You Can’t Go Home Again: How Hill Valley Changes Over Time in Back to the Future

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Three movies, one town, five versions.

Out of all the things effected by Marty McFly’s time-travelling exploits in the Back to the Future franchise – including Marty himself – there’s none more so than the quaint burg of Hill Valley, Marty’s hometown. Despite there being only three movies, we actually get five versions of Hill Valley: the present (1985) version, the alternate 1985 that results from Trump… er, Biff stealing the sports almanac, the 1955 version, the 1885 version, and the 2015 version.

Despite these drastically different manifestations, there are elements of Hill Valley that remain across them all, like the clock tower, or the town square, or the ample straightaways perfect for hitting 88 mph. Of course, these are just roots that keep Hill Valley in place as it shifts through its many different forms, forms which are reflected in the architecture, the fashion, the technology, and the populace behavior in town. Narratively this isn’t so tricky, all you need is a little imagination and some era-research where possible, but from a production-design standpoint pulling off the separate but similar locales was quite tricky, especially considering the films were made over a five year period. The key was in keeping the essence of the place recognizable while playing with the many ways a town can change (or be made to change) across the decades.

In the following fun and intriguing video from Joel Bocko made for Fandor, the four predominant versions of Hill Valley – those listed above excluding the present version since Marty doesn’t spend too much screen-time there – have been set into a grid so we might be able to see all of them at once for the purpose of comparing the complementary yet conflicting designs of each. The result is a renewed appreciation for one of the most intricate franchises of all-time, one every bit as dependent on its minutiae as its major facets.

If you like this video, which I’m convinced you will, check out the rest of Bocko’s Lost in the Movies site for more of his work, including the most extensive video study of Twin Peaks EVER.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist