This summer, London’s Secret Cinema have embarked on their most ambitious project yet: an immersive screening of ’80s mega-classic Back To The Future that promises audiences a chance to get inside the film. In June, it broke the world record for film ticket sales, with 42,000 sold in four hours, and 34,000 of those going in the first 20 minutes. Further dates were added throughout August, meaning 80,000 people will see the production.
But there has been concern that Secret Cinema has been a bit too ambitious this time. Technical problems with the first ticket sale left would-be attendees frustrated and angry, causing the organisers to switch ticket agents the next day. Then the first week of screenings, from July 24 to 27, were cancelled at the last minute. Secret Cinema issued a statement saying, “We know we let our audience down and will do everything we can to make it up to them.”
Last night (July 31), the production finally began – and it was worth waiting for. Here are six things you need to know.
Hill Valley is a place in Hackney
Attendees are instructed to travel to Hackney Wick train station, from where a short walk leads to a full-scale recreation of the film’s location of small-town Hill Valley, 1955, complete with the Peabody Ranch where time traveller Marty McFly first crashes his DeLorean, the DSS and its famous clock, suburban homes, a diner and much more. You might need to suspend your disbelief a little – the ArcelorMittal Orbit and a giant John Lewis poke out above the town skyline.
You don’t want to be the person that doesn’t dress up
They don’t enforce the 1950s dress code but, frankly, if you don’t do it you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Mercifully for those not inclined to fancy dress, the ’50s Americana look is easily achieved with liberal application of denim, hair wax and polka dots.
You get what you put into it
Before your arrival, each ticket-holder is given a character, be it a reporter, a realtor or a member of Biff Tannen’s gang of toughs. Inhabit the character as you interact with the actors on a set and a world of mini-quests will unveil itself. I, for example, was a high school student called Frances. On registering at the high school, I was sent out to do work experience at the Realtors, who tasked me with selling a house in the East Village. If you spend the evening sat on the (Astroturf) lawn waiting for the film to start, you’ll miss out on a world of detail.
There’s a fine eye for detail
The set designers have clearly gone over the source material with a keen eye, picking out tiny details that are painstakingly replicated in the life-sized playground. Anachronisms do abound though – I heard ‘Twist And Shout’, written in 1961, played twice. A particularly cool detail is the 1980s dive bar accessed via an alleyway between two buildings. At one point, when a hip hop track could be heard leaking out of there onto the 1950s street, a reporter for the local paper commented how she’d never heard such a thing. When I told her there was all sorts of strange things to see in that bar, she looked at me, totally deadpan, and said, “There’s nothing there. Have you been drinking?”
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The film is still the main event
After walking around the set for three hours, watching the Hill Valley Parade, dancing at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance, helping Doc Brown with his experiments and dodging Marty McFly as he hurtles around on a skateboard, you could be forgiven for forgetting that this is, at heart, a film screening. Here’s where Secret Cinema have really gone to town, as scenes from the film simultaneously come alive in Hill Valley. No spoilers though – you’ll need to see this for yourselves.
There are a few teething troubles
The organisers will no doubt be taking a few lessons from the first night, which saw bars running out of beer, burger stalls running out of buns and a queue to get in that would leave impatient BTTF fans wishing they really did have a time machine. The ambition and scale of the production is to be applauded,