird Joey is…in jail!
The crux of Marty’s problem is that Lorraine, who for some reason doesn’t recognize Marty even though she met him 12 years ago, bailed Marty out with the money she was SUPPOSED to use to go visit George that weekend. Marty does some quick math, figuring out when he was born, counting back 9 months, to realize that…THAT VACATION IS WHEN HE WAS CONCEIVED! So now Marty, in addition to having to find the Almanac, must also find the $500 to give back to Lorraine so she can go visit George and conceive…him!
Yes, finding $500 is a little easier than having to convince your hopeless dweeb Dad to muster up the confidence to ask out the girl of his dreams. But that’s only the beginning of this script’s problems. The Bobs must create a finale to rival one of the greatest finales ever. And they’re obviously having a hard time doing it. The fusion reactor (“Mr. Fusion,” which Doc acquired from the future) has been destroyed, and it’s still not easy to create 1.21 jigawatts of power in 1967. So Doc’s plan is to utilize the center of the state’s power grid, which happens to be hanging over a canyon. Marty will have to fly into the canyon and hook the grid right as Doc centralizes the entire state’s power system, a dangerous method which only produces 3 seconds of usable power. If he misses that window, his car will short circuit and he’ll plunge to his death. Yeah, not exactly BTTF 1 material. But in one of the rare truly funny moments of the script, Marty asks Doc, “Exactly how did you conceive of this plan?” And Doc responds, somewhat absently, “I took some LSD and it just came to me.”
There is one aspect of the draft that worked really well though, and that’s bringing 1985 Doc back to 1967, and having to hide him from 1967 Doc, who is himself a hippy and who is also helping Marty. There aren’t enough scenes with the two Docs together. But what there is is hilarious. Here’s one of the only scenes in the script that matched the magical tone of the first film. In it, Marty and Present Doc are at Marty’s house trying to figure out a way to make sure Marty gets conceived.
Now comes ANOTHER RAP on a different window. Marty turns and sees
DOC BROWN---the DOC OF 1967! This younger Doc is dressed like a cross between an Indian guru, a rock star, and a scientist. Marty is shocked!
(to 1985 Doc)
Oh my God, Doc, it’s you! I mean, the you of 1967! He must have seen the newspaper, recognized me and tracked me down!
Of course he did---he’s a genius, just like me. He is me. (ducks behind a couch) But don’t let him see me---don’t even let him know I’m here in 1967.
Marty gestures to the younger Doc to wait a minute.
Then should I just blow him off?
No, we need me---him. The only way I can repair the time machine is to use my---his lab. Damn these pronouns!
Let me see what I can do. Jeez, look at what you’re wearing!
Marty goes over to the other window and opens it. The younger Doc climbs in; he too has the newspaper article.
Marty! It is you! I knew it! Good to see you---it’s been 12 years! What brings you to 1967?
It’s kind of a long story, Doc---
Wait, don’t tell me! Having too much knowledge of future events can be extremely dangerous.
I remember that from 1955.
Right. Well, the bottom line is that we need to get the time machine over to your lab so that he---we---I mean you can repair it.
You want me to repair it?
(from behind the couch) Not him. Me!
Yes---no---I don’t know.
What’s the problem?
Uh, nothing, I’m just a little confused.
No, I mean with the time machine.
Well, it doesn’t fly properly…
Don’t tell him that!
It flies? Far out!
Yeah, and Mr. Fusion’s shot, too.
Who got shot?
Tell him we need a power source!
This Mr. Fusion, does he need medical attention?
Get over here!
Marty wanders over to the couch, drops down on it and throws his head back so he can hear ’85 Doc.
Tell him we need a power source for the flux capacitor.
We need a power source for the flux capacitor.
You mean to generate 1.21 jigowatts of electricity energy? Again?
Precisely---I mean, yeah.
Great Scott! I don’t suppose you know about any upcoming lightning storms?
So where is the time machine now?
Tell him to go home and you’ll bring it over to the lab.
Uh, actually, the best thing would be for you to go home, and I’ll bring it over to the lab. Marty ushers him to the window.
Well, I suppose that makes sense. But what about poor Mr. Fusion?
Mr. Fusion’s history, Doc.
History? Why of course! Future history! This will all make sense to me sometime in the future! I have to remember to think 4th dimensionally. To get into the groove of the continuum.
Doc, please: go home.
Very well, Marty. Hasta luego!
’67 Doc goes back out the window, but as he’s climbing through, the window drops down hard on his LEFT HAND.
And ’85 Doc grabs his own left hand in identical pain.
Later on, in another funny moment, Doc finds himself trying to hide from ’67 Doc again. But he runs out of places to hide and the only thing between him and his ’85 self is a mirror frame minus the mirror. But ’67 Doc doesn’t know the mirror is no longer in the frame, and so ’85 Doc realizes the only thing he can do is pretend to be ’67 Doc, who’s confused about why he looks so awful, and the two engage in a classic “mirror image” routine. In any other form, this is juvenile ridiculously silly comedy, but imagining Doc from Back To The Future do a mirror image routine with himself is comedic gold.
