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One of the most iconic vehicles in the history of film is the modified 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 used by Dr. Emmett Brown and Marty McFly to travel back in time in the 1985 hit Back to the Future, written by Bob Gale, directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. However, amazingly enough, when the movie was initially written, there was no DeLorean involved. In fact, it took a few drafts before the car became the means of time travel. Originally, the method Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly traveled back in time was quite different and his trip back to the future took place in something that would become very familiar (perhaps infamously so) to fans of Spielberg’s work: a refrigerator at the center of an atomic blast! Read on to see how things went down …
Gale and Zemickis had been working on Back to the Future for roughly five years before the film was finally made in 1985. Their first screenplay draft set the story in 1982. Because a constant in the script always has been going back 30 years to when a teenager’s parents were teens (the idea came to Gale while he was looking through his father’s yearbook and wondered whether he and his father would have been friends in high school), the journey would have taken young Marty McFly to 1952. Originally, the time-travel device was a beam of sorts powered by plutonium (and Coca-Cola) that effectively “zapped” Marty back in time.
Of course, if the device were powered by nuclear energy in 1982, how in the world could Marty power it in 1952? Luckily, that year happened to mark the last above-ground atomic bomb detonation in the United States in Atkins, Nevada (something helpfully referenced in Marty’s history class earlier in the film), so the 1952 version of Emmett Brown (a professor in this version) rigged up a special lead-lined refrigerator with the device attached so Marty could ride out the detonation inside while the blast would trigger the time-travel device.
Ultimately, it was determined it probably wasn’t a good idea to use a refrigerator in such a manner, as kids might want to re-enact the scene — and as any child of the ‘80s recalls, kids suffocating in refrigerators must have been some sort of epidemic (that is, if you can trust Punky Brewster and G.I. Joe, which both warned of the danger). In addition, they figured it would make more sense if the time-travel device were mobile.
After a few tries, they came up with the DeLorean idea. However, amazingly enough, even with the DeLorean as part of the script, Marty’s return home was STILL through the Nevada atomic bomb test.
Here are the storyboards for that version of the script:
Eventually, it was determined that it would just cost way too much for the special effects of an atomic bomb test. So they scrapped that idea and went with electricity instead, and the rest is cinematic history.
Of course, more than two decades later, Spielberg used the idea as part of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, as Indiana Jones finds himself at that very same 1952 test site and manages to survive the blast by riding it out in a refrigerator. Perhaps this was an idea that was better left on the cutting-room floor. In either event, the legend is …
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