A ‘Back to the Future’ Producer Wanted to Retitle the Film ’Space Man From Pluto’
Since February 2011, a wonderful little Twitter account called Network Notes has compiled user-submitted instances of TV network or movie studio executives providing wrongheaded commentary on scripts. It’s completely anonymous — it’d have to be, or else whoever runs this thing would be driven out of Hollywood with torches and pitchforks — and usually censors the actual work being referenced, but keeps the corporate affiliation of the executive making the notes. Some of them are horrifying (“The joke isn’t mean-spirited enough. Put in another rape joke in its place.” – Comedy Central), some are on the funnier side (“Please put a life vest on the frog. Trust us. We already went through this with the duck.” – ABC Family) and some make no sense whatsoever (“They should battle the street gang with their lifeguard cans.” – NBC).
But a post yesterday went right ahead and named the specifics, calling out the producer making the boneheaded suggestions and revealing which film he was referring to, which just so happens to be a sci-fi comedy from the ‘80s by the name of Back to the Future. Yesterday, the account posted a scan of a memo sent to one Steven Spielberg by producer Sid Sheinberg, with copies distributed to Bobs Zemeckis and Gale. In October 1984, when Back to the Future would’ve been in early-development stages, Sheinberg gave a friendly suggestion to remedy one of the biggest flaws in the project. The script was “terrific”, everything was fine, but that title. Wouldn’t something along the lines of Space Man from Pluto have a smoother flow, make more sense to audiences, and convey what the movie’s actually about much more succinctly?
We have the benefit of hindsight to inform us that no, that’s silly, of course not. But even so, we can now imagine a world where Bobby Zemeckis threw up his hands, said “screw it, why not?” and went with Space Man from Pluto. (Spielberg was able to weasel out of the suggestion by pretending it was a joke.) The film would’ve flopped, no sequel, Michael J. Fox never works again, Zemeckis never works again, and then none of us would have had to see creepy uncanny-valley Tom Hanks in The Polar Express! So, maybe Sheinberg was onto something?