Back To The Future – The worst movie novelisation ever, and how Ryan North made it all better

Cover of Back To The Future, a novelisation by George Gipe

Last year, browsing the ace Brooklyn Flea in New York, I spotted a copy of the novelisation of Back To The Future (one of the greatest films ever made, as I’m sure you know) written by someone called George Gipe and published alongside the movie back in good old 1985.

I was excited – I love BTTF, I could watch it every week (which, luckily living in Britain with access to ITVs 2, 3 and 4, I pretty much can do) so I thought the book would be a fun addition. I read it, cover to cover, on the flight home, not because I was so enjoyably engrossed that I didn’t mind sleep deprivation, but because it was so gut-crunchingly awful that I really couldn’t stop. It was bad – not so bad it’s good, but so bad it’s gone past good and then through bad again ending up somewhere alongside WHAT THE HELL IS THIS AND WHY HAS THIS MAN DONE A BAD THING TO MY CHILDHOOD kind of bad.

I’ve spent the year since, on and off, trying to write something that truly captures this incredible book.

How can I do it justice? This is 248 pages of book, each as bad as the others, some even worse. There is endless poor dialogue, weird pacing, odd references, misogyny, casual racism, unlikeable characters (Marty is whiny and self-obsessed, while Doc is self-glorifying, and doesn’t even seem to like Marty), page upon page of needless, plot-interrupting filler (including half a chapter of utterly pointless angst-y backstory for the Libyan terrorists, and an interminable aside on George McFly’s views on Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People) and, worst of all for me, what he did to the best delivered line in movie history. Compare this…

…to this…

“Are you trying to tell me you built a time machine out of that DeLorean?” Marty demanded.

Yeah, suckers, who needs comic timing when you can have a grumpy teenager making a demand, and a weird, emotionless lack of emphasis.

BTTF - Are you trying to tell me...How could I cover all of that in a single blog post? So it’s stayed unwritten apart from four or five rubbish drafts, none of which have helped ease the pain. It was very distracting.

But it turns I’m neither the first nor anywhere near the best person to have such a reaction to this novelisation. While researching Gipe and the book, I stumbled on a whole Tumblr blog devoted to itRyan North, author of the ace Dinosaur Comics, spent the best part of eight months writing a page by page review/tear-down of the entire thing. He gets to the crux right in his introduction to the novel:

“Back To The Future: A Robert Zemeckis Film” (this seems to be the title of the book, judging by the cover) is a fascinating book for several reasons.  One, the author was working off of the screenplay, but clearly a version of the screenplay that was not the final one.  Two, the author (George Gipe) seems to not have had an editor, as there are sections of the book that are crazy loco”

B to the F: The Novelization is, in a very different way from the book itself, hugely entertaining and laugh out loud funny. And here’s the weird thing: having the blog as a reading companion totally makes the book worth reading. So I urge you: if you are a fan of BTTF and have a spare weekend, grab yourself a copy of this masterpiece of mid 1980s blockbuster movie tie-in literature, and read it page by page, accompanied by Ryan’s very reasonably priced e-book version of the entire blog. And if you’ve already read the novelisation, it will help you come to terms with the experience, too. It was like therapy for me.

I’m going to finish with an important fact: Just a couple years before writing this book, George Gipe was one of the screenwriters of the ace Steve Martin comedy The Man With Two Brains. Oh George, when did it all go so wrong for you?

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