Great Scott! Hello again folks to another special blog post and this time you’re in for a real treat. The Geek went along to Secret Cinema’s Back to the Future screening and had an absolute blast.
“Since you’re new here, I-I’m gonna cut you a break, today. So, why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here?” – Biff Tannen
The premise of Secret Cinema is that you sign up to buy tickets for film you have no idea what you’re about to see. You’re given cryptic clues, fashion advice and then told to meet at a clandestine meeting point somewhere around London at a specific time. It sounded very exciting, especially for someone who has never been to a Secret Cinema event before. So when it was announced that Secret Cinema were doing Back to the Future, one of my favourite films of all time, it was an opportunity too good to pass up, especially when the creators said they were going to re-create 1955 Hill Valley. After missing out the first round of tickets, I managed to pick up the second batch due to phenomenal demand.
Now before I start going through my experience I think this review wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t mention the early troubles with the production. I could probably count myself lucky that I was going towards the tail end of it’s run but couldn’t help but feel sorry for those who got the opening weekend. Approximately the first three nights were cancelled. While the actual reason for the cancellations wasn’t really mentioned on Secret Cinema’s social networks, for many, the cancellation came out of the blue, especially on opening night as it was announced only two hours before the show was due to start. This obviously led to two things:
- Angry/frustrated/annoyed customers who took to twitter and Facebook to complain why the organisers cancelled on short notice, considering the tickets were certainly not cheap and people were travelling from around the country (and in some cases outside the UK) to attend.
- The revelation of the secret location.
If there was any comfort for the customers, at least the option of a refund/date re-schedule was available. But for many, special plans used to link up with this event and the additional cost of transport/accommodation was too much, especially when the reasoning was never really explained and that will never sit well with people. But if there one thing that was frustrating for me during this time were pictures surfacing on the net via news outlets and social networks of the location. As soon as I accidentally saw one, I knew exactly where the location was which kinda ruined the secrecy and the spirit of the whole surprise and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that feeling.
Personally I won’t reveal where the location was (a simple search on the net would do if you’re that intrigued). The organisers had to manage a storm of criticism and I wished they were honest about what was going on. What they were doing was ambitious and probably their biggest event they have ever produced, so of course complicated issues would have arose. While cynics would probably say “why pay expensive money for a 30 year old film when it’s on TV all the time?” etc. this saga could easily have dented their reputation. Hopefully after this, lessons all round would have been learnt.
Marty McFly: “Whoa. This is heavy.”
Dr. Emmett Brown: “There’s that word again. “Heavy.” Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?”
Before you even step foot into 1955 Hill Valley you are inundated with cryptic emails from the event organisers, all building up to your visit. So yep, you’ve guessed it, while I’ve been in and out between blog posts (and also learning to drive in my spare time and absorbing the highway code like a sponge), this is what I’ve been doing! The emails range from fashion advice and where to get clothing, accessories you need to bring and probably the most important aspect, registration with the Hill Valley Census. By signing up with the census, you are given an alias and a job role that can help with your outfit choice.
It’s so easy to forget that Secret Cinema is not just about seeing this world and passively watching a film for two hours…you become part of the film experience. This is one of unique aspects about the whole event. While it is an extra cost on getting clothing and accessories that suits the occasion it was actually quite fun in a “scavenger hunt” kind of way looking around London’s vintage shops and online stores. My new job profession in 1955 Hill Valley – Assistant Broadcaster at Hill Valley Broadcasting…so basically even in pretend world I was doing my day job! The odds on that…
Marty McFly: “I had a horrible nightmare. I dreamed that I went… back in time. It was terrible.”
Lorraine Baines: “Well, you’re safe and sound now, back in good old 1955.”
Marty McFly: [opens his eyes wide] “1955?”
August 30th 1955 – that was the day my friends and I travelled back in time to Hill Valley.
For someone like me who has seen Back to the Future more times than I can remember, seeing the set creations come to life was quite a feat.
Just like how Marty McFly started out in 1955, your first real engagement upon entry is Peabody’s farm filled with real animals. You walk past Lyon Estates sign and the Hill Valley town starts to open up. The best thing about it – you can interact with it.
You can walk inside Hill Valley houses, especially the Tannen residence where Biff lives. Some houses had 50s style cars parked in their driveway and around the town there were other vehicles including a school bus. All vehicles were all in working condition as they occasionally drove around the town. You can walk into Lou’s Café and order food, watch a film at the Hill Valley cinema, get your car serviced up at the Texaco garage or go to the fair and ride on the Ferris wheel or the swings. No…I’m not forgetting anything – yes the famous Clock Tower was present and yes there was an Enchantment Under the Sea dance at the Hill Valley School. It would have been cool if they had an actual live band playing inside the school but the 50s music, the dancing and the Marvin Berry Jr. drinks was were than enough to get you in the mood.
