Back to the Future (1985) / Comedy-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG for language and violence (I'd rate it PG-13)
Running Time: 111 min.
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Huey Lewis
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Back to the Future is pure entertainment, and very successful at that. Wholly inspired and brilliantly executed, this brainchild of screenwriter Bob Gale (Interstate 60, Used Cars) and director Robert Zemeckis (Romancing the Stone, What Lies Beneath) is chock-full of in-jokes and sight gags that makes it an easy and film to revisit time and time again -- very appropriate for a movie dealing with time travel. Itís a Steven Spielberg (The Goonies, Gremlins) production, which at that time was virtually synonymous with special effects laden, family friendly, imaginative comedic fare. While it doesnít always make logical sense (time travel movies always seem to be a bit of a headache to resolve), it covers over most of its holes by being perpetually energetic and ingeniously hilarious.
Michael J. Fox (Bright Lights Big City, Atlantis: The Lost Empire) plays 17-year-old Marty McFly, a spirited teenager who doesnít seem to quite fit in with his current family, so much so that he spends a great deal of his time helping out an eccentric local scientist, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd, Convergence), in his kooky experiments. One night, Doc calls Marty out to an empty mall parking lot to witness his latest triumph, a souped- up DeLorean that he has modified as a time machine. Upset that Doc has used the plutonium given to make a proposed nuclear bomb for his own machine, some angry terrorists gun him down in cold blood, leaving Marty with no other choice than to escape in the DeLorean, which sends him back in time to the date Doc first came up with the idea for time travel, November 5th, 1955, which also happens to be the date that Martyís parents met and fell for each other. Problems ensue when Martyís mother (Lea Thompson, Howard the Duck) begins to fall for him instead, which would completely negate the existence of Marty and his siblings. Marty must find a way for his parents to fall in love, and get back to the future without the nuclear component necessary, with only the younger Doc Brown to help him.
Back to the Future is, at the same time, an embracing of the cultures of the 1950s and the 1980s, while also a satire poking fun at all of the differences. Perhaps no other actor exudes that Reagan-era young preppy as Alex P. Keaton himself, Michael J. Fox. He embodies many things that the 1950s just arenít ready for, some of which he exploits for his own purposes (such as the rampant fear of alien invasions). While his parents like to look back on their childhoods as an idyllic time of innocence, as presented here, the 1950s seems like an even more bizarre world to live in, with its naÔve points of view, repressive relationships, and denial about its own flaws. Back to the Future actually does manage to touch on key differences, such as racism and the imbalance of sex roles, but does so without ever losing the light-hearted energy that imbues the rest of the story.
Over the years, Back to the Future has become a family classic (although it has its share of adult language and themes), and a quintessential 80s film which exuded a wide-eyed charm and a celebration of the geek as part of popular culture. Itís a fun and breezy viewing that offers some smart escapism for a while, provided you are willing to go with the flow of the illogical plot in exchange for some laughs and a good time. Like most things Spielberg at the time, itís a populist feel-good movie that should appeal to just about everyone.
-- Followed by two sequels: Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future Part III (1990). Also followed by a weekly television cartoon series from 1991-1993.
©2005 Vince Leo