Back to the Future (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Traveling back in time.

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is a 17 year old videotaping his older friend Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who is planning on entering a time machine he has invented and going thirty years into the future. Just when he is about to enter the vehicle some angry Libyan nationalists with rifles appear who are upset that Emmett took plutonium from them under deceptive means. To escape the bullets Marty jumps into the machine, which is a DeLorean car, and goes back to the year 1955. Here he bumps into his father George (Crispin Glover) who is now a teenager himself and Marty inadvertently stops him from meeting his mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) thus putting his entire existence into jeopardy. Marty must find a way to get them together while also working with Emmett on getting him back to the 80’s.

The concept is original and creative. Director Robert Zemeckis has every plot point and tangent covered. Just when you think you have a handle on it he throws in another twist that makes it even more interesting. It moves at a fast pace and a perfect blend of action and comedy. The dialogue is endlessly amusing as it takes full-advantage of the ironic scenarios and the special effects are good. The music, especially the song ‘The Power of Love’ by Huey Lewis and the News is rousing and Huey even appears in a brief cameo as a nerdy talent judge. There are a lot of great scenes that are both funny and exciting.

Fox is terrific in the lead although Eric Stoltz was cast in the part originally, but fired after four weeks of shooting. Fox is far better as he displays an intelligence and restraint that most other teen stars don’t have. His mannerisms are a plus and the way his voice reaches a high pitch whenever he is nervous is funny.

Crispin Glover is always interesting. He has such an eccentric personality and acting style that he makes every film that he is in better. However, in the early scenes he doesn’t look middle-aged and more like a skinny teenager with horn rimmed glasses.

I had the same issue with Christopher Lloyd only in reverse. Of course he is perfect for the role. His bulging eyes almost make it seem like he was born to play the part of a mad scientist. I was however surprised that no noticeable attempts were made to make him look younger when Marty meets him in the 50’s. I expected the character to be young and just starting out, but instead he already seemed established and living in a nice house making me wonder who was paying him to tinker around his home all day on his experiments?

Lea Thompson is not completely convincing as a mature woman during the first part and she looks very uncomfortable under all the heavy make-up. However, she is certainly cute in the scenes where she is younger.

In the complaint department I do have a few. First all the characters that Marty meets during his time in the 50’s seem excessively dopey. The film is too entrenched with an 80’s mindset. The 50’s is portrayed as a quaint bygone era with no relevance. There is too much of a ‘we’ve come a long way baby’ mentality and the 80’s played-up as being way ‘cooler’ than the 50’s even though some people may disagree. It would have been nice had there been a broader, transcendent approach to the story that would have been able to compare and poke fun of each era equally instead of just dumping on the 50’s like it was a joke.

The climatic sequence in which Emmett tries to connect a wire from a clock tower, which is set to be struck by lightning, to the DeLorean, so Marty can use the electricity to propel the vehicle back to the present gets overplayed. I don’t mind some unexpected mishaps to happen, but Zemeckis becomes obsessed with throwing in every type of calamity possible every few seconds until it becomes tiring and annoying. It got to the point where I just wanted the damn scene to end not so much because I cared anymore about Marty’s fate, but more because my ‘tension meter’ had become exhausted.


            My third and final grievance has to do with the very end when Marty returns to the present and finds that his father has turned into a much more confident and successful man then he had originally been at the beginning. This is because due to Marty’s meddling during his time in the 50’s, George ended up confronting Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) his lifelong nemesis and knocking him out with one punch, which gave George a new found sense of confidence. This also turned Biff from a bully into a patsy and thirty years later we see him as George’s mindless assistant. Now this twist may initially sound funny, but after a second when you really think about it, the humor is lost because it has absolutely no bearing in reality. No bully is going to take on a meek role for the rest of his life simply because some scrawny guy was able to knock him out with a lucky punch. If anything Biff would have become obsessed with getting back at him and even challenging George to another fight and not giving up until they did so. Or after graduation, he would have simply left that hick town and gone on with his life and leaving that embarrassing and isolated incident far behind him. Sometimes irony can be great and I usually do love it, but too much of anything is never good and at certain points this film seems to get to that level. Also, for such an otherwise clever film you would have thought that they could have come up with a more creative name than Biff for the bully.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 3, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (25th Anniversary Trilogy)

3 responses to “Back to the Future (1985)

  1. Alright, I’ll do my best to address your complaints. The 50’s in this movie is seen through the eyes of Marty. It is not supposed to be a completely realistic view of that era. The dopiness you speak of is being displayed by two types of people: the bullies and George. The bullies are dopey because they are dumb and think very dumb things are funny. George is very smart, but socially inept, which comes off as dopey.
    The clock tower scene is the climax of the movie. By it’s very nature it has to be very tense and filled with those ” Ohmigod it might not work out moments” as possible.
    As for the bully turning meek. I’m glad to see that you’ve done your research in psychology, psyche development and ego/id relationships. An abrupt and unexpected moment, especially an embarrassing one and especially when it happens during teen years, can drastically alter a person’s personality.
    Plus…it’s just an 80s comedy! You over think it, you can kill all the fun.

  2. Thanks for your response! The great thing about movies is everyone can see it in a different way. With my reviews I basically just detail my thoughts and reactions to the film as I watch it and now in response to your points.
    1.) The point you make about the 50’s being from Marty’s point of view is an excellent one, but in the end it is still up to how writer/director Robert Zemeckis chooses to approach the material and I wanted him to approach it slightly differently. Also, the doopiness of the characters wasn’t George, or the bullies that I was thinking of. It was more Lorraine’s parents, the farm family that first sees Marty when he crash lands in their barn, and the vender at the soda shop.
    2.) I still say the climatic sequence gets overdone and proves Zemeckis is more of a showman than a storyteller, but I guess that is just personal opinion.
    3.) I also don’t think you have to be a psych major to have been around enough to know that people stay true to their natures and I don’t feel that knockout punch in high school would have been enough to ‘traumatize’ him and make his personality change that severely. Zemeckis pretty much affirms my opinion because in the sequels Biff returns more to his bully ways as does his grandson and western ancestor.
    4.) I totally agree with you when you say that if you over think an 80’s comedy you can kill all the fun, which is why I consider this movie a good one, but not a great one.

  3. I must confess that when the AFI started the top 10 best sci-fi films of all time with Back To The Future, I didn’t quite agree with that decision. It made me re-watch the movie and I certainly enjoyed that. But it wouldn’t be in my top 10, even though I still applaud the wonderful team of Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. But I never bothered with the sequels. Thanks for your review.

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