Back To The Future

*****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Back To The Future
"One of the most deservedly popular movies in cinema history."

As an average teenager in Hill Valley 1985, Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) is in love with his girlfriend (Claudia Wells) and embarrassed by both his spineless Dad, George (Crispin Glover) – still bullied by his high school bully Biff (Thomas F Wilson) – and borderline-alcoholic mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson). However, all this changes when his best friend, eccentric scientist Dr Emmett “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd), asks for help with a time-travel experiment (using a customised DeLorian car) which accidentally sends Marty to 1955. With no plutonium to power a return trip, his only hope to get back is the Fifties version of the Doc, who hatches a crazy plan. Making things more complicated, Marty inadvertently stops his parents meeting for the first time (meaning they won’t fall in love, get married or have kids) and has to play matchmaker – despite the fact his mother now likes him instead – before he ceases to exist.

Though it still sits as one of cinema’s most popular movies, Back To The Future had a tough time getting made. Having written the picture together, Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis struggled to get their script picked up (Disney thought the incest angle was “too dirty”), when they did there was major studio interference and a few weeks into filming they realised that Eric Stoltz was totally wrong for Marty McFly. Great Scott, indeed.

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Pleasantly, everything worked out to result in an incredible piece of movie-making magic. Filled with Fifties Americana and a John Williams-esque score from Alan Silvestri, Back To The Future feels like a Spielberg movie (he is executive producer) and features the coolest car in cinema history this side of Adam West’s Batmobile.

In terms of watching the movie, it really is entertaining from start to finish. From the yuckiness of Lorraine trying it on with her future son back in the Fifties, to the eeriness of Marty realising he is back in time, from the excitement of the skateboard escape to the cheer-inducing rush of seeing George finally standing up to Biff, this film is full of unforgettable moments. Though the opening period is a tad slow, nearly every seemingly unimportant line is a set-up for a joke later or information that becomes important at some point.

However, the most interesting dynamic is Marty’s connection with his father. Like everything else in the picture, this stems from Bob Gale’s wonderful script which was inspired by the moment he found his Dad’s high-school yearbook and wondered if they’d have been friends had they been the same age (his Dad was ‘big guy on campus’ and he was a nerd). Filled with clever ideas, subtle humour and wish-fulfilment, the story works on multiple levels and asks the question we’ve all wondered, what were our parents really like when they were younger?

Taking over from Eric Stoltz four weeks into filming (who was playing it too seriously for the tone of the movie), Michael J Fox’s comic timing makes for a perfect fit in the role he will always be remembered for. Having been found on the streets of Pasadena while filming Teen Wolf, Fox initially turned down the part due to increasing involvement in sitcom Family Ties, but was eventually persuaded to do both at the same time (shooting the show all day and Back To The Future at nights/weekends) despite only getting two hours sleep a night. To borrow Marty’s words, that is heavy.

As for Christopher Lloyd as the Doc, his surrogate father figure relationship with Marty is the heart of the film and he impresses by making the potentially-silly exposition seem realistic. Rounding off the ensemble, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson and Thomas F Wilson are excellent in parts that sadly became the highlight of their careers. Also, there’s a small scene-stealing turn from the always-welcome James Tolkan as Mr Strickland. Didn’t that guy ever have hair?

Overall, Back To The Future is one of the most deservedly popular movies in cinema history. With a brilliant script, excellent performances, a wonderful score, some inspirational ideas and plenty of memorable moments, this is a great motion picture that has quite easily stood the test of time.

Reviewed on: 17 Nov 2008
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Back To The Future packshot
A time travel classic of supreme comic invention, involving Marty McFly, a mad scientist and a DeLorean motorcar.
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Read more Back To The Future reviews:

Scott Macdonald *****

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, George DiCenzo, Frances Lee McCain, James Tolkan

Year: 1985

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

Festivals:

EIFF 2012
EIFF 2015

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