Jun 29, 2012

[Movies] Back to the Future (1985)

So this week we had a repeat of the "future is today" meme where the image of the time-traveling DeLorean depicts the present date - something that happened in July 2010 and again yesterday on June 27, 2012. We're funny that way.

But more importantly that post reminded me that this particular movie franchise is one of the many great movies that I've seen in my life and yet haven't gotten around to posting reviews for here on the Geeky Guide. That's what make these Friday posts a bit more fun - it's always a chance for me to revisit older movies and celebrate what made them great.

And this is definitely one of those movies that helped introduce some rather geeky concepts (e.g. the complications of time travel) to a wider, not-quite-so-geeky audience. And that takes quite a fair bit of writing skills and of course masterful direction, both of which I think we clearly experienced with this movie.

Synopsis: Back to the Future is a 1985 science fiction / comedy movie produced by Steven Spielberg (and others). It was directed by Robert Zemeckis based on a screenplay by Zemeckis and Bob Gale. The movie won the Academy Award for Sound Editing and was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay. It also won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film.

It's 1985 and we meet Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his family. His father (Crispin Glover) is a pushover who is constantly bullied by his work supervisor Biff (Thomas F. Wilson). His mother (Lea Thompgson) is an alcoholic. His siblings Dave (Marc McClure) and Linda (Wendie Jo Sperber) are underachievers who still live at home. It's not much of a life but Marty gets by and tries to find his escape through his music. But even that doesn't seem to be going well when his band is unable to get the gig to perform at the school dance.

Marty McFly
Marty McFly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Later that night, Marty meets up with his friend, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), where Doc reveals he's created a time machine using a DeLorean DMC-12. But to power the device, he had to obtain plutonium to power the flux capacitor. Once the vehicle reaches 88 miles per hour, it'll cross the threshold and travel to the pre-programmed time coordinates. But as they set up the test in full, a group of Lybian terrorists arrive in search of their stolen plutonium. Marty tries to escape in the DeLorean and ends up triggering the time travel aspect of the car, thus sending him all the way back to 1955.

It's interesting to note that it's said the premise behind this movie stems from the age-old question of whether or not we'd have wanted to have gone to school together with our parents. And come one - at one point in time or another we feel that we're completely different from our parents and thus want nothing to do with them, especially during the typically rebellious period of our teen years. And that does make for a great piece to reflect on through a movie - a concept that a lot of people can relate to in one way or another.

But more importantly the movie handled a pretty heavy concept in a manner that made it accessible for people. I'm not talking about the theoretical workings of the time-traveling DeLorean - that was mostly pseudo-scientific nonsense that was closer to fantasy above anything else. But more importantly it addressed time travel and the implications of how our actions in the past - even the small ones - can lead to significant changes in the future. It tackles things fairly well in this first movie, but in the greater scheme of the franchise this is merely the setup piece for a larger scientific tale.

And beyond all that, the movie was pretty darned funny. It nicely managed the balance between the whole man-out-of-his-time premise and managed to blend things well with the time period. And of course the movie made sure to set up a lot of potential running gags that end up running through the entire movie trilogy - something I doubt any of us could have clearly predicted when we all first watched this movie.

The success of this movie (and eventually the whole franchise) definitely has to go to amazing on-screen tandem of Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. On their own they were already perfect for their respective roles and it's hard to imagine casting them any other way (although that nearly happened actually). But together, the two were just fantastic and played a big role in making this movie the cultural milestone that it is today.

Back to the Future is a key piece of our cultural history in many ways and it's a really fun adventure to boot.  And so I happily rate it as 4.5 exclamations of "Great Scott!" out of a possible 5, only because I felt there were some minor pacing issues.

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