Unless you spent your life on a ring of Saturn, you’ve seen the 1985 movie called Back to the Future directed by Robert Zemeckis (who also co-wrote the script together with Bob Gale). It’s a sci-fi adventure comedy in which the brilliant scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) creates a time machine using a Delorean and his great friend Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels back in time to 1955 escaping Libyan terrorists looking for some stolen plutonium. Given the lack of that particular material in 1955’s Hill Valley, Marty must contact the young Doc and convince him to help him get back to his time without changing the timeline in the meantime. That’s extremely complicated, since young Lorraine (Marty’s future mother, played by Lea Thompson) falls in love with Marty instead of her future father George (Crispin Glover) …
What about this film? I find it disarmingly beautiful, it’s certainly one of the films I’ve seen most times in my life (I have particularly fond memories of the whole trilogy marathon I’ve attended in a London cinema back in 2011), I think it has a perfect script and that it’s basically flawless. Every time I rewatch it, rather than getting bored, I appreciate even more every little detail.
The Hill Valley we see at the beginning of the film is the perfect evolution of its 1955 version that we discover together with Marty after his journey through time. All the characters are well written and their arcs over time are, however simplistic, absolutely credible. George is a loser who never finds the courage to take the initiative and in the future he has a terrible job and he gets bullied by his boss Biff (Thomas F. Wilson). This changes only when he manages to face the latter to save his beloved Lorraine, of course. Fifty-year-old Lorraine criticizes her children for the same things she was doing when she was young (I’m 40 years old and I already see that happening to many friends of mine with their children). Doc lost everyone’s respect due to his bizarre inventions and catastrophic accidents, and it’s heartbreaking to see the fortune that his wealthy family left him in 1955.
Besides these amazing characters, the movie is filled with great details. The opening scene starts with a series of clocks, including one in which a small miniature man hangs from a clock hand, just like Doc in the final climax. Marty plays the guitar, and that’s what saves him from disappearing when the band’s guitarist (Harry Waters Jr.) at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance gets injured. And of course he’s Chuck Berry’s cousin, and that’s how he got the idea for Johnny B. Goode (I love these time paradoxes). I stop here, but I could go on for hours.
Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack is splendid, and its theme is as recognizable as John Williams’s Star Wars theme. Also, not a day goes by without me quoting some line from the film: “Roads? Where are we going you don’t need … roads!“,”Hello? Hello? Anybody home?“,”Hey you! Get your damn hands off her!“, “If only I had more time… Wait, a minute, I got all the time I want! I got a time machine!“, etcetera etcetera.
Despite my admiration for this movie, I don’t appreciate everything in it. There’s a certain underlying Reaganian hedonistic theme that I don’t particularly like: I don’t think that the quality of life depends on being successful, earning a lot of money, owning a big car, having a beautiful girlfriend… The film idealizes the American dream fully in line with the Republican Eighties of the United States (not those sung by Bruce Springsteen, who already in 1982 wrote Born in the USA and undermined that vision of the American dream entirely).
The product placement is another thing that doesn’t drive me crazy, but it must be said that compared to the sequels here we only get some advertisements for Pepsi, Kellogg’s and Texaco, it’s not too invasive (even Gale declared that he made a mistake in accepting money from these and other companies for the trilogy because he then had to comply with their pressing requests).
But I don’t want to be too critical: this film is a real gem, it has an unbelievable pace, the whole cast does an exceptional job (even if the only one with a decent career remains Christopher Lloyd), the camera work is exceptional, and there are dozens of memorable scenes (for instance, the initial guitar amp test, the final lightning bolt, the dance, and Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan playing Van Halen). I find it curious that the ending was apparently thrown there as a joke by Zemeckis and Gale who had no idea of the success the movie was about to have and it just so happens to be the perfect excuse for a sequel! Ciao!