"This is heavy."
Sitting down to write this review has been one of the more difficult challenges I've had as a reviewer. Because no matter what I say, words are bit inadequate to describe how much this film means to me. This is one of my favorite movies of all time, and because of that it has some deep emotional ties for me. This review contains spoilers, but since we're coming up on the thirtieth anniversary of its release, I don't think it's much of an issue.
I remember feeling excited leaving the theater after seeing Back to the Future for the first time. I won't say how old I was, but considering it came out in 1985, and I was a kid... well you can do the math. The wonderful thing about this one is, nostalgia isn't really a factor. This is a genuinely good movie, with good acting, writing, directing, and music. It even stands up to the test of time with only a couple of visual effects showing their age.
I won't say it's a masterpiece or anything. That would be silly, but I'm not sure how much more I could ask for in a fun time travel adventure flick. I mean, we get your classic fish out of water scenario, a very well set up plot with tons of details, and Michael J. Fox in his prime. Okay, that last one is probably why this movie is as good as it is. Seriously, Michael J. Fox just exudes this likeable charisma, even when his character isn't necessarily the best person in the world.
Marty McFly has some pretty serious issues, and it takes three movies to fully address them. He's arrogant, overconfident, reckless, not particularly bright, doesn't respect authority, and is always in way over his head. But I guess that's what makes him a good lead, he's flawed and so he's relatable. Marty doesn't always make the right choice, but he always tries to fix his mistakes. He's also very loyal, almost to a fault.
Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown, on the other hand is brilliant, but not quite all there. Spacey, eccentric, and always able to think his way through a situation, Doc Brown spends a majority of the movie trying to help Marty fix his problems. He's sarcastic and sardonic when he needs to be, and points out the things that Marty misses. In other words, he's the perfect partner to our lead. He makes up the deficiencies in Marty's character, and compliments him in such a way that together they can overcome any problem.
Of course Marty's problems are seemingly impossible to solve. Marty is stuck in the past with a time machine that no longer functions, he inadvertently took his father's place at a pivotal moment in his parents' relationship, which leads to the biggest issue... his mother has the hots for him and not his father. None of those problems can be solved quickly or easily, but the writing is such that each issue has an organic solution.
The biggest strength of the movie is in the setups and details. Each little thing is there for a reason. The parallels between the past and present are especially important because they lay out all the answers in the first ten minutes of the movie. This works because each bit of information is fed to Marty little by little. It comes across as background information that feels natural, but it is so vital that without that set up, the plot would've been a mess.
Back to the Future always been a bit more than just a fun movie. It represents the concepts that are fantastical and wonderful to me. It explores time travel in a way that's accessible. There is some token science from Doc Brown about unraveling the space/time continuum, but for the most part the time travel is simply a MacGuffin, a way to tell a story about a bunch of important themes. We get everything from standing up for yourself, to not being afraid to be who you really are. We discover that our parents are real people, and that the world can change by our actions. That's kinda deep for what is ostensibly a kid's movie about a time machine made out of a car.
I've always thought Biff was a good villain, but he isn't particularly scary. There is one thing that has always bothered me, though. Why does his personality change so completely after the fight with George? Did one punch really change him so dramatically? I have a theory about this and I think it's the only way this makes sense. Okay, so George punches Biff, knocking him out in one hit. That changes the dynamic between them, maybe even to the point where they become friends later in life. Biff also seems to love cars, and it makes sense that with some encouragement (perhaps from George) Biff could've ended up starting his own business. It is still a bit strange that Biff is so different, but it really is a small detail.
It took four years for the sequel to get made. Four years is a very long time to a kid, especially back in the stone age, where video tapes and cut up re-runs on cable were the only options to see a movie again. Normally the idea of a sequel isn't that much of an issue, but the movie ended on a freaking cliff-hanger! I don't know what behind the scenes drama kept the production delayed for that long, but four years! I'm still pissed about that, twenty-nine years later.
The DeLorean is the car I wanted until I was a teenager. Of course I wanted it with all the time travel stuff included.
Michael J. Fox and Lea Thompson (Lorraine) were born only nine days apart. Crispin Glover (George) is actually three years younger than Fox, who was actually twenty-four when the film was released.
There is a fun story about Ronald Reagan related to the film. Apparently he loved the moment where Doc Brown couldn't believe that an actor could become president so much, that he asked the projectionist to roll back the film so that he could see the scene again. Reagan even mentioned the movie in his 1986 State of the Union speech.
In the 1985 scenes, most of the store fronts in the town square are bars, liquor stores, pawn shops, or adult bookstores. The movie theater only shows XXX features. There is also graffiti on the lion statues flanking the entrance to the housing community Marty lives in. Hill Valley seems like a pretty crummy place to live.
Huey Lewis had a cameo as one of the members of the selection committee listening to Marty's audition for the school dance. Marty is playing one of his songs. Lewis also provided two tracks on the soundtrack "The Power of Love" and "Back in Time".
Marty: "Whoa. Wait a minute, Doc. Are you trying to tell me that my mother has got the hots for me?"
Doc Brown: "Precisely."
Marty: "Whoa. This is heavy."
Doc Brown: "There's that word again. Heavy. Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth's gravitational pull?"
Marty: "Wait a minute. Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"
Doc Brown: "The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?"
Doc Brown: "Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads."
Marty: "Calvin? Wh... Why do you keep calling me Calvin?"
Lorraine: "Well, that is your name, isn't it? Calvin Klein? It's written all over your underwear."
Marty: "Where are my pants?"
Lorraine: "Over there, on my hope chest."
Biff: "Since you're new here, I'm gonna cut you a break, today. So, why don't you make like a tree and get outta here?"
Lorraine: "It's our first television set. Dad just picked it up today. Do you have a television?"
Marty: "Well, yeah. You know we have... two of them."
Milton: "Wow! You must be rich."
Stella: "Oh, honey, he's teasing you. Nobody has two television sets."
Marty: "Hey, hey, I've seen this one. I've seen this one. This is a classic. This is, uh, where Ralph dresses up as a man from space."
Milton: "What do you mean, you've seen this? It's brand new."
Marty: "Yeah, well, I saw it on a ... rerun."
Milton: "What's a rerun?"
Marty: "You'll find out."
George: "Who are you?"
Marty: "Silence, Earthling. My name is Darth Vader. I am an extraterrestrial from the planet Vulcan!"
Doc Brown: "1.21 gigawatts! 1.21 gigawatts. Great Scott!"
Marty McFly: "What-what the hell is a gigawatt?"
Back to the Future is one of the seminal movies that came out during my childhood, and so I will always love it. It might have a couple of flaws and plot holes, but they don't matter much to me.
4 out of 4 Time traveling Deloreans
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.