Back to the Futurist at the Movies

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Cindy Wagner

Cindy Wagner

(Adapted from a post originally published March 16, 2013)

We're now upon the 2015 imagined in Back to the Future Part II (BTTF-II). Arguably the biggest deal about sci-fi visions of the future is the flying car issue. BTTF-II gave us aerial traffic that looked a lot like the ground-based traffic we still have today. I did like the story's use of VTOL technology, though I do question how they imagined the engineers of the future could make these vehicles so quiet. The hoverboard was pure trend extrapolation; sadly there is little in the way of supermagnetic personal mobility at the consumer level just yet.

BTTF trilogy fans still entertain themselves with discussions of this past vision of the future we're approaching, but I take these films more or less at face value. They're entertainments. The special effects are there to show off the skills of special-effects departments, led by the awe-inspiring work of Industrial Light & Magic, the offspring of director George Lucas (one of the few movie makers who can truly be called a futurist).

What caught my eye at the end of BTTF-II was the listing of several "future consultants" in the credits. At IMDb, these eight individuals are lumped in with personal assistants, dog trainers, caterers, and body doubles under the category "Other Crew."

These "futurists" comprise an assortment of visual artists, including Mike Scheffe, the "construction coordinator" for the BTTF deLorean (the time machine), and hair and makeup designer Kerry Warn, whose other film credits include turning screen goddess Nicole Kidman into Virginia Woolfe for her Academy Award winning performance in The Hours.

This might be what real futurists do best--envision and present a visually realistic image of what the future may look and feel like.

The real futuring work in the film is less flashy than the holographic billboard for the 19th sequel of Jaws. It has to do with the existence not just of alternative scenarios, but of alternative realities. At any point when Biff or Marty or Doc could go back to the past to alter the linear path of the future, it created a new outcome and a new reality. But it did not (as happened in the original BTTF) erase the previous reality.

There's your solution to the time travel paradox: Not just multiple, but infinite universes.

And one more thing BTTF-II got terribly right: Any scenario in which a Donald Trump-like entity (to wit, rich Biff) has created a massively vulgar, decadent, and dissolute world is by definition a dystopia (see also the non-George Bailey scenario of "Pottersville" in It's a Wonderful Life).

Cynthia G. Wagner, AAI Foresight consulting editor, is the former editor of THE FUTURIST. Her opinions on sci-fi, physics, politics, and entertainment are strictly her own.