Review: We Don’t Need Roads by Caseen Gaines

Back to the Future - Official 30th Anniversary Poster by Matt Griffin

“Back to the Future – Official 30th Anniversary Poster” by Matt Griffin is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

I think there is a distinct lack of media that covers not how movies are generally made, but how specific movies were made.  I’m talking about Behind The Music-type stuff.  I always hear about the story of how Jaws was made and all the troubles Spielberg and crew had.  There’s also Hearts of Darkness, which chronicled the making of Apocalypse Now.  Unless I’m missing something obvious I don’t see much in the way of stories telling how a particular movie was brought to screen.

This caused me to dig around for such content.  It resulted in a purchase of We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines.  When I saw that this book existed, it hit the spot unlike most others could in terms of what I was looking for.  I am an enormous BTTF fan, which is not unusual, but I just wasn’t aware that someone took the time to write this.  I can’t say enough about the movies, especially the first two.  If you’re reading this I probably don’t have to convince you that the BTTF trilogy contains some of the most entertaining movies ever made, but if so:  they’re really good.  Watch them.  They’re probably the most accessible movies of all time.  Also, they’re excellent and you should watch them right now.  Moving on.

History Will Be Revealed

The author loves these films as much as anyone and was able to gain access to just about everyone that you’d want to hear from save for Michael J. Fox.  Not having Fox’s direct thoughts on the films might be seen as a sore omission, but this is a self-made project for Gaines.  He’s written a handful of other books previously but it’s understandable that he couldn’t interview everyone.  I would never have expected him to earn talk time with Robert Zemeckis, Lea Thompson, or Christopher Lloyd, but he did.  Crispin Glover may also be missing, but come on.  It’s Crispin Glover.  Even Marc Maron couldn’t get him to talk about Back to the Future, so it’s no surprise his comments aren’t in this book.

Back to the Future posterThe main thrust of the book involves the making of the first movie, focusing heavily on Zemeckis and Gale, referred to often as “the Bobs”.  We learn a decent bit about their careers before BTTF, which tended to be rocky and sprinkled with the occasional self-doubt.  When they finally get the opportunity to make BTTF, the book does a fantastic job covering just about everything involved from writing out the concept to the final cut.  It also provides probably the best account you’re going to get as far as Eric Stoltz’s stint playing Marty and his subsequent firing.  The reasons why he was cast, who he competed against, and what went wrong are all covered in detail.

Personally, I would’ve liked to hear more about each casting decision.  I was hoping Gaines would really drill down as far as he could in terms of each of the main characters and the evolution of how they were cast.  There’s not a ton of that here.  People love hearing who tried out and didn’t get certain movie roles of the past, so I thought it would be easy pickings for a book like this.  It’s possible there weren’t too many stories to tell though, or maybe no one wanted to name actors who were rejected.

In terms of the first movie the book doesn’t leave very many stones unturned.  Wanna know how the DeLorean was conceived then built?  Check.  Difficulties on set?  Check.  Interviews with actors big and small?  Check.  Evolution of the script?  Check.  It’s all here.

We’re Going Back???

The most notable criticism of this book that I’ve seen is that the two sequels don’t get enough pages devoted to them.  When compared to the first movie they definitely don’t get as many, but I’m not sure they needed more.  We don’t need to hear much about casting, building the DeLorean, building sets, etc.  We read all of that in the first half of the book.

Back to the Future hoverboardIf anything I would say that the pages that come “post-original film” could maybe contain different content though.  There is a lot of time devoted to a stunt gone wrong in the first sequel.  That tale should definitely be in there, but the account is pretty exhausting.  Cutting it in half while telling us a little more about the second movie’s development would’ve been better to me.  Also, the last 20 or so pages are devoted to non-trilogy stuff that occurred after all three movies were released.  It’s nice to hear a little about the 2010 video game or the BTTF fan club, but those pages are precious real estate.  I don’t think Gaines could’ve gone wrong simply writing a little more about the actual movies instead.  I can see the logic though.  It would be weird to simply not mention anything from the last 25+ years.  These movies are still oh so relevant.

All in all I think the sequels were covered in a satisfactory manner.  I definitely have opinions about how those pages were arranged and the content therein.  However, the actual number of pages is fine in my opinion.  Also, I don’t know if anyone really wants to read a 500-page book of this kind.  I don’t, and I’ve watched these movies dozens of times.


This book is a no-brainer if you want to know most of what there is to know about the making of Back to the Future and its sequels.  If you’re like me and have particular love for one of those sequels, you might feel short-changed.  I adore BTTF2 more than most and I really didn’t feel that way though.  Regardless, the original is where it’s at for the vast majority of people, and this book covers it nicely.

Anyone that’s a fan of the franchise or just likes learning how movies are made will appreciate this.  In a perfect world, Gaines would have picked everyone’s brain for 3 hours each including Michael J. Fox.  Given the realities of show business schedules though, this is an excellent job.  When you love a property like this to death, there’s always more you want to learn.  This book is a labor of love that will probably get you as knowledgeable as you’re going to be about Back to the Future.

Image Credits

“back-“by Shing Yan is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“Hover Board” by BRND WGN Co Ltd, Philip Sultana is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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