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Hoverboards


Claim:   The hoverboards used in the film Back to the Future II weren't merely creative special effects; they were real!

FALSE

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1994]

In the movie Back to the Future II, the hero rides a pink hoverboard and saves the day, etc. A very prevalent legend that circulated around the schools when this movie came out was that some toy company had actually developed a working hoverboard, and were planning to release it as soon as the movie was out of theaters. The release of the board not occurring, the rumor was appended to be such that someone had been killed/severely injured in the playtesting of the hoverboard, and the resulting suit from the child's parents kept the hoverboard from being ever put into production.
 

Origins:   One of the more memorable details of Back to the Future II (1989), the second entry in the Back to the Future trilogy, were the incredible hoverboards depicted in that film. Hoverboard In a futuristic tie to the original Back to the Future, the sequel (set thirty years in the future from the original, in the year 2015) featured airborne hoverboards, a 21st century updating of the skateboard Marty McFly opportunistically "invented" in 1955 to escape a gang of pursuing bullies. But unlike the earthbound versions of bobbysoxer times, these Back to the Future II boards could fly.

Naturally such a sight prompted lust in the hearts of kids and teens who saw the picture. They envisioned themselves swooping though air on these gadgets, and the wish for such a product created the belief that there actually was such a product. Besides, the name "Mattel" was printed on those things; that must have meant they were real! (Actually, Back to the Future II was somewhat infamous for the number and prominence of product placements salted throughout the film. Had the hoverboard not had a logo on it, that would have been remarkable.)

In the world of lore, we call this a wish fulfillment legend; in the hearts of those kids, it was only right that wanting something so much could transform it into reality.

Young folks came charging out of the theaters with their heads filled with vivid images of hoverboards and of themselves smugly swooping along on them, the envy of all they
met. Whispers quickly spread that it wasn't just special effects up on that screen; those were real flying hoverboards and, even better, they'd be in the stores soon!

But of course there was nothing to any of it. Hoverboards were naught but ordinary movie special effects wizardry, created by suspending actors from a rig on the back of a truck and driving them around Courthouse Square (a fixed shooting location in Universal's back lot in Hollywood) on hoverboards that were nailed or glued to their feet to appear as if they were floating in the middle of nowhere. Scenes where the hoverboards seem to jump up and snap onto the riders' feet were created with the help of rare earth magnets secreted in the actors' shoes. Closeups were effected by posing hoverboard-riding actors in front of a blue screen, then afterwards melding these shots with footage of the background scene.

Robert Zemeckis, the film's director and special effects genius, became fed up with people asking him how the hoverboard sequences were done, and, according to Michael J. Fox, he began answering, "What do you mean, how did we do it? It's a real hover-board. It flies. Michael [J. Fox] just practiced a lot." His exasperation-fueled flippancy only served to heighten the rumor; now even the director was confirming it!

The hoverboard's failure to appear on toy store shelves was attributed to pressure brought to bear upon Mattel by parents' groups concerned for the safety of children, and once again Zemeckis was right there to stir the pot: "Hoverboards have been around for years, but parents' groups worry that kids will get hurt, so they've pressured the toy companies not to put them on the market," he said. "We got our hands on some."

The DVD set of the Back to the Future trilogy has Zemeckis saying "we got our hands on a couple of these hover boards after toy companies were banned from producing them" and one of the features includes footage of stunt men testing the hoverboards in a field. But this is just more of the leg-pull.

Further non-Zemeckian extensions of the rumor told of a tester who died in a particularly gruesome accident, his death leading Mattel to rethink the whole concept.

Mattel was besieged with inquiries about where and when buyers could purchase hoverboards. "In most cases, we make it clear it was made specifically for the movie," said Glenn Bozarth of Mattel back in 1989 when the phones were ringing off the hook. "But if they've got a sense of humor, we tell them to wait until 2015."

In March 2014, the supposed HUVr Tech company proclaimed "the hoverboard has arrived" and released a video (featuring, among other celebrities, actor Christopher Lloyd, who portrayed Doc Brown in the Back to the Future series) purportedly showing such devices in action:


This video was created by Will Ferrell's Funny or Die company, the same outfit responsible for the previous year's fake video featuring NASCAR's Jeff Gordon supposedly pranking an unsuspecting car salesman. Of the HUVr video, TechCrunch wrote:
If you're looking for a well-crafted but ultimately very fake video about hoverboard technology featuring Moby, Terrell Owens, Tony Hawk and Dr. Emmett Brown himself, today is your lucky day. The video above is exactly what I've described, featuring a weird cast of cameos and what appears to be a fake tech team powering everything, plus a soundtrack with Chromeo and Best Coast. Also there's a Mark Cuban endorsement to complete the strange assembly.

The tagline is that the "Future Has Arrived," when in fact it hasn’t. Aside from being a clear (though still technically impressive) fake, the website for this demo and fake company also shows a counter with December 2014 as the projected "destination time" for whatever's going on here. That could just be part of the artificial HUVr product dressing, but it could also be when whatever's being promoted here breaks cover.
The International Business Times also noted that:
It seems pretty real until you dive into the legal section of HUVr's website, which says, "the inclusion of any products or services on this website at a particular time does not imply or warrant that these products or services will be available at any time."

There are also clues in the video that it's a hoax. At 2:10, it is clear that wires attached to a harness are the real cause of Terrelle Owens lifting into the air.

HUVr's website says that the HUVr Board demonstration is a marketing scheme to attract investors, saying that the team and investors are "marketing this exciting consumer product in order to fund ongoing R&D."

Even though HUVr Boards likely aren't on their way anytime soon, HUVr could be developing some very exciting technology. This YouTube video certainly got the Internet talking about them.
Barbara "bleck! to the future" Mikkelson

Last updated:   4 March 2014

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