Back to the Future review by Tom Blain
Back to the Future was one of those magical moments in movie history where questions that would normally get asked, and whose answers might throw movie logic into oblivion were lifted and passed over in the name of pure cinematic enjoyment. Questions like: Did Doc Brown age at all between 1955 and 1985? Why is a young popular high school kid such good friends with an old creepy scientist? Whats with his high-school-aged mom being so hot for him? On a metaphysical level, if George punching Biff altered the type of job they both got and cars they drive in the future, how is it that the McFly's are even at the same house as they were after Marty's time journey? Doesnt it seem like even Marty's girlfriend, camping trip plans for the weekend, etc would have been altered drastically? The sequels bring up even more of these questions.
But all of this is ok, forgotten and just never asked in the universe of Back to the Future. As Im watching the movie for what seems like it could be the hundredth time I found myself wondering about this filmic dissonance for the first time. Why are these things overlooked? And its not just a young and tender Tom Blain who overlooked these qualities in his younger years. Back to the Future was a box office smash, possibly the highest grosser of 1985 (WikiFirmed). So why so popular despite a number logic flaws? I have a theory. The theory lies at the heart of why Back to the Future is really so entertaining. At the heart of the story, its less of a movie about the time travel and science fiction and more about 50s boomer-nostalgia mixed with some funny parent/child character relations.
As I reach back to my childhood memory banks, I remember that some of the entertainment of the mid-80s was actually recycled from the 50s. The Disney Channel and Nick at Night started running re-runs of old shows (Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, Mr. Ed, Ozzie and Harriet) around the early/mid-80s. These shows crafted an idyllic 50s feel that we all sort of laugh and giggle at now but were completely enjoyable and easy to digest as a young child. The lives of these characters were just too perfect. They set up unrealistic expectations about what childhood should be like and how your neighborhood should look. But people loved these shows for the escapism and probably also for the quality of life and lessons that were being promoted (Thats how life should be.).
So these shows cropped up again on network cable in the 80s and were popular because the boomers had cable and this took them back. And in 1985, so did Back to the Future. The set for Back to the Future, Hill Valley was created on a back lot in Universal Studios much like shows from the 50s. It has a quaint downtown with a clock tower, a soda caf that all the kids are hanging out at, a beautiful high school and the residential neighborhoods are filled with tall mighty oaks. Its not only portraying the 50s, its showing it just like we are used to seeing it on television. The only change is Marty McFly, the protagonist from the future.
And so the stage is set for the movie. It begins in 1985 where Marty is living his 17-year old life with a cute girlfriend Jennifer ( Claudia Wells who these days seems to have put on a bit of plastic) and two unhappy parents Loraine (Lea Thompson) and George (Crispin Glover). George gets bullied around by his supervisor Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) and Ma McFly just hits the bottle to kill the pain of a boring life.
The zap to the past comes when Martys friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) invents a time machine out of a Delorean. Marty uses the machine to escape certain death in a mall parking lot and find himself in 1955 where his parents are awkward teenagers just like him. He finds the 1955 Doc Brown in order to help him get back to the past while trying to set his parents up after he inadvertently cock-blocked his fathers serendipitous meeting with the young and beautiful Lorraine.
So earlier, I mentioned that 50s nostalgia plays a large role in this film, and setting wise it takes up about 70% of the story. But it also turns some of that nostalgia on it head. The ideal 50s that many remember is discovered by the films protagonist to be a big joke. His mother (in 1985) claims to have "never chased boys or parked in cars with boys," but she (in 1955) does just that with Marty becoming an aggressive pursuer of the new cool kid in town. The story of George and Lorraine meeting is told to be a story of love and fate, but as Marty finds out, it all starts with George falling out of a tree he was using to peep into someone's window. So while it all looks and feels like something we have seen before, its comes off with a bit of natural freshness.
The other component that makes this movie uber popular is Michael J. Fox. He was a popular television actor at the time and this was his first decent movie (I say decent because before that it was Teen Wolf and a bunch of made for television garbage). He flowed naturally into the role of Marty, filling the character with a constant look of wonder, amazement, and bewilderment as he navigates his foreign surroundings. I cant think of another role that Fox played after McFly that has suited him so well or been so attached to his persona.
The latest incarnation of the Back to the Future trilogy comes out on the 25th anniversary of Martys journey and is a 7 DVD set chock full of extras (although 3 of the DVDs in the set are merely digital copies of the three movies). A lot of the extras are redundant, behind-the-scenes footage (both newly made and archival). Some of the best extras included are early shoots with Eric Stoltz as a very wooden and miscast Marty McFly and deleted scenes that are re-worked into existing scenes of the movie, although in most cases the deleted scenes could use a lot of cleaning up. There are also some archival interviews and shots of the characters involved including a young lion-maned Steven Spielberg. If you were holding out on adding this collection to your library, now is your time to strike.
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