My words probably don’t do it justice but the detail and the individual touches placed on each set were brilliant. The 50s music filled your ears, a welcomed addition in bringing Hill Valley to life. The only thing that was out of place was a 80s bar but it’s there for a good reason. You see you can’t take any pictures. I had my smartphone on me but if you were seen with one, you were either told to put it away or in the extreme case actually asked to leave. It was a strict rule enforced on the event as of course smartphones didn’t exist in the time period. But strangely enough I didn’t actually feel the need to pull out my phone to take a picture, I was more than happy to settle my mind on being away from anything technological for a couple of hours. But if you still want to treasure those Hill Valley moments, inside that 80s bar which was dedicated to Marty’s timeline, you could pick up a disposable camera and other assortments like a Rubik cube, 3D glasses and Marty McFly’s “life preserver” as well as get drinks or play pool. I was pretty stoked as I’ve haven’t used a disposable camera in YEARS and it brought back a lot of memories of picking and choosing your shots – a relic trait that has long since disappeared with the invention of digital cameras and smartphones.
It’s fair to say that the more effort you put into something, the more you will enjoy it and Secret Cinema’s Back to the Future was no different. What really made these sets come to life were the actors playing the Hill Valley residents. You can talk to them and true to character they would talk back and they were always engaging with the visitors. For many of these interactions you had to be in the right place at the right time – it’s something you could easily miss because there’s so much going on and the actors themselves blended very well within the visiting community. For the eagle eyed and lucky folks, “Doc Brown” was walking around the town! I witnessed a funny moment where he spotted a guy who came dressed as Doc Brown in his HAZMAT suit from the movie. He went up to him and started asking funny questions about the suit and the future. There were other treats – future Mayor “Goldie Wilson” was walking around the town in his café gear, and “Strickland” was hanging around outside the school, no doubt calling everyone slackers whilst getting his students in line. You had to walk on the pavements and use the zebra crossings otherwise the Hill Valley police officers and traffic patrollers would call you out for jaywalking. If you were really lucky (like I was) you would have seen “Marty” running around Hill Valley, looking bemused at where he was. My own personal interaction moment came when I went into a diner set, picked up the phone and called Doc’s house from the phonebook (just like Marty does in the film) and yes “Doc Brown” was on the phone. I wanted to say something funny like “do you think Jerry Lewis would make a good vice president?” or something but I was actually lost for words lol.
Not sure whether it mattered or not but when I did visit my work place in Hill Valley, there wasn’t any instructions of what we were meant to be doing. Maybe we just missed something – who knows.
“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.” – Dr. Emmett Brown
It was around 8pm when the festivities geared up towards the main presentation and it was about that time we took our place in the centre of Hill Valley, facing the Clock Tower where the film was going to be projected on. Luckily enough when we arrived, we placed our stuff down on the lawn space earlier to reserve our spot because as you can imagine, it got pretty crowded later on! Our spot wasn’t too bad as we got a good view of the screen. Once everything was settled, the crowd got introduced to the Mayor of Hill Valley Red Thomas, the Hill Valley parade, the announcement of the Prom King and Queen (which was interrupted by “Biff” and got booed for his efforts). There was live music from Marvin Berry and the Starlighters and “Marty” made an appearance with his guitar in hand as they rocked out together. Once the crowd was geed up and the Clock Tower bells chimed in, the film started under the amazing London night sky.
I could easily write a review on the film but what I will say that it will always remain a classic and always be a personal favourite of mine. Picture quality was excellent, obviously using the re-mastered hi-def version. Being part of a very energetic crowd who cheered, clapped and laughed during all the iconic classic moments and quotes and sang along to Huey Lewis and the News brought a smile to my face. What made it more memorable was the re-enactment of the key scenes from the movie. Now you couldn’t see everything that was happening depending where you were sitting but the re-enactments were taking place all around you. There were moments were I wasn’t even watching the movie but positively distracted by the actors at work bringing the creations to life. From the car chase scene involving “Marty” and his skateboard and “Biff” (sadly no manure) to “Doc Brown” fixing the wire on the Hill Valley Clock Tower – it was all there. Even the Delorean made an amazing entrance as it drove around the Hill Valley set which naturally got everyone excited. If anything, the re-enactments were the best thing about the whole thing making this the best cinematic experience I’ve seen.
The only downside is that all good things must come to an end! Once the film finished and Marvin Berry ended the night with more live music, it was time to go home…back to 2014, back to the future and back to reality.
Timekeeping could have been a little better as I ended up missing the last Overground train – inconvenient but manageable for me.
If you haven’t gathered by now, yes I had an awesome time at Secret Cinema. It was a great effort and work from the actors and organisers and it paid off massively, erasing the troubled start it had. Price wise – yes it was a little expensive but I would definitely recommend a visit to a Secret Cinema event.
It makes you wonder what Secret Cinema will do next – would they attempt another big creation or to do something a little smaller and intimate. I guess time will tell. But for the time being and despite its issues Back to the Future was a treat.
Hill Valley…it really was a nice place to live.