For anyone who is unaware, the 21st of October 2015 was attributed with legendary status by the film Back to the Future II as being the date Marty McFly and Doc Brown time-travelled to from 1989. What follows is a zany escapade in which Marty and the Doc embark on a quest to uncover the mystery of how iconic numbskull Biff Tannen became Donald Trump, and then ultimately to repair the space-time continuum.
Why is this significant? Well at a time when the Walkman was still the hippest way to enjoy your music on the move and people had the good grace to say horrible things about celebrities behind their back, the future was seemingly much more of an enigma than it is today. Screenwriter Bob Gale, however, had a clear vision for the future. Inside the Cooper Union Clock Tower, Gale told us he wanted 2015 to be recognisable.
"We knew going in nobody successfully predicts the future accurately, can't be done," said Gale. "We want the future to be a positive, optimistic future. We want people to see this movie and say, 'Hey I like that future, I'd like to live there.'"
In the film, a gang chased Marty around town in 2015, each flying on their own personalised hoverboard. Visual effects art director John Bell designed many of the movie's futuristic elements, including hoverboards and the nostalgic Café 80s.
"All we know is we go thirty years in the future and there's something called the hoverboard," said Bell. "I'll take something that's 85 percent familiar -- it could be a shape, it could be a colour, it could be a pattern -- and then if I'm projecting the future, throw something that's just a little 15 percent twist."
Today, companies are still testing how to make a reliable, working hoverboard for the general public. On the real streets of 2015, toys like swagways are the closest we've gotten to gliding around. Even the movie's fantasy about drones have made it to reality.
"They're being used by everybody, they're all over the place," said Bell. "We started out thinking this was this gag technology, it’s just a joke. Little did we know people are using them all over the world.
While nobody uses fax machines anymore for instant communication as in the movie, it nails other everyday technology - like finger print scanners, which unlock the front door and pay for things like taxis in the film. Today we use biometric technology to open doors, unlock smartphones and even authorise digital payments.
The McFlys also use a giant flat screen TV that responds to audio commands and makes video calls. Flat screens have been around for a while now, but Samsung's Smart-TV now even has a voice recognition. As for video calls, there's Facetime and Skype.
That's the fun stuff - seeing what they got right and what they didn't and musing over how, in their own way, Zemekis and Gale inadvertently birthed a lot of future technology as a bit of a laugh. But there is a lesson here which I've always thought to be far more compelling. Three decades later, Back to the Future II still has a lasting impact and resonates with viewers, which Gale attributes to the humanity in the film.
"The movie says you have some control over your own destiny, the things that you do today can have a life changing effect in your future...," says Gale.
And there it is. Having just come back from two weeks of paternity leave and watching a number of 80's and 90's classics, let me tell you that not a lot of movies which many of us cherish from childhood still hold up (I'm looking at you Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). But Back to the Future II does!
Why? Putting aside the technology, it's my belief that 15-year-olds today are feeling the same things 15-year-olds were feeling back in the 50's. To prove my point, the following statement was made by the 15th-century Venetian editor Hieronimo Squarciafico in 1483 when bemoaning the printing press in an aphorism that reads as a pithy summation of his contemporaries' concerns over the spread of printed works:
"Abundance of books makes men less studious". Or to put it another way, technology changes, but people don't.
A significant message to all of us who work in Communications.