Should I Watch..? 'Back to the Future'
What's the big deal?
Back To The Future is a sci-fi comedy film released in 1985 and was co-written and directed by Robert Zemeckis. The film stars Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson and Thomas F. Wilson and was released to universal acclaim from critics. The film follows teenager Marty McFly as he is accidentally sent back in time from 1985 to 1955 and his efforts to prevent significant damage to the space-time continuum, specifically his efforts to help his mum and dad fall in love, whilst aided by the eccentric inventor of the time machine Doctor Emmett Brown. The film took more than $381 million worldwide and led to the creation of a whole franchise including two sequels, an animated TV show, multiple video games and even a theme park ride. It was also selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry in 2007.
What's it about?
In Hill Valley, California in 1985, young Marty McFly enjoys a care-free life with his girlfriend Jennifer although not everything is plain sailing. His father George is a nervous wreck thanks to constant intimidation by his bulling boss Biff Tannen while his mother Lorraine is an alcoholic plagued with regrets. To escape, Marty has struck up an unusual friendship with eccentric scientist Doctor Emmett Brown who unveils his latest invention to Marty one night - a highly modified DeLorean car capable of time travel.
Unfortunately, Doc stole some precious plutonium to power the vehicle and some angry terrorists show up just after Doc demonstrates the DeLorean successfully travelling through time. Marty watches horrified as Doc is shot dead and quickly escapes the scene in the DeLorean, which accidentally sends Marty back in time to 1955. His only hope is to interact with the Doc in 1955 to send him back to his own time but there is another problem - the younger Lorraine has fallen hopelessly in love with Marty, creating a paradox that could erase Marty from history altogether...
Michael J. Fox
Doctor Emmett "Doc" Brown
Thomas F. Wilson
Bob Gale & Robert Zemeckis
Release Date (UK)
4th December, 1985
Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi
Best Sound Effect Editing
Academy Award Nominations
Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Original Song ("The Power Of Love")
What's to like?
Films like this come along once a generation, the result of planetary alignment perhaps or outrageous fortune. But with a script as good as this, it's no wonder that Back To The Future is as good as it is. Intelligent and loaded with genuine comedy, it gives plenty of opportunity to its cast (and us, of course) to thoroughly enjoy themselves. Naturally, Fox and Lloyd are something of an odd pairing on first appearance but their chemistry is obvious and it's now impossible to separate them in the wider consciousness. Fox is charismatic and suitably bewildered by life in the Fifties but Lloyd delivers a performance of such magnitude and irrepressible energy that he still hasn't escaped the role. The supporting cast do just as well especially Wilson as two generations of the same villain but the leading two are just superb. Of course, there is another who has struggled to escape the film - Doc's time-travelling DeLorean, which is probably the ultimate cinematic vehicle.
The script also quietly demonstrates that despite the intervening years, some things never change. Not just through the repeating lines of dialogue and impressive prosthetics to disguise the ageing of the supporting cast but the subtle foreshadowing you miss when you watch it for the first time. The screenplay, for my money, is one of the best I've ever seen translated onto the screen and throws the audience into a story with serious science behind it but easily digestible for most people. I also loved the recreation of the Fifties with cars, clothes, music and sets all perfectly matching the era. This is, without question, one of the best movies from the Eighties and one that nobody should ignore.
- Zemeckis and Gale actually own the copyright to the series and both have said that no remake will be made in their lifetime. They have also said that a fourth film would only happen if the entire cast agreed to the project but given Fox's diagnosis and long battle against Parkinson's disease, this would appear futile.
- The film was a personal favourite of Ronald Reagan who found it amusing that Doc Brown was so dismissive of Reagan ever becoming President. He enjoyed the scene so much that at a private viewing, he ordered the projectionist to rewind the film and play the scene again.
- This is the only film in the series with Glover and Wells in the cast. Glover dropped out of the sequels after a contract dispute and Wells had walked away from acting in 1987 after her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
What's not to like?
If anything, the film and its sequels have been victims of their own success. The series has become so famous and so popular that it's easy to forget just how good there are. The first film, if anything, seems a touch unambitious compared to the futuristic antics seen in Back To The Future Part II and the Wild West setting of Part III - after all, thirty years back doesn't seem like too great of a quantum leap. They could have gone back to World War 2 or the American Civil War or forward to Donald Trump's impeachment (I'm guessing!). I understand their reluctance, though. Nobody knew if the film would really work at the time so it was wise to play things a little safe.
Unless you can't stand Huey Lewis & The News, I can't think of any real problems here. Despite the passing of time, this film remains as solid and enjoyable as it ever did which proves the old saying - form is temporary but class is permanent.
Should I watch it?
I'd be surprised if you haven't seen it already, to be honest. But even if you have, it's well worth revisiting - more than just a nostalgia trip, Back To The Future is an utterly entertaining and intelligently written film that never dumbs down for its audience despite dealing with complex subject matter. Fox and Lloyd are a pairing for the ages and help the movie become truly timeless.
Great For: Eighties nights, the whole family, John DeLorean, pure escapism
Not So Great For: people who can point out anachronisms
What else should I watch?
For me, the fact that this film stands alongside illustrious Eighties alumni like Raiders Of The Lost Ark, ET The Extra-terrestrial and Blade Runner is testament to the film's overall quality. But time-travel itself has been a sci-fi staple since the days of H.G. Wells and cinema has loved taking audiences on a trip through time, often with comedic results. The much loved Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure performed the trick in 1989 as two airheads visit numerous periods in history via a time-travelling phone-booth and even the Star Trek crew gave it a go with their fourth film The Voyage Home where they inexplicably have to bring two blue whales back from the mid-Eighties to the 24th century. Don't ask.
Naturally, time-travel movies aren't always as much fun as you'd think - sometimes, they can provide terrifying glimpses of our future or pose philosophical questions audiences may struggle to answer. The Terminator is possibly the greatest action film using time-travel as a plot device but you might also want to consider the under-rated Source Code which sees Jake Gyllenhaal play a man seemingly destined to relive the short period of time on board a train before it explodes. But trust me, the film is much deeper and more convoluted than that and is a more rewarding experience because of it.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox