– Summary –
Director : Robert Zemeckis
Year Of Release : 1985
Principal Cast : Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Tompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F Wilson, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber.
Approx Running Time : 116 Minutes
Synopsis: A teenager travels back in time in his scientist friend’s time machine. Upon arrival, he inadvertently breaks up his parents to be, and so much set about rewriting history so that he isn’t erased from existence.
What we think : Dynamite Hollywood blockbuster that defies criticism of almost any kind, this Spielberg/Zemeckis winner is an absolute knock-out!
Midway through the 80’s, a film was released that would redefine several careers, and create a legacy and pop-culture reference goldmine for movie lovers ever since. Robert Zemekis teamed up with Steven Spielberg (who was running hot since Jaws, Indiana Jones, and Close Encounters) to create a time traveling flick that would see then TV star Michael J Fox (starring as Alex Keaton in Family Ties) co-star with Christopher Lloyd in a homage/pastiche of sci-fi comedy adventure gold. Back To The Future, as it stands in cinema history, was one of the truly great success stories. Fox and Lloyd’s on-screen chemistry was palpable, and audiences lapped it up. The story was a film-lovers dream, and done with such a verve and zest that it became one of the highest box office successes of 1985, if not the decade.
Marty McFly, the eponymous hero of the film, played by Fox, was a teenager sent back through time to the 50’s, where he accidentally creates a temporal problem by ruining the moment his folks met, and fell in love. Of course, in order for McFly to continue to exist in his own time, he has to ensure his younger folks actually do get together, but not before a lot of running, hysteria, and strangely uncomfortable incestuous tomfoolery in the front seat of a car. Along the way, Doc Brown, madcap inventor and played with wide-eyed freneticism by a brilliant Chris Lloyd, has to figure out a way of getting the time machine Marty arrived in the 50’s in to work again, and send him “back to the future”…. The time machine, a modified DeLorean with a strange device known as the Flux Capacitor, entered pop-culture instantly, and everybody wanted one. In fact, if you search on eBay, there’s probably one on offer right now! Doc Brown invented the time machine after falling off his toilet, and when he and Marty are attacked by terrorists during the first test run of the machine, Doc is incapacitated and Marty finds himself hurled back in time, to the golden age of Americana.
Back To The Future did something very right on film: it didn’t try and take itself too seriously, and it used a whole bunch of effects and trick camerawork that would essentially draw the viewer into the film in such a way that you find yourself grinning along with the music (a poppy soundtrack by Alan Silvestri and then-pop idol Hewey Lewis & The News) and dialogue. The zippy script had Marty hurtling towards adventure at almost every turn, a breathless pursuit of righting the wrongs he’s inadvertently created before he is wiped from existence. The anachronistic Marty, living in the 50’s with knowledge of the future, stumbles through the obligatory jaw-dropped moments where he is confronted with different lifestyles and social norms; wonderfully underplayed by Fox and characterized by the other actors throughout.
Resident bad-boy, Biff Tannen, is the film’s major villain, and Thomas F Wilson is exceptionally good as the buffoon-cum-jock who bullies the McFly family from the outset. His performance perfectly foils the McFly character as done by Fox, and he add’s another sense of menace to what would otherwise be a quite light affair. Can anything new be said about a film that has become a classic, a bona fide success in such a way that it’s almost impossible to critique the film and get away with it? Not really, but after a recent re-watch, there’s a couple of things I would like to mention if I may.
If you could possibly have a join-the-dot example of how to make a Hollywood success story, then this film, and its inevitable sequels, is the prime example. Zemekis, before he became bogged down with this newfangled 3D CGI stuff, had a zest for film-making that’s palpable, a tendency to infuse his cinema with a kind of energy that makes you feel….good. There’s no easy way to say it, but the B2TF films are in a class of their own as far as storytelling go. Technically, the films are executed extremely well. There is almost no bad point in this film, unless you classify Marty in a car with his own mother (albeit younger, hotter, and unaware of his true identity) trying to kiss him. It’s this moment, making parents the world over squirm, and teenage viewers as well I’d suggest, that could possibly be the moment B2TF was elevated above other genre pictures for it’s preposterous plot-twist, and entered the realm of adult film-making for kids. The effects are first rate for 1985, and although perhaps they’ve dated a little nowadays, the film moves with such an energy and crackle in every frame you tend to find yourself forgiving the occasional rotoscope intrusion or blue-screen backdrop.
Alan Silvestri created one of cinemas most identifiable tunes with the Back To The Future theme, after being told to make his score as “large and epic” as possible to impress the studio heads. It worked, and now people can hum the theme tune if you merely mention the films title to them. That’s a good indication of the music’s success. Even the inclusion of easily datable Hewey Lewis and his band is forgivable, as the songs included are now and always synonymous with the film.
The cast are uniformly excellent, with Fox and Lloyd ably backed up by Wilson, Lea Thompson (as the McFly patriarch who develops a crush on her son in the past) and Creepy Thin Man himself, Crispin Glover, whose shaky, timid portrayal of Marty’s long suffering father is a joy to watch. Such detail is laid out in the script and on the screen, it seems that you pick up something new each time you watch it: something most films can only aspire to do. Here, Zemekis and his team have created a world that exists purely in cinema, yet is strangely familiar to most. While technology has come a long way since this film first astounded audiences, the fond look back at the past (both literally and figuratively) is still a great way to while away the time.
Back to the Future remains a true Hollywood classic, and is easily one of the most enjoyably entertaining films ever committed to celluloid in the modern era. If you’ve never seen it, then it deserves your time. You’ll be happy you did.
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