Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: The hoverboards used in Back to the Future II weren't merely creative special effects; they were real!
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1994]
Origins: Back to the Future II (1989) was the weakest entry in the Back to the Future trilogy (although some would say Back to the Future III gave it a run for its money, with its confused Wild West theme and awkward romantic subplot involving Doc Brown and an 1880s school marm). BTTF II's time-shifting chases after Biff quickly grew tiresome, and only occasionally was a spark of the original's charm apparent through the glitz of overdone production and the cloyingness of a successful film spun off one too many times.
Mercifully, only a few things from BTTF II stay with the audience: some views of Las Vegas and those incredible hoverboards.
In a futuristic tie to the original Back to the Future, BTTF II featured airborne hoverboards, a
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
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
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
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.''
Remarkably, no matter how weak a film Back to the
Barbara "bleck! to the future" Mikkelson
Last updated: 17 August 2007
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