Movies to See Before You Die: “Back to the Future”
The future is now.
While much of the world pokes fun at the future predictions of Back to the Future Part II, debating how much the sequel got right or wrong about life in the twenty-first century, here at Flickchart, we wish to point out that 2015 is a highly significant date for another, more important reason. Lest we forget, 2015 is the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most perfectly realized films of all time, currently ranked #9 on Flickchart’s global aggregate list.
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is a teenager with a dream: to escape the humdrum life where his father, George (Crispin Glover), is not such a spineless nerd who has been kowtowing to overbearing bully Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) since high school. But it’s a rough day. The principal, Mr. Strickland (James Tolkan) is riding him, his band has been rejected to play at the school dance (“I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud”), and Biff has totaled the family car that Marty was counting on having a big date with his girlfriend, Jennifer (Claudia Wells).
Little does Marty know that his friendship with eccentric inventor Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is about to yield some remarkable fruit that will alter the course of Marty’s life forever.
Doc calls Marty up for a late-night meeting in a mall parking lot to make a reveal that is no less than astounding: He has built a time machine, out of a delightfully cheesy DeLorean DMC-12. (“The way I see it,” he tells Marty, “if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”) His next revelation is equally jaw-dropping: The DeLorean requires weapons-grade plutonium to generate enough electricity to jump through time, a trip that is triggered when the car reaches a speed of 88 miles per hour.
Cue the Libyan terrorists from whom Doc has stolen his plutonium. When they drive in and shoot Doc, Marty finds himself on the run in the DeLorean. With the fateful words, “Let’s see if you bastards can do ninety”, Marty suddenly finds himself thrown thirty years into the past.
With no extra plutonium on hand to make a return trip, Marty is stuck in 1955. And so, he must track down his old friend Doc Brown…but before he can, he runs into his own parents, and inadvertently prevents their first meeting. Trapped, Marty must find a way to make his dad step up to the plate so he can get his parents together before he is erased from existence, while Doc concocts a preposterous scheme to harness 1.21 gigawatts of electricity from a bolt of lightning…
Part of what makes Back to the Future so successful, even thirty years later, is just how relatable Marty McFly is. Everyone can recall a time when their parents disappointed them, but when Marty trips back to a time when his parents were his age, he’s provided a rare glimpse into just how his mother and father tick. And when his very existence depends on it, Marty finds an internal strength he didn’t previously know he had.
Marty’s mom, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), is not the same person as a teenager that Marty knew in 1985. With his parents’ first meeting aborted, Lorraine begins an unwitting infatuation with her own son. Thus, Marty must try to butch up his dad to get their courtship back on track. Easier said than done, and as Marty tries desperately to get his father to pursue the woman he is meant to be with, he finds the courage to take risks that he could never have taken back in his own life. He’ll teach George a thing or two about self-respect and taking charge of his own life before he’s gone back to the future.
As much as Marty remains in the spotlight throughout the film, the other key character is Doc Brown, Christopher Lloyd’s role of a lifetime. The film opens with a slow tracking shot through Doc’s workshop that, without a single uttered line of dialogue, gives a perfect glimpse into the inventor’s eccentric mind.
Marty’s last-ditch effort to bring his parents together right at the very moment they are supposed to fall in love is breathtaking, but it’s Doc who gets the big, epic finale as he harnesses a bolt of lightning atop Hill Valley’s clock tower to power the DeLorean’s trip to 1985.
Director Robert Zemeckis has more classics of American cinema on his resume than many directors can aspire to. From the Oscar-winning Forrest Gump to the groundbreaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Zemeckis has made his mark in the movie industry. (And he continues to do so; his next film, The Walk, is due in theaters this October.)
Yet Back to the Future is his crown jewel. And though he has otherwise shown a reluctance to repeat himself in his projects, he and his co-writer/producer, Bob Gale returned to Hill Valley to make one of the most beloved trilogies of all time. Back to the Future Part II and Part III expanded on the initial premise in new and creative ways, weaving a brilliantly loopy time-travel plot in the days before loopy plots became the rule in time travel movies.
There’s no topping the original, though. A perfect blend of action, comedy and heart, it zips along to a sweeping score from Alan Silvestri with an energy, exuberance and flat-out joy that few other films can rival. If you haven’t yet, the thirtieth anniversary is a perfect time to knock Back to the Future off of your List of Shame.