It needs no introduction, virtually everyone has seen it, and much like Toy Story, you will struggle to find anyone who dislikes it; to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Back to the Future, it is being re-released in select cities around the world (London being one of them), and though by now we have all had the opportunity to watch our trilogy boxed sets dozens of times, catching this timeless classic (no pun intended) in its original presentation is well worth slamming down some cash for.
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is a typical teenager growing up in the mid-1980s. However, when testing out a time machine with eccentric scientist friend Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd), he is accidentally sent back to 1955. Here, he meets his parents in their high school years, and after inadvertently causing his own mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), to become infatuated with him, has to repair the course of time and ensure that she falls in love with his future father, George (Crispin Glover), or face being erased out of existence altogether.
Undeniably one of the greatest films of the 1980s and indeed, of all time, Back to the Future has endured so well because it walks that fine tightrope of managing to appeal to just about everyone in some measure; there are fun adventure elements and zany characters for the kids, an intelligent, multi-layered time-travel narrative for sci-fi nerds, and a cheeky Freudian undercurrent despite which the film still garnered a generous PG rating. It is an irresistibly charming product of the 80s, yet it is stuck in that zeitgeist in only the most pleasurable of ways (much like John Hughes’ output of the same period), while the sci-fi twist keeps it subversive enough that it will surely entertain many generations to come.
BTTF represents that rare perfect marriage of everything a film needs to succeed, from Robert Zemeckis’ pitch-perfect direction, to the sharp, hilarious screenplay, the immaculately styled performances, the scintillating visual effects, and Alan Silvestri’s unforgettable score (along with Huey Lewis and the News’ wonderful contributions). The constituent elements would not operate without the film’s biggest triumph – its screenplay – which is among Hollywood’s most economic and brilliantly composed, for there are no disposable lines of dialogue; everything spoken is either cuttingly funny and heartfelt or employed to foreshadow a temporal event later in the film. If the first two Terminator films are cinema’s best serious-minded engagement with concepts of time-travel, then this is its best comic effort, equally clever in recognising the fallacious, self-negating nature of jumping through history, and creating a protagonist so inherently likeable that his quest seems no less important than John Connor’s.
Were Back to the Future hauled before the eyes of the Academy today (in the Oscars’ present, far more liberal form), it is likely that it would have been up for more statues than simply Sound, Sound Effects, Original Song and Writing. Best Picture would have been dead certain, but more importantly, the thoroughly charming performances of Fox and Lloyd would have been in contention, and perhaps even Glover as Marty’s spineless, jittery father. The boyishly good-looking Fox is an easy sell as the lead (who actually replaced Eric Stoltz after several weeks of shooting), exuding that same cocksure – yet never arrogant – confidence that made Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller so popular just a year later. Lloyd, meanwhile, nails his Einstein-on-acid role perfectly, never venturing too far into caricature, yet spinning the archetypal mad scientist role with a wink and a nod, making it unquestionably his signature performance.
The lower key supporting cast are also excellent. Glover is at his best as Marty’s off-kilter father, George, cementing the film’s heartfelt nature as his character learns some self-assertiveness and, ultimately, ensures that Marty is actually created in the first place. Lea Thompson, meanwhile, is hilarious as Marty’s mother Lorraine, who quickly smashes her son’s idea of how boring and buttoned-down she is, much to Marty’s dismay, and as their interplay becomes increasingly more Oedipal, to our grand amusement. All in all, this is a group of passionate players realising a brilliant screenplay before their eyes, and absolutely going for it.
Despite the number 25 asserting a certain dogged agedness around films – just look at how dated the original Terminator looks now – Back to the Future has aged incredibly well thanks to its robust, high-budget production at the time, and the pristine print here (which is reportedly taken from the cleaned-up Blu-Ray transfer of the film released in a few weeks) means that it has never looked better. Though one can just plonk in the DVD at any time, it is a cinema trip worth taking, if only to soak in the experience with fellow-fans who love every gag and know the film inside and out. Through and through, Back to the Future represents the very best that Hollywood has to offer, and here’s to another re-release in another 25.
Back to the Future is in theatres now!