Back to the Future as Wizard of Oz
(Random thoughts while making my parody)
While you can clearly find other models for the second two movies in the Back to the Future series, the first movie seems to generate some of its ideas from the Wizard of Oz.
The basic frame work, of course, has to do with how the alternative reality mirrors the one from which the hero is thrust.
Marty as Dorothy seems unable to cope with current reality, sees his life as a drag, his parents inadequate, and his future bleak.
Like Dorothy, he has dreams of going somewhere and doing something significant.
In both films, we have the hero meeting up the conjurer in the real world, and before the hero can get back, he or she is swept out of the real world into the world of the past where many of characters of the real world reappear in an altered form.
In some ways, George McFly serves as several of the hero’s helpers, the lion who lacks courage and the Tin Man who lacks love.
The doc of 1955 is both the scarecrow in search of a brain as the wizard who must some how perform something more than a trick in getting the hero back to the world from which he came.
Biff is clearly the evil witch who is eventually robbed of his broom (his car) and is defeated by the most unlikely alliance, when George McFly finds courage and a heart.
The Delorean is a kind of tornado that dumps the hero into the alternative world, even bringing him to a Kansas-like farm where he confronts people not much different from those Dorothy would have recognized. We even get a brief confrontation with a scarecrow when the Delorean crashes into the farm.
When the Delorean breaks down, Marty begins his trek by following a road, while not made of yellow bricks, does take him to a kind of Emerald City, where he is confronted with the amazing energy of the mid-1950s when people believed modern conveniences would be the salvation of humanity, and amazing things could be seen right in the heart of the community.
In some ways, the court house and its square combines Munchkin Land with the Emerald City as the stunned Marty looks around in much the same way Dorothy did.
Here Marty meets Biff for the first time just as Dorothy met the evil witch, setting up the central conflict in both films. It is clear that Marty and George will be forced to confront Biff at some point in the near future in the same way that Dorothy was to confront the witch.
Even the central dream sequence where Marty keeps waking up into stranger and stranger situations (see my Back to the Future and Spielberg’s War of the World essay for more on this) seems to be a reference to Dorothy’s dream and waking.
The comparison, of course, has its limits since we do not get ruby shoes or flying monkeys in Back to the Future, but other there are enough elements in the subtext to suggest that Oz may have played an important role in conceiving the idea for Back to the Future.
While we do not get music that suggests a desire to go over the rainbow, we do get a song talking about going back in time.
As with Dorothy, Marty finds answers in the past that he could not have found without making the journey, and his relationship to the characters changes accordingly.
I like to compare Strickland to the guard at the gates of the Emerald City, except that Strickland seems to be the one devoid of heart.
Instead of worrying over the fate of Aunty Em, the way Dorothy did – because of the vision she saw in the conjurers crystal ball – Marty worries over the fate of Doc, who he saw shot before leaving on his magical journey.
The use of a photograph in Back to the Future may also tie into the Oz classic since the conjurer used the photo to fool Dorothy. Doc does refer to the photo at one point as a trick in Back to the Future.
Dorothy’s friends eventually come to her rescue resulting in the eventual undoing of the witch; George McFly comes to Marty’s rescue resulting in the undoing of Biff’s bullying.
In fact, in both films, it is essential for Dorothy/Marty to help the companions find the inner strength that will give them the courage, brains and heart they need. In many ways, in both films, Marty and Dorothy aren’t really the heroes at all, the other characters are, each coming into their own as a result of coming into contact with the central character.
I’m sure there are tons of other subtle references I’m missing in this comparison, but I’ve made the point, I think.