Back to the Future (1985) dir. Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson
By Alan Bacchus
BTTF is one of those films that transcends time, a movie of pure cinema pleasure. A film which technically is not immune to the father of time, hell the special effects seem rudimentary in a 1980’s kind of way, but there’s so much joy and love of cinema storytelling, it's destined to remain a classic in the tradition of King Kong, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Wizard of Oz, Jaws, Star Wars.
I mean, check out the perfectly appropriate character names, such as Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and George McFly (Crispin Glover), father-son characters complete opposites of one another in personality and ambition but who manage to some closer together and bridge the generation gap via the time travelling Delorean.
Looking back on all three pictures recently on Blu-Ray I'm struck by the blockhead sense of obviousness of what is going on. The parallels and repetitions of action across time and generations are made none too obvious, but herein lies the fun and shear joy of the process. Zemeckis sets up all his jokes, gags, and all the cross generational connections with a strange blatancy, but a tone consistent to the artificiality of the Hill Valley Town. We know Hill Valley is not a real city, but a obvious studio backdrop. But it creates an insular world closed off from anything else going in the real world – kind of like an old studio Hollywood fantasy world – were we are free to let go of our expectations and accept the films’ rules of engagement.
And so none of this would succeed if the Zemeckis/Gale script weren’t iron clad tight. Time travel is a tough beast to crack, and even Zemeckis himself admits writing the screenplay was not fun, but once everything fits together and the rules established, most of the heavy lifting is done.
The second key to success are the lead actors, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover and of course, Michael J. Fox. And really, what courage shown by Zemeckis, Spielberg, Kennedy/Marshall and the studio for biting the bullet on Eric Stoltz, who was originally cast as Marty and who shot for 5 weeks(!), which is about a quarter of the movie, before deciding to scrap most of it and start fresh with Fox (who was moonlighting after Family Ties wrapped). This is what deep pockets and go-for-broke cutthroat Hollywood attitude will get you, the balls and guts to cut loose your lead actor and reshoot the entire movie.
These films were made between 1985 and 1989, during, arguably the greatest period in film scoring in cinema history. Apart from a handful of films like Back to the Future the great scores of the 80’s is just about the only trend we can cling onto from the 80’s. And Alan Silvestri’s music for Back to the Future is still magnificent. A bold sound elevating what could have sounded like a quirky coming of age sci-fi rom-com into pure big blockbuster entertainment. I’d even go as far to say the Silvestri’s score of Back the Future 2 is even better.
The sequels have just as much pleasure as the memorable original. Part 2, which contains almost none of the resonant qualities of character and romantic and heartfelt reflections of generations past, but taken as an purely plot driven exercise in style, Part 2 is a thrill ride. Going into the future produces some decent though mostly kitschy fun predicting where technology might head to, but doubling back to the alternate present and even back into the first movie in 1955 from a different point of view is one of the once-in-lifetime strokes of genius. Part 3 serves to develop Doc Brown’s character only, but it’s connections to parts 2 and 3 make the entire journey across three films worth while.
"Back to the Future Trilogy" is available on Blu-Ray from Universal Home Entertainment