Back to the Future (1985)

15 Feb

Back To The Future 2

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Back to the Future” is an enjoyable, well-crafted, fantastic movie that has probably one of the best screenplays ever executed to film. Written by Robert Zemeckis (who also directs the film) and Bob Gale, I can just watch this movie and imagine what it would have been like for these two to write this script. They must’ve had a great time—I see beers and snacks all around, with chuckling, laughing out loud, and collaborating on new ideas and nodding in agreement. Or maybe I’m just being too positive. But what they delivered is a screenplay that, directed by Zemeckis, makes for a fun, entertaining, very well-written, even deep-at-some-points movie.

The story for “Back to the Future” takes place in 1985 (when this movie was made). Why do I bring this up? You’ll find out—though most of you reading this will already know why.

The hero is a California teenager named Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox). He plays lead guitar for a garage band and has a nice, attractive girlfriend, but his home life is an embarrassment. His older brother and sister are underachievers, his mother is a chronic drunk, and his father is such a nerdy wimp that he still lets his high school bully push him around.

Marty’s zany scientist friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is excited about his newest creation and asks Marty to come to the local mall and document by video camera the experimental testing. The invention is a DeLorean vehicle that turns out to be a time machine. Doc has remodeled it with all sorts of gadgets to make it possible, and it turns out to work like a charm. But for complicated reasons, Marty winds up in the car/time machine and accidentally sends himself thirty years into the past.

It’s the year 1955. It’s the same town, same school, and same neighborhood…but the twist is that he’s now the same age as his parents. This is where the story really gets interesting and very funny—Marty’s relationships with his parents, who of course don’t know who he really is. Marty befriends his father George (Crispin Glover), who is still as nerdy now/then as he was then/now and letting the school bully Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) pick on him. His mother-to-be Lorraine (Lea Thompson), who in the future became a skeptical, slightly-ugly, overly protective mother, is a beautiful, popular girl who cheats on school exams and follows boys around. These two are supposed to meet an upcoming school dance and fall in love. But Marty accidentally interferes with their meeting for the first time and Lorraine, his own mother-to-be—get this—is infatuated by him. This means that Marty has to undo the mess he made and set up the date with George and Lorraine himself, so they’ll meet, fall in love, and have children…or he’ll be erased from existence.

Marty never would have thought that his mother used to act this way or that his father was always as wimpy as he is. But something that just every person thinks of their parents, or at least every kid or teenager, is that their parents were never young. They were always the cynical, uptight beings that their kids see them as. Maybe the adults think they’re never as old as they really are, I don’t know. But “Back to the Future” has a pleasant fantasy spin to that. It answers the question of how a teenager would react if he saw his or her parents as teenagers.

Anyway, a few circuits on the time machine have been fried and as he convinces the 1955 version of Doc Brown that he’ll create this contraption, it turns out that the best thing to start it back up is with a bolt of lightning. But luckily, Marty knows when lightning will strike the town’s central clock tower and they have a week to prepare for it and get Marty back to the future. In the meantime, of course, Marty must settle things with his parents if they are still to become his parents.

This is great stuff! “Back to the Future” is full of neat ideas, it’s played for laughs (though there are some serious moments in the mix), its characters are memorable, and it constantly pleases with surprise after surprise. Everything has a setup and it all pays off by the time the movie is over—even the little details that you notice the second or third time watching it. There’s a great sense of comic timing along with its charming, lighthearted feel that you love watching this movie, even if the best parts haven’t occurred yet.

Some of the funniest bits involve the “fish-out-of-water” story with Marty interacting with a different place—or in his case, the past. For example, everyone mistakes his down jacket for a life jacket, and he can break the handles off of a scooter and use the board as a skateboard to escape from Biff and his cohorts. My favorite bit is how everyone reacts when he performs guitar at the dance and plays his solo a little too wildly. What really should be noted is the set design for the town, recreating a 1980s small town to show certain similarities and differences for the ‘50s version. It’s very well-done and quite creative.

With the wrong actor to play Marty, the character wouldn’t have gained our sympathies with him and since a lot rides on him, we wouldn’t have cared that much for the movie. This shows that a great screenplay doesn’t just make a movie—execution is probably the most important detail, and that includes casting and acting. But Michael J. Fox is perfect as Marty—he’s cocky, frantic, and wisecracking, but he’s also friendly, bright, and has an unforced, natural charm that makes us like Marty and root for him to work everything out.

Christopher Lloyd, as both versions of the Doc (past and future), is memorably wonderful. He plays him like a stereotypical mad scientist (and even sports a lab coat and a fright wig)—brilliant, zany, and constantly exclaiming in excitement. He has some of the best, funniest reaction shots I’ve seen in a movie. The supporting cast is also solid—Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover have fun with their roles, past and present. (Glover, in particular, is wonderful as the nerdy George who just needs to boost his self-respect and self-esteem.) Thomas F. Wilson is cartoonish but very memorable as the bully Biff.

There is so much to enjoy in “Back to the Future” that when it’s over, we feel joyful, energized, and glad to have seen it. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this movie—it’s fantastic fun.

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