Crispin Glover has always come across as a weirdo because of how he acts in interviews and the quirky roles he takes in films. But his quirkiness really melded well with the character of George McFly in Back to the Future. It was disappointing to fans of the movie when he didn’t come back for the sequels. He got a bad reputation for this because the official story was that he wanted too much money. There were even unsubstantiated rumors that he wanted as much as Michael J. Fox. Obviously, that is silly because you don’t just replace Eric Stoltz. I mean, Michael J. Fox.
According to an interview he did with the AV Club, he really feared that if he didn’t toe the line, he would be replaced just as easily as Eric Stoltz. So when he had issues with the ending of Back to the Future and the producers vehemently disagreed with him over it, he decided to keep his head down. According to Glover, as a result, there wasn’t much of a demand by the producers to have him come back. Not only was his character relegated to being hung upside down for the majority of his screen time, but he was offered a paltry sum of money for it. Yes, Michael J. would be paid his star wage, but Lea Thompson was going to make $650K and Thomas F. Wilson was going to make around $350K. Glover was offered only $150K. You could argue that George McFly, who was eventually recast and played by Jeffrey Weissman in the sequels, wasn’t as important as he was in the original movie. But I wonder if George’s role might have been downsized in the sequels and Crispin Glover was lowballed because of that initial disagreement about the ending.
Everyone remembers the ending of Back to the Future. Marty McFly has had a long week of hooking his parents up in the 50s, getting a lightning bolt’s assistance for a lift back home and saving Doc Brown’s life. He wakes up and finds out that his father, George, as a result of punching out the high school bully Biff Tannen, gained the confidence to make it as a successful writer with the sales of his first book “A Match Made in Space”. But George and Lorraine were really just shadows of how they appeared at the beginning of the film.
When we last saw them, George was barely focused on the world around him and Lorraine was drunkenly reciting the story of how they met. Neither of them looked as content as their meet-cute suggested. Biff was still in their lives; crushing on Lorraine, stealing their beer and driving their car drunkenly (probably into manure trucks). Because of Marty’s time-travelling changes and corrections, his parents are healthier and still very much in love. Biff is now a timid man in an ugly athletic suit, cleaning George’s BMW. To top it off, Marty discovers that his reward for the journey isn’t just his parents’ happiness – it’s the brand-new 1985 Toyota pickup that George bought for him! Yes! Now he can go to the lake with whichever version of Jennifer that is available and we all know what goes on at the lake, right?
But the Toyota, the BMW, the success and the money itself were really Crispin Glover’s issues with the ending. Materialism rules in the material world that was the mid-80’s. Greed was good and everyone had to have those $100+ Nikes. This was something that Glover thought could be avoided and you could still have the happy ending. I have always thought that Back to the Future was a perfect movie, but Glover’s thoughts have actually made me think a bit more critically about it. But there are a couple of arguments that defend the ending as it is.
First off this is a fantasy movie. In fantasy movies, awesome rewards are abundant when earned. These are the rules. After the hero prevails in a fantasy movie, he or she gets to live happily ever after, unless we are setting up a sequel. In the ending of Back to the Future, Marty gets the overhauled parents, the truck, the girl – but he has to rush off and prevent his kids from becoming assholes. However, he doesn’t lose anything that he just earned. (In the sequel, after getting everything he wants, Marty himself has turned into an asshole. But for some people, happily ever after is not enough when suddenly you are written so you have a problem with the word “chicken”. Ugh.)
Secondly, George McFly is a success because he has confidence in himself. We should be happy that the awkward kid who couldn’t pronounce the word “destiny” is now the author of science fiction novels. It is a funny beat when we realize he was inspired by repressed memories of meeting Darth Vader from Planet Vulcan in his bedroom one night. Luckily, he was able to overcome those mental scars and make something out of his life.
Still, the ending that Glover suggests seems much more inspiring to me. Since it is a fantasy movie and we do see George become the confident man that his son can look up to, I can forgive it. Back to the Future is still perfect. But what if George and Lorraine still ended up together and were just simply happier people? What if Lorraine wasn’t an alcoholic and was more loving to George? What if George had the confidence to not let Biff barge into his house whenever he wanted? What if George was working on his writing because it’s more rewarding than watching old Honeymooners reruns? What if George and Lorraine were just loving parents and that was enough?
I can’t help but to think that Glover was onto something. Even in its final form, Back to the Future is more about having confidence in yourself as well as the bond between fathers and sons. It’s too bad that it couldn’t have ended focusing more on that.
As an addendum, popular opinion has been that the original movie is the best entry. This could be because the original is the freshest and it doesn’t recycle plots like the next two do. However I have to say that, reflecting on the trilogy, the biggest component that is missing from the sequels is Crispin Glover as George McFly. He was the heart of the original movie and it would have been fun to see Glover in a bigger role.
How great would it have been, speaking of recycling, if he was the one playing Marty Jr. in 2015 and Marty has to essentially help him again? Would it have made it even less subtle that they were just replaying the first movie in the future? It’s as if the producers decided they needed Michael J Fox in more scenes with himself and they wanted to give Marty the ability to, instead of inspiring his son to do the right thing, but take over his life and do it for him. It is neat and all but by the time we get Indiana Marty helping himself in 1955, the thrill of seeing him on screen with himself playing switcheroo Parent Trap games is gone.
What if they kept Glover for the third movie, too? If anything, we could have been spared the strangeness that is Seamus and Maggie McFly when you are used to seeing Michael J. Fox and Lea Thompson as mother and son. It would have been nice to see Glover in that hat and moustache, playing the father figure that Marty needed when Buford called him a chicken. It would have been a good moment for his father to actually help his son for once, rather than the other way around. I really feel that would have been a touching bookend to what was started in the original film.