Saturday, December 06, 2008

Marty McFly Nukes the Fridge

Just stumbled upon the list 7 Terrible Early Versions of Great Movies, which includes a link to the fascinating first draft of Back to the Future.

I've read a weird early Back to the Future draft before -- it opened with Marty getting out of detention by sticking a match to the ceiling with gum and then lighting it with his mirrored sunglasses to set off a fire alarm -- but this one is even earlier, and weirder. I'd read about it before, in my Back to the Future Official Book of the Complete Movie Trilogy, and I'm pretty sure they mention it on the DVD, but this was my first chance to read it. As a writer, it's pretty instructive -- there's all kinds of stuff that is very clunky but was later made elegant.

As Cracked points out, this version features Marty as a video pirate, which I'd heard about -- not surprisingly, studios balked at having a hero who is a video pirate. After all, it's one thing for movies to set a bad example when it comes to violence and sex, but when it comes to something serious, you can't be too careful. Also in this version, Marty helps discover that Coca-Cola is the secret ingredient to making magical inventions work (which must have seemed like a cute idea but is way too stupid for the screen) and the future at the end of the movie is a retro-futuristic paradise that runs on Coke.

Cracked also notes that the specter of atomic war looms heavily over this draft, the better to foreshadow a climax in which, in lieu of harnessing lightning, Marty and Prof. Brown sneak onto an A-bomb test site to power the trip back to the future. There is no Delorean, so this involves Marty climbing into a refrigerator as the time machine activates to protect him from the blast.

(In the BTTF book, Bob Gale or Bob Zemeckis explains that, besides the A-bomb sequence being too expensive, this was changed because they were worried about kids trapping themselves in refrigerators. I guess that was a big problem in the '80s? There was even a special episode of Punky Brewster about it, where Margo makes the mistake of playing hide-and-seek in an abandoned fridge and can't get out. So did we somehow solve this child-danger crisis, or did we just get distracted by worrying about pedophiles?)

The surprising thing about reading this sequence now is how much it sounds exactly like the A-bomb test scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Too Many Words to Finish Writing This. I guess all that bullshit about fully stocked, furnished towns complete with electricity and food in the fridge was true after all -- the BTTF script explains how the government really wanted to test how everything responded to a nuclear explosion, and make the most of their limited above-ground detonations. They must have been disappointed when every object reacted in pretty much the same way: by getting completely incinerated.


Marty is walking around in front of the house, looking it over. He goes inside.


Amazingly enough, it looks like a model home---there is furniture, magazines on the tables, a TV, a radio.

In the dining room, more MANNEQUINS are seated at the table, which is set with full place settings. Marty wanders through the house, chuckling at the idiocy of it all.


goes into the kitchen and has a look around. There is a Frigidaire refrigerator---Marty opens it and discovers it is well stocked with food, including meat, cheese, milk, eggs, Coke, fruit and vegetables. Marty takes an apple, has a bite, and returns to the living room.


Marty turns on the TV. Snow. He switches channels and finally tunes in a picture---the “Howdy Doody” Show. Marty watches Clarabell dancing around and shakes his head.

MARTY: The “fabulous fifties.”

So Marty explores an eerie, fake town, goes inside a house, checks the fridge, watches Howdy Doody on TV, then jumps into a fridge just in time to escape the atomic explosion. Yes, he travels through time instead of being hurled several miles, which makes this farfetched script still more believable than Indy's version. But at one point, it looks like the time machine might not work, so Professor Brown floats the idea of getting in the lead-lined refrigerator and hoping for the best -- Indy's plan exactly. Also, apparently refrigerators filled with lead? Also a thing.


A distraught Professor Brown calls instructions into his walkie-talkie.

PROF. BROWN: Marty, it's over. Do you understand? It's over. Now I want you to get in the refrig---the time chamber, and we'll just pray that the lead lining---


Marty interrupts with an idea.

MARTY: The refrigerator! Hang on, Professor!

Marty runs back into the house.

Professor Brown doesn’t know what to think.


Marty runs to the refrigerator and opens it. Sure enough, there are several bottles of Coke here! Marty is elated!

MARTY (into walkie-talkie): Don't worry about a thing! There's plenty of formula in the refrigerator!

The similarity is pretty impressive, and maybe it's just that once you go to a '50s test site town, there's only one place to go, and that's a fridge. But maybe, just maybe, Steven Spielberg, who produced Back to the Future and championed the script in order to get it made, remembered this scene and always wanted to make it? Then, when Crystal Skull came along, he thought "Now's my chance!" and threw the idea back into the mix.

I think the answer is clearly yes.

1 comment:

matt said...

It was Cherie who got trapped in the fridge, not Margeaux. And if I recall correctly (apologies for cluttering up your comment thread by not abbreviating that) that episode was the winning entry in a contest the network held where viewers sent in ideas for episodes.