A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , , , , ,


  1. I still have my Valterra Splatter skateboard, the same make and model Marty used in the film.

    Comment by Josh | July 7, 2010 | Reply

    • I remember that board. Made my only wobbly attempt ever to skate on it (and failed.) I’m shocked you still have it!

      Comment by tanatoes | July 7, 2010 | Reply

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