Hey McFly, The Boston Pops Are Performing Live With Time Travel Classic 'Back To The Future'

Boston Pops musicians play a "live-to-picture" "Back to the Future" show at Symphony Hall in Boston, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016. (Winslow Townson)
Boston Pops musicians play a "live-to-picture" "Back to the Future" show at Symphony Hall in Boston, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016. (Winslow Townson)
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Who among us hasn’t entertained fantasies about traveling back in time to alter the past?

Director Robert Zemeckis played on that idea’s universal appeal in his eternally entertaining classic “Back to the Future,” featuring a skateboard riding teen named Marty McFly. In the film, McFly drives a seriously tricked-out DeLorean 30 years into the past to save his parent’s relationship — and his very own existence.

Now the artist who composed the beloved 1985 film’s adventurous score is also turning the clock back about three decades. Alan Silvestri has reconnected with the antics of McFly and "Doc" Brown (played by Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd) to add 20 minutes of music to this paragon of American cinema.

On Friday and Saturday, the Boston Pops will take the composer’s newly-forged elements for a spin at Symphony Hall as “Back to the Future” screens simultaneously in HD above their heads.

When asked why he decided to revisit the past, Silvestri said it was a matter of necessity. He took me back to when the idea first came up to start screening the beloved movie in concert hall settings with live orchestral accompaniment. The composer said it quickly became apparent that there was a problem with the existing score.

“There really wasn’t enough music in the first half of the original film to have what one would call a satisfying concert experience,” Silvestri said.

As an example, Silvestri pointed to the opening sequence of “Back to the Future." Instead of music, the film begins with a cacophony of clocks ticking.

“And of course it was a fabulous way to approach the beginning of the film,” Silvestri said, “because the film is about time travel.” But for a live performance, music was what they needed.

Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, in "Back to the Future." (Courtesy Boston Pops)
Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, in "Back to the Future." (Courtesy Boston Pops)

Thinking back, Silvestri admitted it was a bit daunting to consider altering anything about the “Back to the Future" experience.

“You’re dealing with an iconic piece of pop culture — and the idea of changing it is fraught with all kinds of potential problems,” Silvestri said.

Even so, the composer said Zemeckis and co-writer and co-producer Bob Gale loved the idea of giving it a whirl.

At the same time, Silvestri said none of them wanted it to be obvious that a different live soundtrack was being added to what some would call a perfect film.

The composer told me they asked themselves, “How do we add this music and have people think it was always there?"

The "Back to the Future" movie poster. (Courtesy Boston Pops)
The "Back to the Future" movie poster. (Courtesy Boston Pops)

Their answer was to review the “Back to the Future” trilogy and glean thematic material that they could intersperse throughout the “live-to-picture” score.

Now when the Pops perform along with “Back to the Future” at Symphony Hall, the intro that was formerly adorned by the tick-tock of clocks will be backed with lush music, along with other moments that were “dry” (meaning without an accompanying score) in the original movie.

The new full score has been performed with the film in venues around the world, including Royal Albert Hall, the Sydney Opera House, the Hollywood Bowl and Radio City Music Hall.

Silvestri said it’s been fun to gauge audience response to the enlivened 30 year-old film.

“What we were hoping for was that people who really love the movie — and actually kind of knew the film — would quite possibly ask, ‘Wait a second, I mean, there was always music there, wasn’t there?'” he said. “And it’s the reaction we’ve gotten. No one has felt like we have destroyed this great movie.”

Silvestri, who studied jazz guitar at Berklee College of Music, has written scores for more than 100 films, including “The Abyss” and others by Zemeckis such as “Cast Away” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

The composer has hopes for how the Boston Pops’ “live-to-picture” performance at Symphony Hall will be received.

“The orchestra playing the score for a film is very often unnoticed. And in many ways it’s supposed to be that way — you’re not supposed to focus on that, you’re supposed to enjoy the telling of the story," Silvestri said. "But here it’s impossible to not recognize the role the orchestra has in the storytelling process. I would love the audience to take away a new appreciation for the contribution of these musicians.”


Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.