A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 127 – Back to the Future

Back to the Future – July 5th, 2010

I am going to begin by promising I am not going to go getting mired down in paradoxes and plutonium and all the nit-picky things that are obviously going to come up in a movie about time travel. Too easy and also too complicated and I don’t want to spend the whole review going “But wait, if Marty… huh…”

So, obviously this is the 1985 time travel classic starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and the coolest DeLorean ever built. Fox plays Marty McFly, a teenager whose eccentric friend, Doc Brown (Lloyd) invents a method of time travel and who accidentally ends up getting stuck in the past, messing up the future, and then having to fix it. The conceit of the movie isn’t just the time travel and Marty being totally out of his element in 1955, it’s the whole thing with Marty meeting his parents as teenagers and getting all mixed up in the beginning of their relationship.

You can’t think too hard about the whole thing. It’s a movie about a time paradox, what with Marty messing up how his parents met and slowly erasing his and his siblings’ existence. Which we’re shown through the oh-so-clever device of a photograph of Marty and his siblings in which each member of the family fades out from the top down. Very specific paradox, you see. And as I said, I’m not going to get mired in the specifics of it. If you poke it too hard, it’ll pop. This isn’t supposed to be hard sci-fi full of nuts and bolts and real scientific theory mixed in with the technobabble. It’s supposed to be a fun movie about a kid meeting his own parents and having to get them together, with a ridiculous and over-the-top time machine as the gimmick. And it succeeds at that quite admirably.

Most of the movie takes place in 1955, with a good deal of humor coming from Marty’s “futuristic” 1985 clothes and his requests for Tab and Pepsi Free, and his utter shock at meeting his parents and then his horror when his own mother falls for him. It’s the whole fish-out-of-water routine, and Michael J. Fox plays it to the hilt. Of course, he’s given some fantastic – if cheesy – stuff to work with, like the bit where he invents the skateboard and when he plays guitar at the dance. But through it all he has this great look of wonder and horror and confusion on his face, like he can’t quite decide between the three. The whole middle chunk of movie is pretty much played for laughs, but also some light tension with Marty and Doc Brown trying to fix what Marty messed up as well as time things right to get Marty back to 1985.

Now, Doc Brown is really the star of the movie. Aside from the DeLorean, of course. Christopher Lloyd does a good bizarre character (and I’ve got to note here that the Oscillation Overthruster from Buckaroo Banzai – which Lloyd is in – was modeled after the Flux Capacitor in this movie) and Doc Brown is one of the best. Wild-haired and all big over-blown gestures and impossible ideas, Doc Brown is the quintessential friendly mad scientist. When confronted with Marty in the past, while he’s initially skeptical, once he’s brought around he throws himself completely into the whole thing. There is no half way for Doc Brown. How on Earth did Marty even make friends with him in the first place? Well, probably because Doc Brown looked him up, right? After all, they met in 1955.

Remember, don’t think too hard about it. It’s a paradox. But it’s also a fluffy paradox. In this, the first movie of the trilogy (which wasn’t intended to be a trilogy at the point when it was made), the dire consequences of time travel are all dealt with in under two hours of screen time. Sure, the end hints at something horrible in the future but as far as the bulk of this movie is concerned, time travel makes everything fan-fucking-tastic! Marty’s father has been transformed from a weenie who lets his supervisor push him around at work into an author who gets things done. His mother’s drinking problem is non-existent and she likes Marty’s girlfriend all of a sudden! His siblings are productive members of society and he’s got his very own 4×4. Time travel will solve all your woes! But only if you’re Marty McFly.

July 5, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to the Future

July 5, 2010

Back to the Future

“Great Scot!”

I realize that it’s the bits of this movie that are set in the fifties are supposed to be the nostalgic parts. Watching as we are from the future, however the eighties bits are pretty nostalgic too. I had one of those puffy down vests. I had a bulky walkman like that. (Actually it’s an Aiwa and not a Sony Walkman. The pitfalls of an ubiquitous brand.) Okay I was never able to ride a skateboard or play electric guitar. And I was never as unbelievably cool as Marty McFly, but then again, I don’t think anybody ever was.

This movie is pretty much the classic time travel paradox. What would happen to you if you went back in time and killed your own father? You wouldn’t be born, so you wouldn’t go back and you couldn’t kill him. Well in Back to the Future we have the impossibly ultra cool kid from the eighties, Marty McFly, who doesn’t kill his father but does accidentally accidentally mess up the future and endanger his own existence. When he inadvertently stops his grandfather from hitting his father with a car Marty ends up taking his own father’s place in his mother’s affections.

In the very strange time mechanics of this series this doesn’t result in a temporal paradox or in Marty suddenly vanishing from existence. Instead Marty’s family starts to vanish from a photograph he has with him from the future and ultimately he himself starts to fade. If you’re a fan of good science fiction involving time travel then this movie might not be your cup of tea. If on the other hand you want a fun comedy that has a silly time paradox as its central premise then nothing could be more fun than watching this movie another time.

The time travel might make little sense (and make considerably less sense in the second movie) but that doesn’t stop the movie from being very clever and very well made. Much of the humour in this movie and in its two sequels lies in the setup and the callbacks to that setup. The first quarter or so of the movie not only has to introduce the characters like Marty and his family and Doc Brown, but it has to introduce the entire town of Hill Valley where Marty lives in the eighties. Because everything revolves around how things in the town of the eighties are reflections of the town as it was in the fifties when Marty gets there. There’s setup for jokes about Marty’s jailbird uncle, the town mayor, the dilapidation of the town square… the first few times you watch the movie you will pick up more and more of these little gags.

A lot of the success of this movie is the result of the careful attention to detail of director Robert Zemeckis. He really knows how to make a simple establishing shot (like Lyon Estates or Twin Pines Mall) into a gag that won’t come to fruition for twenty or thirty minutes. (The twin pines mall gag doesn’t pay off until right before the end of the movie.) He spends just enough time establishing all these jokes and then deftly frames the callbacks so that we remember them. I do love Zemeckis as a director, and will doubtless touch on his talents in further detail when we delve deeper into his oeuvre. And of course at the same time I cannot fail to stress the importance of the great cast that Zemeckis is working with.

While I love Michael J. Fox as Marty, (I’ll admit that a part of me wanted to be Marty McFly back then) and I enjoy Crispin Glover enormously as his spaz of a father George, my favorite performance in the movie by far is Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown. He plays everything so large and so wild that I still laugh at some of his takes even after the tens of times I’ve seen this. Christopher Lloyd is one of those actors who shows up over and over in my collection, and always seems to be doing something strange and different. Here, Buckaroo Banzai, Clue… he’s very dependable for a laugh in a supporting role. The Jeffrey Tambor of his day.

It was a lot of fun tonight to see this classic movie again. And tomorrow I’ll probably have much to say about the future, the nature of time travel in this series, and sequels in general. For now I think I need to get so Huey Lewis onto my iPod.

July 5, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | 2 Comments