“Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?”
The year was 1985, and after this hot new film, time travel was the coolest thing on the block. Of course, we’re talking about Back to the Future. We’d seen time travel movies before, and we’ve certainly seen them sense, but nothing has managed to pull off the charm and blockbuster fun that comes with this movie. Marty McFly, Doc Brown, the DeLorean- they’ve all become central icons of American culture, constantly referenced and parodied since the film’s release. With a fun concept and a playful cast and crew, Back to the Future has become a timeless family film that still holds up today with strong cinematic merit.
For those still unfamiliar with the plot, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is your standard fun-loving 1980s teenage hero. He plays the drums, rides his skateboard to school, and maintains a relationship with his girlfriend Jennifer. He also happens to be friends with Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), a spirited but discredited scientist who unveils to Marty his newest invention: a time machine made out of a DeLorean. Unfortunately, Libyan terrorists show up and shoot Doc Brown to death just as Marty escapes in the time machine to the year 1955. From here, Marty must find his way back to 1985 while saving Doc Brown’s life, ensuring that he hasn’t changed the past enough to prevent his own birth. It’s a fun, even heartwarming, story that’s easy to follow and even easier to enjoy. Accompanied by the upbeat “Power of Love” soundtrack, Back to the Future is oozing with excitement, and it’s a great example of an original summer blockbuster done right.
The most enjoyable part of the movie is the smart but focused script. Marty is able to change the future in so many ways through his time spent in 1955. The idea that you can make your life better by altering the past really hadn’t been explored in such a fun way before this movie, and you see it all over the place in the film. Marty is able to give his father confidence to stand up to a bully, completely altering his position in life upon returning to the future. We also see little details, like a lowly diner worker who aspires to become the mayor of the city, a goal we see realized in 1985. There are so many fun little elements like this to follow, and it makes the movie an uplifting transformation story for the entire town. From the beginning of the film, countless problems plague Marty’s life and the lives of those around him, but he finds a way to make them all better. The movie seems to understand that the audience knows Marty will make it back to the future, and it instead focuses on what kind of change he can make along the way. The concept is explored in a smart way without ever sacrificing the heart of the characters in doing so.
The performances are top notch all around, and the whole cast seems to be on board with the fun, somewhat impractical nature of the film. Michael J. Fox gives a youthful, heroic performance as Marty McFly that elicits empathy and laughter in every scene. McFly is like a more pure, kindhearted version of Ferris Bueller. Whereas Bueller wants the best for himself, there’s an altruism in McFly that helps the audience root for him more easily. The way he helps all these people change their lives for the better, it makes you want to see him reap some rewards from the experience as well. However, the most memorable performance comes from Christopher Lloyd. He takes the mad scientist trope and dials it down into an eccentric but fascinating scientist. You also get to root for him as the outcast of the film, and whether or not Marty will be able to save his life upon return is one of the strongest aspects of the plot.
Back to the Future is certainly a feel-good movie, and to evaluate it through any lens wouldn’t be fair. It’s one of the most successful films to come out of the family/science-fiction/comedy label, and this is simply due to the heart of the film. If I were to criticize it, I would only mention the first ten minutes or so. It takes a while for the movie to really get going, and we don’t see a lot of its charm and humor come out until the time travel really gets rolling. While the beginning is necessary to set up a lot of parallels and scenarios that the film will touch on later, it could have been done in a more entertaining way. I think the beginning of the script could be touched up with the charm and humor that the rest of the film eventually reaches, and doing so would make it easier to get invested in the movie sooner. However, this weakness in the film practically goes unnoticed by the time you’ve reached the end, and it’s still an airtight script regardless.
Blockbuster movies have changed quite a bit since 1985. We see a heavier emphasis on franchises (although Back to the Future did succumb to this trap), and we mostly see remakes or guaranteed hits based on star power or source material. Somewhat of an anomaly by today’s standards, Back to the Future takes an original script and allows a creative team (led by Robert Zemeckis) to really have fun telling the story. It’s a film that knows what the audience wants to see and delivers wholeheartedly, with a fresh blockbuster energy that films today rarely manage to capture. Its cultural impact speaks for itself, and it will be a beloved film well into the future.
Films Left to Watch: 930