If you measured our excitement ahead of Secret Cinema’s Back to the Future opening night extravaganza, you'd have read it in jiggawatts.
After all, shifting north of 100,000 tickets for a month-long run at a secret spot in East London where visitors are fully immersed in the world of Hill Valley, it’s arguably the boldest and most audacious pop-up cinema ever staged.
Fans of Robert Zemeckis’s 1985 cult hit have been in a near state of frenzy for a good while now. Proof of which came on the back of some unfortunate axing of originally planned dates, leading to social media meltdowns akin to the manic episodes of Doc Brown.
Thankfully, the revised first night came off without a hitch, giving us everything we wanted and more. Here are the stand out parts of our experience...
Warning: Spoilers lay ahead, obviously, so if you don’t want to ruin the surprise then look away now…
THE CLOCK TOWER
Such is the size of the clock tower, it's even visible from back of the heaving lines which snake their way around the far edges of the site, making us feel as if we were stood in a queue for a ride at Universal Studios. It didn't disappoint up close, either. Everything in the show revolves around this impressively huge and uncannily built set piece, and if you're wondering why the middle part is left bare - that's where the film is projected onto. Genius.
After walking through Peabody’s goat-infested farm, where we handed in our phones (a smooth process after the show, surprisingly), then up and across a walkway into the town of Hill Valley, our first mini-teleportation back into the ‘50s came via a number of classic muscle cars and classic Cadillac vehicles roaring their way around, some even inviting attendees in for a spin.
ENCHANTMENT UNDER THE SEA DANCE
Yes, the Holy Grail for film fans. You can get to this by walking into the high school, which has one of the most impressive exterior set designs of all, and where you’ll feel like you’ve waltzed straight onto the set once inside. The colours were there, the stage was set, the music was pumping and, flouting the high school’s anti booze policy, cocktails were even served.
THE TOWN SQUARE
Where we’re going, we don’t need cushions – or at least not the massive blow-up ones. As unlike other notable outdoor cinema screenings, long instigators of backside numbness and spinal spasms on hard floors, we found the artificial grassy patch here - perched front of the clock tower - as comfortable as it was sizable, which, coupled with the film’s relatively short running time, made for a snug watch. Another bonus about the town square is that you’ll still have characters running amok to immerse you in the film some more -although trying to tell hipster from actor can be tough.
THE ACTION SET PIECES
Not that you’ll be sitting down much, of course - a good bulk of the major set pieces you see on screen are replicated by actors at the exact same time, eliciting various hollers and whoops from whatever section of the crowd the cast are placed near, which, on our visit, was so exceptionally orchestrated we were looking around for Zemeckis himself at one point.
The Hill Valley shops based on those in the film and strewn around the town square are more than window dressing. You can buy records, go to the bank (it’s a smartly obscured cash machine), or go and have a meal in Lou’s Diner. You can even clamber aboard a workable Ferris wheel, which, by way of a tip, is the best place to watch some of the live action before the film starts.
MARVIN BERRY AND THE STARLIGHTERS
You know the songs: Earth Angel, Johnny B Goode a few years too early? Well it turns out that you needn’t go into the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance to hear these – the band plays right before the show at the foot of the clock tower. Few ignored the temptation to get up and sway to some of those classic hits by the band on opening night, with sound excellent, uniforms spot-on and notes perfect.
THE FOOD AND DRINK
As you’d expect from ‘50s America, you’re not going to be short on diner food. The many food stands boasted a rampant selection of pulled pork, hot dogs and other classic food perfect for watching a movie with, while ice cold US beer and wine (whatever that is) can also be purchased. Depending how comfortable you are at role-playing – you’re a US citizen in 1955 remember? – be prepared to hear plenty of faux American accents as you hand over your British tender. Wait, we mean dollars, obviously.
There were no surprises at which vehicle generated the biggest cheer of the night, arriving in a plume of smoke and flurry of high beam flashes. Not only was the DeLorean sleek, shiny and still futuristic even in 2014, watching it race around the town square at a considerable rate was enough to make us feel like kids again.
Curmudgeons be damned – the audience’s collective energy was enough to charge a flux capacitor on itself. At least 95 per cent dressed as if they’d come straight from another era (confusingly, the guy in front of us was all ‘90s, but we’ll let him off), making for one heck of a spectacle as you tried to distinguish overly keen hipster ticket holder with enthusiastic actor.
Secret Cinema Presents Back To The Future runs until 31 August; Secretcinema.org
[Images: Hanson Leatherby, AI Overdrive, Will Cooper, Laura Little]