Late for school, Marty is caught by the principal.
Principal: No McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley!
Marty: Yeah, well history is going to change.
This film is part 1980’s cultural landmark and a cinematic rite of passage, usually watched on television as a child. This film is so fondly remembered that if it failed to live up to my memories of it on the small screen I think my heart might have died.
It surpassed expectation. Back on the big screen for its 25th anniversary, seeing Back to the Future in the cinema as an adult confirmed its brilliance.
Hill Valley, 1985, and high-school kid Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) has ambitions to become a rock star. His band tries out for the school dance but fails. At home, the eccentric inventor and Marty’s friend, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), summons Marty to a mall one night to demonstrate his latest invention, a time machine, built out of a DeLorean. Then Libyan terrorists disrupt the demonstration, killing Brown and forcing Marty to flee… back to Saturday November 5th 1955. Once there he destroys the moment that his father (Crispin Glover) met his mother (Lea Thompson) thus threatening his own existence. With the help of the young Doc Brown he must set the time-line right and get Back to the Future.
I can wax-lyrical about how this film is a comedy about serious issues: The desire to restore the suburban American family unit, a rejection of Reagan era America whilst addressing hypocrisy of our parents. How it is a kid realising that his parents were young like him and how it delivers the earnest message that by enabling people through self-confidence, reality can change. And it does all of this through time travel.
It has a tight, well orchestrated script with so much foreshadowing and so many echoes. Every shot of Hill Valley in the first act serves to establish, contextually the world Marty McFly knows and comes from. The second act then uses the audience’s memory to demonstrate how things have changed, from the gas station to the school.
“They really cleaned this place up. It looks brand new.”
Every single line of dialogue has a point and will haunt the film in surprising and funny ways. My favourite was what I thought was a throw-away line about Marty’s uncle Ronnie not getting parole, only for Marty to encounter him as a child and… I won’t spoil it.
The characters are all well-drawn and all have great lines of dialogue. It is stuffed full of classics: “You built a time machine, out of a DeLorean?”
Michael J. Fox is that fresh faced American can do optimism and with his comedic skills and confidence, proves to be a genuinely likeable lead. Christopher Lloyd, well, he’s probably defined the eccentric professor.
But Lea Thompson… Legend. Initially swigging vodka – the drink of all deeply disappointed women. And Russians. Lea Thompson’s performance morphs as the younger woman is so infernally cute, all simpering and biting her lower lip which acts as a mere cover for the harlot underneath.
“If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”
This may sound twee to us in our cynical age but to me it was refreshing, even heart warming and it reflects the positivity of this film. Every line of dialogue, every scene, every character works with this. Seeing the future change for characters is satisfying. Just give Goldie the idea of being mayor or let Marvin Berry hear you play rock and roll then you can change history. Empower your friends and parents and who knows what will happen.
Back to the Future is one of those films that earned the right to be back on the big screen, to be labelled classic and to go down as culturally significant. For anyone interested in what people looked and sounded like thirty years ago in the 1980’s, watch it. You’ll be just as lost as Marty McFly was going back to the 1950’s. This film is one that every child should see as part of their cinematic education.