Another great part that didn’t make it to the finished film was the character of Peabody (the farm owner who shoots at Marty in the first BTTF when he thinks he’s an alien). In this version, Peabody’s just been released from the nut house because of his insistence 12 years ago that he’d seen an alien. Of course, over the course of the script, Peabody keeps seeing Marty and Doc’s Delorean, even though everyone else seems to just miss it.
Unfortunately, the ending is a big mess. Marty has to go to this anti-war rally, which is obviously this film’s version of the dance, but there’s no tension to it, no real connection to the story. That dance was so heavily entrenched in the plot that we were hanging on every moment. Here, the war rally just feels like something to go to, and Marty’s existence never truly feels like it’s in jeopardy.
What surprised me though was that, despite the convoluted Electrical Grid finale, I was totally into it. This whole time, ’67 Doc has calculated the jump to account for one person (since he doesn’t know that ’85 Doc is jumping back with Marty). Marty realizes this just as he and ’85 Doc are about to jump back to the future. Since ’85 Doc is another 200 pounds, the already damaged propulsion system of the Delorean is in jeopardy of not getting them up to the height of the electrical box. So in a last-second freak out, the two must start dismantling and tossing out various parts of the car as they’re moving, trying to shed 200 pounds before they get to the edge of the cliff! I was shocked at just how into this I was and, if I’m being honest, thought it was more memorable than the end of the original sequel.
So even though this script was all freaking over the place, in the end, I’m happy I read it. But there are a few things we can learn from the read.
The other day, in my “Last Action Hero” post, I mentioned that one of the things you should do before you start your script, is make a list of all the scenes and characters you can create that will best take advantage of your concept. And I felt that’s exactly how Zemeckis and Gale worked. They set this in the 60s, and they asked, “How do we best take advantage of the 60s?” And they thought about hippies and the Vietnam War and war rallies and everyone freaking out about “the commies.” And they tried to create a bunch of funny scenarios around those elements and they did the best job they could. But one of the most important qualities in a writer, is realizing when something isn’t working. It’s one of the hardest choices you ever have to make because sometimes you’re talking about axing months (or even years!) of work. But if something isn’t working, it isn’t working. And you have to be honest with yourself and look to take the script in a new direction. That’s exactly what the Bobs did with the later drafts and it paid off.
Another thing this script teaches us is to be aware when your plot is working too hard. I often tell writers when I’m giving them notes, “We can hear the gears of your plot moving.” And what I mean by that is, it’s taking too much effort to keep us engaged. Characters are routinely telling other characters what’s going on, what just happened, what needs to happen. Too many complex storylines are happening at once and instead of just allowing your characters to exist inside your universe, they exist only to convey information. The gears underneath this draft are louder than a 747. Between Marty’s future kids being in trouble, Biff stealing the almanac and creating an alternate universe, Jennifer being in trouble back in alternate 1985, having to fix the Delorean in time, Marty trying to make sure he’s conceived, the Anti-War rally, the two Docs, and even some things I didn’t get into in the review…it’s too much information. And because it’s too much, there’s no naturalism to the story. There’s no time to entertain.
If you look at the original film, there’s definitely a lot of plot gong on as well, but in that film, we only had to worry about two timelines, whereas in this one, we have to worry about four (the future, normal 1985, alternate 1985, and 1967). And that proved to be the breaking point. But just like the Empire Strikes Back experience, all this is fascinating because it’s another look at a couple of iconic characters in a slightly new scenario. So even if everything’s a little half-baked, it’s fun to come back to this “alternate’ universe.” Not a great script but a groovy read.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: One of the choices you’re faced with as a writer is whether to make the plot in your screenplay simple or complex. Each choice poses its own unique challenges. If you make your plot simple, it allows you to spend more time exploring your characters and your theme. Up In The Air is about a guy dealing with a difficult work transition. There’s no huge driving force. Therefore we can spend most of our time digging into the characters. The downside of a simple plot is that there may not be enough twists and turns and revelations to keep your audience interested. “Too simple” may translate to “Too Boring.” And there are definitely people who feel there wasn’t enough going on “Up In The Air.” The flip side is creating a complex plot, which has a lot of twists and turns and multiple storylines going on. A recently reviewed script on the site, “Tell No One,” is plot heavy, but nails it because it’s such an engaging mystery. The downside to taking this route, however, is potentially creating too complex of a story, like what happened here with “Back to The Future 2.” If you cross a certain line, you will lose the audience, because it’s more information than they want to keep track of. There is no simple way to solve this problem. The best you can do is ask, “Which type of plot am I writing?” and then through trial and error, keep moving the complexity gauge up and down until you find the sweet spot that works for your story. But always be aware of it. And ask your readers. “Is the plot too simple?” “Is it too complex?” Ultimately, they represent your audience.