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The time traveller’s strife: Back To The Future (1985) ~ Review

October 9, 2010

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F Wilson

Screenplay by: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale

US; 116 minutes; Colour; Certificate: PG


So, following hot on the fire-trails of my article on the story behind the Back To The Future flicks, that very time-travel movie trilogy’s season continues right here at George’s Journal with a review of the original film by, yes, yours truly.

First things first though, because a few nights ago I was lucky enough to see Back To The Future on the big screen (in a brand spanking new digitally remastered print) thanks to its cinematic re-release for its 25th anniversary – and indeed I’m aware that admitting that fact in an Internet-published article  is essentially gloating about it on a large scale. Yet, that fact is a moot one for this very review, for watching a film classic at a flickatorium is quite a different experience to slipping its disc into the DVD player, settling down in an armchair and hitting ‘play’. Not only because the cinema screen is so much bigger and you catch more detail than you would on a TV-sized one, but also – and most importantly – because you’re not the only one watching it.

About 10 years ago I saw classic cross-dressing caper Some Like It Hot (1959) in a cinema, and the experience was very similar to the other night with Back To The Future. I was surrounded by an audience of viewers who, like me, had predominently seen the flick before and were fans; it was an audience therefore on the movie’s side throughout and, more than that, knew the points at which most of the big laughs came. And that was what made following Marty and the Doc’s first adventure this time really unique – the goodwill of all those there and the laughter exercise had by them.

Back To The Future is a comedy, of course, but I’ve perhaps never realised quite how much of a comedy before the other night. Personally, I’ve always thought of it as a sci-fi-romantic-comedy-adventure – a film that genuinely has something for everyone, but the other night my company were laughing at every one of the Doc’s idiosyncratic expressions, guffawing at each of Marty’s ’85-in-’55-slips-of-the-tongue and rolling about at all of George McFly’s stuttering machine-gun-like laughs. In short, this was an audience that was genuinely, completely entertained by what they saw – and it’s not hard to work out why.

The movie, of course, tells the story of 1980s highschool ‘slacker’ Marty McFly (Fox), whose friendship with the father figure that is white, wirey haired Doc Emmet Brown (Lloyd) – itself presumably existing owing to his own lacklustre parents (Thompson and Glover) – leads him accidentally to be transported 30 years into the past by a time machine built into a DeLorean car by his ingenious old pal. Once there, Marty enlists a younger version of the Doc to get him back to the future, while making sure his parents get together to ensure he continues to exist at all, having inadvertently ballsed-up the moment when they’re supposed to have fallen in love.

An undeniable blockbuster on release (it was the biggest money-spinner of its year), Back To The Future is nowadays hard to disassociate from its blockbuster tag and look at purely as a film on its own. However, watching it on the silver screen, I can assure you it measures up differently and very favourably to today’s too-often-too-mindless blockbusters. And that’s because this film was made in an era when a flick genuinely had to earn the reddies to become a blockbuster. How did it do that? By simply being a damn good, solid flick in the first place.

Zemeckis and Gale’s script is water-tight; not one line is wasted in forwarding the plot (indeed, Zemeckis even considered removing the oh-so memorable Johnny B Goode scene in the film’s last third because he felt it contained no pl0t development). However, despite the tightness, the flick’s also entertaining as hell. As explained, it’s funny, but also thrilling (the time-travel sequences are terrific), perfectly paced (the action sequences breeze along, while the dialogue-heavy and more emotive scenes are given room to breathe – overall then, it’s finely balanced) and there’s genuine substance and heart to engage the noggin and the emotions as well.

Indeed, the players must take their fair share of credit for the latter. Fox, in his true star-making role, is an entirely engaging, sympathetic hero and very accessibly cool along with it; Lloyd’s mad scientist routine as the Doc is wonderfully judged – subtle at times and fully flourishing thanks to broad brushstrokes the next; and Thompson’s predatory lust-struck mother-to-be nicely played, while Glover’s awkward middle-aged loser in the present becoming a proto-geek in the past is a fine performance.

Worthy of mention too is an instantly recognisable orchestral score from Alan Silvestri; two top hit pop tunes from Huey Lewis And The News; excellent mid-50s period detail and sets to transform the film’s time period; and, of course, ace special effects (for their time) from the legendary Industrial Light & Magic.

And yet, at the end of the day, Back To The Future is probably really the film it is because of the keen vision and technical ability of Zemeckis and Gale. As mentioned in my previous post, it took them three flops and then five years’ writing and development to get their eventual hit off the ground – but when their time came they hit it out of the ball-park at a full 88mph.

Back in the ’80s, I remember them saying they don’t make films like they used to, but giving Back To The Future the proper re-watch it deserves, I can confirm they really don’t make films like they used to in that decade either. 

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2010 12:58 pm

    An thoroughly wonderful and engrossing cinema experience. I absolutely loved it.

    Back To The Future has been one of my favourite films for such a long time and I think it is because it has that superb blend of all the aforementioned things. The fact that it is sci-fi, comedy, romance and adventure all rolled into one. The fact that it is gentle and fun and tonally pitched as perfectly as a film can be. That it appeals to all ages and that there’s something for everyone. The fact that the performances are balanced beautifully, pitched perfectly between finding genuine character development through subtle nuances and also played wide and big. The fact that this is plotted as tightly as a Ziggy Stardust body suit and that it as lean as Jack Sprat’s dinner. And ultimately the fact that this is more entertaining and exciting than a summer trip to Disney World is to an eight year old.

    Seeing this in the cinema has actually changed my views about the relevance of cinema in today’s society. I had considered it to be a bloated, dying relic of a once magical age. I thought that cinema was reaching its zenith and that, with the advent of home cinema and streamed content, cinema would crumble like Rome. What I failed to take into account was the magic of a shared experience of such a wonderful film. The laughter, the cheering, the applause. Everyone in that cinema left feeling like they were ten years old and smiling from ear to ear.

    For me it was a strange experience. Back in 1985, I had stood outside the Empire cinema in Leicester Square and looked up at the towering billboard for Back To The Future. As a ten year old, this looked like the best film in the world. I wanted to see it so badly. Fast forward in my own time machine and it felt like I was there again as that little kid, getting to see it for the first time. I was at once transported, like Marty, instantaneously back to the past, or perhaps my ten year old self had made the lightning fast trip to the future. Either way, the years melted away and I felt caught up in my own time vortex.

    I know Back To The Future so well. I know every line and it has been such an influence on me in the past, but seeing it in the cinema was like watching it for the first time and it has to be one of the most memorable cinema experiences I’ve ever had.


  2. October 9, 2010 12:59 pm

    Oh, and great article, as usual, Georgio.

  3. October 9, 2010 11:58 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it so much, dublo. And that you enjoyed my review!

    By the bye, your changed thoughts re cinema itself through that experience perhaps could make an interesting piece on your own excellent blog? Just a thought… 🙂


  1. Hill Valley’s high noon: Back To The Future Part III (1990) ~ Review « George's Journal

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