Observing ‘Back to the Future’ Day with blasts from Juneau’s past

Today is “Back to the Future” Day.

Mobile users may see the infographic here.

In the reels of the film “Back to the Future II,” starring Michael J. Fox back when film still had reels, the time-traveling character Marty McFly travels from 1985 to the distant future of 2015, arriving on October 21 to see such impossible things as the Cubs winning the World Series, video phone calls, flying cars and hoverboards.

It was just a popular summer flick when it was released in 1985, but “Back to the Future” spawned a trilogy of films (including the 1989 sequel whose landmark date is today) that have become a cultural touchstone for Millennials. After all, who doesn’t want a hoverboard?

In honor of this pop culture milestone, we’ve decided to take a local look back at what Juneau was like in 1955 and 1985, comparing the capital city of the past to the one we know today.

We’ve decorated the front page of the Empire with a pair of photoillustrations that blend photographs from 1985 and 1955 with ones taken Tuesday.

We also took a look back in our own archives. What were the top headlines this day in 1985? The U.S. being accused of terrorism, the federal government studying the Tongass rainforest, and political trouble in the Middle East.

Some things haven’t changed all that much.

Juneau’s Foodland IGA supermarket has been open for more than 60 years, so we went back and looked at the advertised prices:

• Ground beef was 33 cents per pound in 1955, $2.49 per pound in 1985 and $3.79 per pound today (for the 20 percent lean stuff). According to the federal inflation calculator, that 33-cent price in 1955 would be $2.93 per pound today.

• Creamed corn was 19 cents per can in 1955, 44 cents per can in 1985 and on the shelf today is $1.09 per can.

• Canned niblet corn was 16 cents per can in 1955, 44 cents per can in 1985 and $1.09 per can today.

• Chicken breasts were 69 cents per pound in 1955, $2.49 per pound in 1985 and $2.99 per pound today (and the modern ones come pre-spiced in the butcher case).

All those prices are comparing what Foodland advertised then to what it sells now. We found foods advertised by other stores, too.

• Cheddar cheese was 69 cents per pound in 1955, $2.44 per pound in 1985 and $3.25 per pound today.

• Flour was $1.23 for 10 pounds in 1955, $2.49 per 10 pounds in 1985, and $5.24 for 10 pounds today.

And there was one oddity: Bar-S hot dogs. In 1955, they cost 45 cents per pound. In 1985, they were $1.19 per pound, and when we checked the Foodland price again on Tuesday, they were still posted at $1.19 per pound.

Food’s essential, but it isn’t as fun as say, a trip to Seattle. In 1955, Pacific Northwest Airlines offered a $55 one-way fare from Juneau to Seattle. If that sounds good, remember inflation: That price would be more than $488 today. Alaska Airlines listed a $405 one-way Seattle ticket for Friday travel when we checked.

And of course, there’s computers. In October 1985, the Empire ran ads from MicroAge Computer Stores, which offered a state-of-the-art Compaq DeskPro 286 with a whopping 30 megabyte hard drive and 512 kilobytes of memory. Its price? Just $5,888. That’s the equivalent of $13,020.63 today.

•••

Finally, one last note from the past. Back to the Future premiered on July 3, 1985, but 30 years ago, Juneau didn’t have a first-run movie theater. It had to wait weeks, sometimes months, to see the newest movies. “Back to the Future,” though a summer blockbuster, was no different. It didn’t arrive in Juneau until this week, premiering on Friday, Oct. 18, 1985.

The Empire’s local review was written by staff writer Chuck Kleeschulte, and we’ve reprinted it here in whole.

•••

At times there are movies that are nearly perfect, blending innovative plots, good acting, creative special effects and humor together into a good time for anyone who comes. “Back to the Future” is just such a movie.

Robert Zemeckis, the director of “Romancing the Stone,” co-authored the marvelously creative screenplay and then directed a movie of such style and wit that it deserved to be one of this past summer’s biggest hits.

“Back to the Future” comes from the stable of cinematic wizard Steve Spielberg. Spielberg and his crew of co-producers in past years have presented such films as Joe Dante’s “Gremlins,” or this spring’s “Goonies,” where Spielberg lends plot assistance, casting help, special effect production and just plain advice on how to add clever fun to any 70mm invention. And Spielberg’s boyish exuberance is much in evidence thorughout “Future.”

The film is a takeoff on the standard time machine script — a mad scientist creates a time machine that can take people back through the ages. It has one small problem. It requires nuclear fuel to run and tends to run out of it rather quickly.

The plot, however, is really not about science fiction impossibilities. It is about a son skipping back in time to become matchmaker to his own parents in a small 1955 town.

The son is played wonderfully by TV’s “Family Ties” Michael J. Fox, who proves he is a real comic talent capable of great style and delivery on a large screen.

He is about perfect in delivering sly asides in a film based upon a probing of his own parents’ morals, using takeoffs on everything from “Star Wars,” to old Ronald Reagan movies in the process. From pop music to the revamped DeLorean that serves as the time machine, the movie has surprises scattered about like Easter eggs. Some of the fun for the audience is gathering them in before Zemeckis hands them to the audience.

It’s one of the great compliments for the film that, using an unbelieveable premise, like any good fiction, it closes all of its plot twists, making the unbelieveable seem almost plausible by film’s end.

Besides Fox, Christopher Lloyd has real style as the mad scientist, while Fox’s parents, Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover, turn in clever performances — three clever performances apiece — as the parents.

It is a movie where after the first 10 minutes you won’t want to be fidgeting with your popcorn or you might miss some of this film’s treasures.

Summertime big screen fare often is all action or outrageous comedy, without any warmth, wit or soul. Spending time with “Future” is time very well spent indeed because Spielberg and Zemeckis have never forgotten that good movies are imbued with magical properties. Most have a common trait, whether they are about a coastal community’s sheriff, a telephone company’s lineman, an Indiana college professor, or bicycle-riding or television-watching kids. The element is the ability to take the audience to a place it couldn’t get to on its own.

Back to the Future does that, heading 30 years back to an era that half the U.S. population wasn’t around to experience.

I give it four stars.

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