Twenty-five years after it first opened in theaters, "Back to the Future" continues to light up Bob Gale's life. Literally. The franchise creator and scribe keeps a Mr. Fusion prop that has been turned into a lamp.
And, metaphorically at least, Gale has had many an occasion recently to flip on some "BTTF" illumination, as the 25th anniversary of that first film arrived this year. To celebrate the creation of the greatest film ever made in the history of this world or any other world (that's a fact, end of story), Universal has released a special Blu-ray trilogy pack, and Gale has been making the media rounds.
Recently, Gale called up MTV News, and after I stopped drooling into the receiver, we got down to our nerdy business. In a wide-ranging conversation, he spoke about gigawatts and speed limits, prequels and sequels, Easter eggs and quotable lines, Eric Stoltz and Michael J. Fox.
MTV: There's always the debate among fans about which movie is the best of the trilogy. If I forced you to choose, what's your favorite?
Bob Gale: I would have to say No. 1 because it's complete in itself. It changed my life in oh so many ways. But the second one took the most chances, and my slightly twisted sense of humor with the 1985 alternate world, I love all that. And the riff of going back into the original movie was so cool. And the third one was the most fun to make, riding around on a train, wearing a Stetson was a blast.
MTV: OK, let's geek out for a minute. 1.21 giggawats. Why 1.21? Why not 1.22 or 2.21?
Gale: We did some research, and I think it's relatively accurate. 1.21 sounded good. It is like, why 88 miles per hour? It's easy to remember. As a writer, you want to find the words that'll sound right so it'll be stuck in the audience's mind. The electrical engineer we spoke with about how much electricity is in a lightening bolt, he pronounced it jig-a-watt. We'd never heard the term before. You can call it gig-a-watt or jig-a-watt. They're both correct. I actually misspelled it in the script, and spelled it jigowatt. That's why Doc and Marty pronounce it that way.
MTV: So for 88 miles per hour, was there any sort of pseudo-science behind it, or it just sounded good?
Gale: No, but it was something people had to remember. It had to be over the speed limit so that someone wouldn't actually drive the car that fast.
MTV: The last name McFly — was that always the family's last name? Or did you guys suddenly strike upon it?
Gale: [Director and co-writer] Bob Zemeckis came up with that. It wasn't always the name. We would sit around and throw out names, and McFly came out of Bob's mouth. "McFly? McFly? Yeah that sounds good. Let's use that."
MTV: The movie is ridiculously quotable. Is there one line that you didn't think would catch on but now you hear all the time?
Gale: "What are you looking at butthead?" And "Hello, anybody home?" We didn't think much about it, but the cadence is so great. The line itself is meaningless, but it's something else with Biff's spin on it.
MTV: I feel like there's an unexplored prequel here. What did Doc Brown do from the point in 1955 when he discovered the flux capacitor to the point in 1985 when he took the DeLorean for its first ride? You guys ever think about doing a prequel?
Gale: There could be, but we like telling people just enough of the story so that people can invent things in their head. The opening shot, when the camera is going through Doc's laboratory, there's a newspaper on the wall that says the Brown mansion was destroyed in a fire. You can infer from that that maybe Doc set his house on fire to collect the insurance money.
MTV: You just blew my mind.
Gale: Those are the little things that are there. My other favorite thing that nobody ever picks up on is when Lorraine is in the car with Marty and she pulls away after they kiss and she says, "It feels like I'm kissing my brother." Well, how does she know that? That tells you she was doing some interesting things with her brother.
MTV: The Internet has been buzzing about that lost Eric Stoltz footage, from that brief period when he played Marty McFly, before Michael J. Fox took over the role. What goes through your mind when you look at that footage all these years later?
Gale: We dodged a bullet. That's what I think. Look how history could have gone, which is what "Back to the Future" is all about. It's really an alternate universe.
MTV: What do you remember about the day you fired him?
Gale: Bob said he's just going to do this. I asked if he wanted me to be there. He said this should be between a director and his actor. My favorite memory of shooting "Back to the Future" was the first night Michael J. Fox came to work, when we shot the mall sequence.
MTV: Have you or Bob spoken with Eric since?
Gale: We haven't had any conversations with him. We're not avoiding it, but you don't call up the girlfriend you broke up with.
MTV: Every so often, rumors about a fourth movie crop up — a reboot or a sequel or whatever. Are these just rumors, or have you guys actually had conversations in recent years about another movie?
Gale: Once Michael was diagnosed with Parkinsons, it went out of our consciousness. "Back to the Future" without Michael J. Fox — we don't want to see that movie and we don't want to make a movie we don't want to see. History has shown us that some of these franchises go back to the well one too many times. People are always disappointed. That's why we don't want to go back.
MTV: So we'll never seen Zac Efron riding in that DeLorean?
Gale: What everybody has to understand is that in the contracts that Bob and I have, Universal can't make another "Back to the Future" movie without coming to us first. They are contractually obligated to do that. We've been very vociferous about this for a long time. I don't know who starts these rumors, but they don't come from Universal. They don't come from Amblin [Entertainment]. Because Universal knows, they can't do it without coming to us first. We're not going to do it.