Title: Back to the Future
Year of Release: 1985
Date Viewed: October 25th, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG
Many consider Back to the Future to be the definitive time travel movie. I find that hard to argue with. Few movies can compare to the amount of talent and effort that went into this production. It triumpths in excitement and provoking your critical thinking skills (in a fun way, mind you) not just on the first viewing, but every viewing.
Walking into a packed theater at my local multiplex to see this film again felt like a real life time travel experiment. It's always a treat to see classic films on the big screen, especially those that I wasn't around to see during its initial release. This day was extra special because of both the personal company that tagged along and the entire crowd having the same level of high excitement, ready to laugh together at our favorite moments and introduce some of our peers to this classic that stands the test of time. (Pun not intended but I couldn't resist using it.) For a good two hours (probably the fastest two hours of my year so far), everything old felt new again. That's the power of love.....for cinema.
High school teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) has a pretty decent life but recent troubles are starting to get him down. He appears to be the only member of his personal family with any self esteem. Marty's father George (Crispin Glover) is an overly mild-mannered office employee who constantly takes abuse from his bully supervisor Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). His mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) is an overprotective square that can't stay away from the liquor bottles. And his brother and sister have little ambition for themselves.
Marty does however have two close friends to confide in. His girlfriend Jennifer (Claudia Wells) and the eccentric scientist Emmett "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd). The Doc calls Marty in the middle of the night to summon him to the shopping mall parking lot to document his new breakthrough experiment. A DeLorean vehicle is modified with a flux capacitor device, which makes time travel possible. Doc plans to use the vehicle as a way to explore mankind's progress and possibly prevent future disasters. Before he is able to begin the historic journey, something goes wrong. The Libyan terrorists that Doc negotiated with to acquire the time travel fuel have discovered that the goods they recieved in return were phony. They interrupt Doc's preparation tasks and gun him down in the parking lot. Marty uses the DeLorean to escape from being killed too. But he accidentally uses the car's time travel fuel to transport himself thirty years into the past to 1955.
With no fuel left for a return trip, Marty does not have a way to get home. Desperate, he seeks the help of a younger Doc Brown in the hopes that he can find a solution to get the flux capacitor operational again. But before they reunite, Marty accidentally intervenes with his mother and father, now of high school age. The event that was supposed to bring his parents together fails to take place and now Marty finds himself as the object of affection to his own mother.
Doc discovers a way to take advantage of a future event that can offer one single chance to return Marty to his present time. But for that to happen, Marty has to first clean up the mess that jeopardizes his existence. His parents have to fall in love for things to get back on course and Doc needs to learn his future destiny in order for his own life to be saved, if he has the courage to change the timeline and risk further disastrous consequences.
Talk about a stressful situation. As cool as it would be to visit the past, I wouldn't want to be in Marty's shoes. My early memories of watching this for the first time on cable television were some of the fondest memories of my grade school era. I remember experiencing frustration over network advertisements. How dare they interrupt this addictive movie to get me to try their new Pepsi brand. With each coming roadblock to Marty's path back to present day Hill Valley came gasps of horror. His character is young and naive enough to make unacceptable errors in common sense. And boy does he pay for them.
Time travel storytelling simply doesn't get any better than this. Any contradiction that may draw concern from the viewer can be debunked with the right explanation. Some of the most intelligent movie-related discussions I've ever had the pleasure of listening to involved Back to the Future, mainly because there is so much to talk about. The story is complex enough to reward audiences that watch the movie multiple times. There is usually something new that isn't noticed from the previous viewing. For example, the shopping mall where Marty first begins his journey is initially named Twin Pines Mall. In a later scene that revisits an alternate present time, it is named Lone Pine Mall due to Marty knocking over one of two trees that stood in the area during his visit to 1955.
There are so many humorous moments planted throughout the movie, most of them subtle. The audience that gathered for this 25th anniversary screening seemed to know the film rather well. An average of every thirty seconds drew chuckles or loud laughter from the crowd. All gags involving George McFly's unusual mannerisms, Doc Brown's facial expressions, hints of foreshadowing and slapstick were met with unanimous approval. It didn't matter that we had already seen them dozens of times before. This was more than just a movie experience. It was a celebration of a landmark picture.
Alan Silvestri's musical score is almost more memorable than the story itself, which says an awful lot. Assembling one of the largest music orchestras ever for a movie in that era, Silvestri wrote a theme that defines adventure. Variations of the melody are played at every moment of character peril and bravery before exploding into an all out ear blasting rush for the movie's climax. Creating an art that usually goes unnoticed, Silvestri can boast having written a theme that even individuals with no appreciation for original scores found themselves humming on their way back to the theater parking lot.
Among the many things that were overheard during the screening was one individual declaring that "they haven't made movies like this in a long time." How wise he was. We live in an age where most ideas are only variations of older ideas and the best movies are adapted from original novels. Back to the Future stands as a true diamond in the rough both in its own era and the present era. Time traveling was not an original concept but the direction that was taken with the plot device was something that hadn't been seen before. What would it be like to visit your parents before you were born? How would it match up to your expectations? The possibilities to this answer contain the kind of wonder that is bestowed on me with every viewing. How could you not admire a film that fuels the imagination this strongly?
If you need further evidence as to the movie's cultural impact, read up on any of the recent cast interviews that were conducted for the 25th anniversary media hype. Michael J. Fox recently spoke of how he still gets recognized not as himself but as Marty McFly even on foreign continents. Reunion conventions still take place on a regular basis for fans to celebrate the memories. Even actors who only had a few minutes of screen time appear at these conventions to show their appreciation for being involved with the project. Back to the Future has earned the right to be proud of itself and needs no support from me.