Back to the Future (1985)

Posted by on Dec 20, 2011 in Just My Imagination | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: A few swears, mild violence, and disturbing allusions to incest.

Children from around the world have been plagued by their parents saying the words, “When I was your age,” often followed by an example of how they behaved, which rivaled The Brady Bunch in the risqué factor. By the time they’re teenagers, how many kids truly think their parents know what it’s like? The idea for this highly successful film trilogy supposedly began when its co-writer, Bob Gale, found his father’s high school yearbook. Gale, like the rest of us, looked at the picture of his teenage father and wondered if they could have been friends. The film that resulted magically allows a rowdy teen to travel back in time and see what his parents were like.

We follow Marty McFly (Michael Future2J. Fox), a 17-year-old senior in high school. He’s fairly typical, spinning around town on a skateboard, turning his guitar amp up to 11, and showing up late for school. When we meet his family, it’s rather clear that they’re failures. His father George (Crispin Glover) is a nerdy pushover, his mother (Lea Thompson) is a prude, his sister can’t get a boyfriend, his brother graduated high school and now works fast food, and his uncle is in jail. Perhaps that explains why he spends his time with his girlfriend (Claudia Wells) and eccentric inventor Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). As Marty’s principal (James Tolkan) says – “a nickel’s worth of free advice” – Doc Brown is a nutjob, and Marty is a slacker just like his father and will go nowhere. Marty hopes to have a music career, but is scared of rejection after his band is deemed “too darn loud.” Late one night Marty meets Doc Brown, who has invented a time machine out of a DeLorean and plans to go 30 years into the future to see mankind’s progress. Well something goes wrong (“Great Scott!”) and Marty ends up in 1955. Stupefied, as if stuck in a Twilight Zone episode, Marty must devise a way back and remedy future events that he may have already doomed – get this: his own mother “has the hots” for him.

Though he’s still in his hometown, Marty is a stranger in a strange land. With one look at his clothes, residents come to think of him as a Coast Guard official named Calvin Klein. When he says the president is Ronald Reagan, one asks if the vice president is Jerry Lewis. He uses some items to his advantage, such as a Van Halen tape, Chuck Berry riffs, and knowledge of science fiction.

The movie acted as a breakthrough Future3for several actors. The series helped Fox make the transition from television (he was known mostly for Family Ties) into movies. Thompson and Glover play the teenage/middle-aged parts perfectly, especially Glover with his awkwardice and ridiculous laugh. Thomas F. Wilson had a career-defining role in the oafish meathead Biff (“Make like a tree, and get outta here”), and Billy Zane had his debut as one of his minions. Lloyd’s was also a career-defining role – though he was already an established actor – as the white-coifed scientist.

Robert Zemeckis directed and co-wrote the film, which he called, “a comedy-adventure-science-speculation-coming-of-age-rock-and-roll-timetravel-period film.” The clever, if only a little bit contrived, opening sequences require a second viewing to catch all of the funny set-ups for when Marty travels in time. The opening images of the film recall The Time Machine, a serious time-travel film, while the clock tower climax recalls slapstick comedy from Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last. Zemeckis called on Alan Silvestri for an excellent score and Huey Lewis, who makes a sly cameo, to sing a few songs with The News. The Academy nominated The Power of Love, as well as the sound and screenplay, for Oscars, but it only won for sound effects.

The film’s ending – “Where we’re going we don’t need roads” – is a cliffhanger leading to the second installment four years later. Audiences disliked the underrated and futuristic sequel, perhaps for getting a little confusing and philosophical – as many time-travel movies do. The third, in which they go back 100 years to the Old West, opts for more comedy and is by far the most disappointing.

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