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Otisburg

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The Noah Cross-like tortoise mayor in "Rango" means business.And business is water.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Rewatching the original Back to the Future over the weekend – from beginning to end – was an interesting experience in “time.”

First of all, I was struck by how quickly the film moved along. It was tight. Action, romance, intrigue. And that time travel element was the most important, of course. 

And how he got there, from 1985 to 1955 and back again.

Except the “new” 1985 was better than the first, at least for Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox). The sequels would take Marty to 2015 and then to 1885. 

The time machine – a DeLorean – was a brilliant idea. Powering it with plutonium, snagged after doublecrossing some terrorists.

In a 2010 interview with Empire magazine, Back to the Future’s Bob Gale (writer and producer) and Robert Zemeckis (writer and director) told the interviewer that early drafts of the film featured different and intriguing elements, including how the time machine would be powered through the power of a nuclear detonation:

Robert Zemeckis: “Our original idea was that we were going to end the movie at the Nevada nuclear test site. Marty had to bring the time-machine out into the desert and Doc Brown hooked up a device that was going to harness the energy released at detonation to send the DeLorean back to 1985.”

Bob Gale: “The whole idea was that the DeLorean was powered by plutonium. We thought Dr. Emmett Brown was probably one of those guys who worked on the Manhattan Project. We were fascinated by all the nuclear tests. They would build these fake little towns in the desert and blow them up. If you remember the opening of Indiana Jones IV (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), where do you think that idea came from? It came from Back To The Future.”

Recall, of course, that actor Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones and that he manages to survive a nuclear blast at the Nevada test site by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator in the fourth Indy installment.

In a recent Dust Devil Dreams piece, “Train in vain (blast from the past),” I note that Ford’s character Allie Fox, in the 1986 film The Mosquito Coast, builds an alchemical device called FAT BOY, a combination of “Fat Man” (the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima) and “Little Boy,” (the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki).

The names, as I noted in the piece, came from names used in the John Huston-directed film noir The Maltese Falcon. Elisha Cook, Jr. played Wilmer (“Little Boy”) and Sydney Greenstreet played “Fat Man” in the film, and that they two were presumably in a gay relationship.

Huston, in 1974, would play the role of power broker and incestuous father Noah Cross in Roman Polanski's Hollywood classic Chinatown

As Slant magazine noted in a 2006 article “Evil Under the Sun: John Huston in Chinatown,” Huston captured that menace and power and the secret side of Hollywood that most would prefer not to know about. And while Chinatown is set in 1930's, Great Depression California, it could be about things happening today.

Writes Jeremiah Kipp of the villainous Noah Cross: "(He is) the wealthy and ruthless land baron who masterminds an elaborate plot to buy up cheap desert property in the San Fernando Valley, irrigate it after bribing the water department, and sell the land for millions."

Land deals. Swindles. Desert land and drought. It's business as usual in sunny California, as "experts predict California reservoirs have less than a year's worth of drinking water left" and celebrities ignore the new water-restriction rules. 

Which brings me to 2011's computer-animated comedy-drama Rango, starring Johnny Depp as the voice of the fish-out-of-water lizard Rango and Ned Beatty as the voice of Tortoise John, the mayor of the thirsty, dusty town of Dirt. 

Echoing Chinatown, Dirt's mayor, sounding and looking like Huston's Noah Cross (although he is a desert tortoise - all the characters are animals), tells this "stranger in town," Rango, that water is the most important thing in Dirt - "The future, Mr. Rango. The future." 

We are back to the future. The future is here.

"Whoever controls the water, controls everything," sneers the Mayor

Read more of my Chinatown analysis in my January 2015 piece "Arrange the oranges."

It was Beatty who played Lex Luthor’s (Gene Hackman) bumbling henchman “Otis” in 1978’s Superman: The Movie. Luthor’s twisted efforts to get a land deal in California – cheap land – was to nuke the San Andreas Fault, thereby leaving countless acres of desert land a new coastline. (More on San Andreas Fault here: "Gates)".

In the film, as Luthor shows off his new map, he is not pleased when he sees Otis has scribbled “Otisburg” on the map. I noted this in my Dust Devil Dreams piece "And I know what's happening ..."

Back in Back to the Future, we find ourselves in an "Otisburg" of sorts, when Marty first hits 88 mph and - via the nuclear power in his DeLorean time machine - suddenly finds himself in a farmer's field, striking a scarecrow and crashing into a barn. This is the farm of Otis Peabody, a pine-tree farmer whose son, Sherman Peabody - reading the Space Zombies from Pluto comic book - convinces him that this radiation-suit wearing humanoid is a malevolent alien. 

Syncing with the future events on September 11, 2001 - Twin Towers to "Faulty tower" - Marty flees this sylvan Otisburg, killing one of the two pine trees on Twin Pines Farm - where the future Twin Pines Mall - later Lone Pine Mall - will be built. 

MAY DAYS

And so here we are in the middle of May. ISIS is threatening to attack and the drought in California worsens. As Back to the Future predicted 9/11 (a terrorist attack, a tower struck -and Robert Zemeckis is coming out with The Walk, about a high-wire walker who walks between the Twin Towers), Rango seems to predict the the dry-and-dusty future that the West is now facing, as water demands increase by the year.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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