Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Back to the Future (Gipe, George)

Rating: 4/5
Year: 1985
Genre: Sci-fi, comedy
Read again? In another 20 years...

Writing-up the DeLorean book put me in the mood to read this; finishing that thrice-damned "Brightly Burning" settled it. I'm all Mercedes Lackeyed out.

I think I've read BTTF only a few times (three, maybe four), and all back in the year or so after the movie. I remember not liking it, and that's probably because movie tie-in books never match their movies the way I used to expect them to. Sometimes it's tolerable (or at least bearable); other times it's something Alan Dean Foster butchered back in the '80s (three "Alien" movies, "The Thing," and more). The worst one I can think of off the top of my pointy head is "Ghostbusters," in which Richard Mueller sanitizes all the dirty words and most of the humor from the story.

It's 1985. Marty McFly is a 17-year-old kid who wants to be a rock star. Emmett "Doc" Brown is the resident kook about town.

Marty is summoned to the Twin Pines Mall early in the morning to witness an "important experiment." What he finds is Doc and a modified DeLorean, a time machine! Our boy ends up back in 1955. He ends up being a crush for his own mother (Lorraine), and it's up to him and a much younger Doc Brown to get Lorraine to fall for the proper guy--the massively unpopular and nerdy George McFly. The story is well-paced and follows the movie for the most part.

Gipe plays McFly as a freaking Marty MacGyver; the kid escapes detention by:
--grabbing the lens from a slide projector (conveniently unattached to the projector?)
--grabbing a rubber band and book of matches from his notebook pen-pouch (matches?!)
--getting a stick of gum and chewing it, then sticking it to the back of the matchbook
--using the rubber band to shoot the matchbook at the ceiling, next to a convenient smoke detector
(Gipe is careful to mention the school's sprinkler system a few pages back from this; of course McFly sticks it on the first try)
--focusing the afternoon sunlight through the stolen lens to light the matches (while his nemesis Principal Strickland is closing the blinds for no obvious reason), setting off the alarm and sprinklers, and making his escape!

This smells of Steven Spielberg's love of Rube Goldberg-like gimmicky stunts, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was actually in an earlier draft of the script. Back in 1985, this opening for the book pissed me off, both because the stunt wouldn't work and because it's nothing like the movie's opening. I was really picky about that stuff--to the point of hating the ghost-written "Star Wars" novelization (as I understand it, Alan Dean Foster ghosted the book for Luca$). Don't expect a writeup on that one anytime soon (or any other Foster book). Nowadays, I don't passionately hate this McGyver scene--but it and a few other sucky spots earned a point off (Gipe drags out the "I am Darth Vader, an extraterrestrial from the planet Vulcan" gag past the point of being funny).

Gipe's style isn't too bad; a big bonus is that he's not fussy in the least, and doesn't commit even the slightest Lackeyism. I'm willing to let certain plot-points and such go mostly because he's probably not the guy who came up with them (we can blame screenwriters Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and maybe Spielberg). Gipe does have some strange ways of putting things--for example, Marty isn't in a rock band, he's in a "group." Some of his other word choices seem clumsy. Maybe not the best movie tie-in you'll ever read, but definitely not the worst. This book isn't literature; strictly lightweight reading, and just what I needed to help me get over the Lackey headache.

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