- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Alan Silvestri estimates that the premiere of “Back to the Future” in 1985 was likely only the third time he had ever heard the music he’d written for the iconic sci-fi comedy.

In an age before MIDI files and instantaneous computer-simulated orchestras, the then-35-year-old composer had to rely only on the symphony in his mind.

“Back in that day, nobody had [electronic] mock-ups,” Mr. Silvestri told The Washington Times before last weekend’s live performance of his expanded score by the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia.

The mid-‘80s classic and its two sequels follow 17-year-old Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), who inadvertently travels back to 1955 in a DeLorean, thereby disrupting the first meeting of his parents, Lorraine (Lea Thompson) and George (Crispin Glover).

“The archetypes of the story are enormous: great friendship, great love, adventure, all these things,” Mr. Silvestri said of the first film.

Marrying those grand notions with fictional Hill Valley, California’s small-town Americana mythos was one of his initial challenges as the film’s composer.


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“Oddly enough, the imagery of the film is kind of small in scale,” he said. “It’s a little town square, it’s houses, and I found myself going for this big kind of score, when, imagery-wise, it’s not really what we’re seeing all the time.

“But until you actually see Lea and Michael J. and [Christopher] Lloyd [on the screen], you don’t really get a sense of what’s really happening” in the musical score, he said.

The film was written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis — collectively known as “the Bobs” — and directed by Mr. Zemeckis.

For the film’s 30th anniversary, Mr. Silvestri went back to his notes and rejiggered his score, much of which was rushed in the film’s post-production to make its summer release — and subsequently went unused in the finished movie.

For the Wolf Trap performance, the film was projected live above the stage while the NSO, conducted by Emil de Cou, played Mr. Silvestri’s expanded score in conjunction with the time-hopping adventures of Marty and Doc Brown (Mr. Lloyd).

The opening tracking shot of all of Doc Brown’s laboratory clocks initially was silent but for the ticking of the second hands, but Mr. de Cou led the NSO in a rousing rendition of the main orchestral theme underneath that scene until Huey Lewis’ “The Power of Love” kicks in on the soundtrack a few moments later.

Miss Thompson, who joined Mr. Silvestri for a preperformance lecture, praised the composer’s themes, which she called “amazing.”

Miss Thompson, who played Lorraine as a 17-year-old and a 47-year-old in the film, says she doesn’t mind when fans of the movie wish to run lines with her. Fortunately, she said, she isn’t called “butthead” on the street — unlike co-star Thomas F. Wilson, who portrayed the bully Biff Tannen, who was apt to label his victims as such.

“At this point, the amount of affection people have for the characters and the piece is nothing but wonderful,” Miss Thompson said. “So I have never, ever been annoyed by that — not once.”

In addition to 2015 being the film’s pearl anniversary, the year played a key part in “Back to the Future Part II,” which came out in 1989. In the sequel’s vision of the future, Marty escapes from bad guys on a floating hoverboard, cars fly, clothes are self-drying, lawyers have been abolished and characters hang out at a retro ‘80s diner. While many of those forecasts have failed to materialize, one character is, however, seen with an iPad-like data device.

“I don’t think it was easy for [the Bobs] to imagine,” Miss Thompson said of the fictional future. “Obviously, it was a comedy, so I think they weren’t exactly trying to get the future right, [but] they were trying to get it funny and fit the story.”

Mr. Silvestri concurred, saying that while the exact schematic of the future might have been wrong, the sequel’s notions of constant media, ubiquitous TV screens and paying far more attention to personal electronic devices rather than family members around the dinner table have in fact come true — with a vengeance.

“I think they had a lot of fun with it, and their projections were pretty great,” he said of Mr. Zemeckis‘ and Mr. Gale’s imagining of a brave new world.

The Wolf Trap event is part of a string of worldwide performances of “Back to the Future” live performances to coincide with its 30th anniversary. Mr. Silvestri said he is able to sit back and allow interpreters, such as Maestro de Cou and David Newman in Lucerne, Switzerland, to bring his music to life without second-guessing the new renderings.

“It’s incredible to see somebody else do that and be the audience and see that nobody needs me anymore,” Mr. Silvestri said with a laugh, recalling that he had not heard his entire “Back to the Future” score since recording it on a soundstage in 1985. “[The music] has a life of its own.”

Miss Thompson’s Lorraine had a chance at a second life when “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, an avowed “Back to the Future” fanatic, recruited her to revive her character on his animated TV farce.

Mr. Silvestri also has worked with Mr. MacFarlane, who hired the composer to score his reboot of “Cosmos” hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“I think the only reason he hired me was because he wanted to tell me how much he loved ‘Back to the Future,’” Mr. Silvestri said. “I mean he loves, loves, loves the movie. And he’s the coolest guy I’ve ever met.”

For all of the “Back to the Future” memorabilia Miss Thompson has been called on to autograph, one item she is shocked has not been much presented her way is purple Calvin Klein underwear like the pair worn by Mr. Fox in the film — which led 1955 Lorraine to call him “Calvin.”

“I’ve only signed like two, three pairs,” she said.

Mr. Silvestri has gone on to score more than a dozen of Mr. Zemeckis‘ subsequent films, including 1994 best picture winner “Forrest Gump,” for which Mr. Silvestri was nominated for an Oscar. Their upcoming 18th collaboration, “The Walk,” tells the true-life tale of Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a French high-wire artist who, in 1974, walked on a cable suspended between the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York. The film debuts in 3-D in September.

“That’s kind of interesting because I’ve had some of my space-time continuum” with Mr. Zemeckis, Mr. Silvestri said of their longtime collaboration.”[I’ve] had Bob [Zemeckis] there for all this time, but still, 30 years is a long time.”

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