October 21, 2015 was the far-off future date that Doc Brown and Marty McFly traveled to in "Back to the Future, Part II," the 1989 film that was the middle installment of the "Back to the Future" trilogy. Few time travel films have been as popular, and fewer yet have provided such specific dates for their visions of the future. There have been jokes for years about hoverboards and power laces being right around the corner, and a popular online gag involved sharing photoshopped screenshots from the movie with the wrong dates edited in, so people would think that the "Back to the Future" future was already at hand. And slowly, inevitably, the October 21, 2015 date started to be hyped up, taking in an unusual degree of significance as we got closer and closer to it.
And so we had a "Back to the Future" pop culture holiday. The trilogy was released back into theaters for one day, complete with a "Jaws 19" trailer, and topped the box office with $4.8 million worldwide. A special 30th Anniversary Blu-ray set was also released, of course. USA Today published a special version of their front page, based on the one that appeared in the movie, which generated huge sales of the print edition. Then Nike announced the impending arrival of their new MAG shoes, which come with working power laces, in Spring, 2016. Meanwhile, Pepsi Perfect quickly sold out. And then Michael J. Fox Foundation offered limited edition T-shirts as part of its fundraising push. And the Puente Hills Mall, where the original films were shot, turned into the Twin Pines Mall for a day, complete with Doc Brown's van in the parking lot. Even organizations with no ties to the movie got in on the fun - IKEA released an assembly guide for a hoverboard, called the HÖVA, while the Austrian transport ministry issues regulations on their usage.
The fans - and there is no shortage of them - happily went out and cosplayed, and sang karaoke to Huey Lewis songs, and made jokes about the Cubs being in the playoffs for the umpteenth time. The Universal Studios theme parks, home to the Back to the Future rides, were the destination of choice for many meetup groups. An Arizona couple had a themed wedding where they tied the knot at 4.29 PM, the exact time that Doc and Marty were due to arrive from 1985. Social media was flooded with people all over the world linking to "Back to the Future" trivia and articles, some of them reflecting on how the real 2015 compared to the version from the movie. And you might have heard about the fan documentary, "Back in Time," which looks at the creation of the franchise and its impact. It was picked up by a distributor and released on VOD, Blu-ray and select theaters - on October 21, 2015 of course.
Everything culminated in the appearance of Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox as Doc and Marty on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" When the Delorean appeared on the stage and Alan Silvestri's theme music started playing, my heart was in my throat. When Fox and Lloyd climbed out of the Delorean in costume, the crowd erupted and suddenly I was ten years old again, watching the old "Back to the Future" VHS tapes on the living room rug. But then the applause died down, and Kimmel came out to perform a brief skit with Fox and Lloyd. And it was all too apparent that neither actor was in very good shape. There were several uncomfortable pauses as Lloyd struggled to navigate the teleprompter dialogue, and Fox kept his hands in his pockets to help stave off the affects of Parkinson's. He wasn't quite successful. And as they were played off by Huey Lewis, the whole thing made me feel a little sad.
And it struck me that it really had been thirty years, and a whole generation since "The Back to the Future" movies. It was fun seeing the power of nostalgia give so many people a taste of their childhoods again for a day, but for me it was bittersweet. As I get older, these fan events have been losing their appeal, because I like being a grown-up and feel less and less attached to the experience of being a kid. The 2015 of "Back to the Future, Part II" still looks cool, but the real 2015 is not one I'd give up easily. I worked very hard to get here, and have concluded that going back in time is best left to the movies.