Posted on 7/07/09 01:30 PM
Back to the Future (1985)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Talents: Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Christopher Lloyd, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells
U.S. Release Date: 07/03/85
Verdict: Anyone who spent their years as a teenager in the eighties must have some terrific memories to share. After all, there were plenty of mishaps both political and cultural that Americans had to suffer through in the seventies (the unexpected demise of Elvis Presley, the hatching of the Cold War). At the beginning of the eighties, Hollywood decided to brush the dust off its wings and appeal to younger audiences with ?kiddie? sci-fi flicks, which served as eye candy for both children and adults. Seeing such dazzling science fiction treasures as Ghostbusters, Innerspace, and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial must have been a spectacular night at the theatre. Those films dazzled audiences with their pioneering special effects and hip cultural soundtracks (how could you not tap your feet to such eighties hits as ?Don?t You Forget About Me? by Simple Minds and ?Eye of the Tiger? by Survivor?), and it is my humble opinion that cinema was at its peak during that decade.
Robert Zemeckis, the ?whiz kid with special effects?, penned Back to the Future in the mid-eighties, but he would later dazzle audiences with a whole slate of masterworks. Zemeckis has a keen eye for special effects, and he knows how to use them at his disposal like firepower (you can almost reach out and shake hands with the wacky duo Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit). Schools and history books can only teach us so much, so one of my absurd boyhood fantasies was to travel back in time to see what made some of the great leaders of this country tick. Thus far in my life, this childhood fantasy has not yet become a reality, and now I realize that science will probably never allow it, but that?s where films like Back to the Future come in handy. By taking advantage of an unlikely notion like traveling back in time, Zemeckis crafted a hip, well-liked science fiction outing that opened the hearts of teenagers everywhere and proved that, with cinema, childhood fantasies can be made a reality.
I can picture no other actor to fill in gutsy guitar enthusiast/shrimpy teenager Marty McFly?s sneakers than Michael J. Fox. Although there were plenty of other nerdy teen performers that already had experience in hip high school flicks, Fox is the only actor I can think of who can be tough-as-nails while retaining a nerdy, twitchy persona. Marty McFly has the guts to stand up to a mammoth-like bully on his first day of school, but he just doesn?t have the heart to send in one of his recording sessions to a music dealer. His lame parents are no help, either. The scrawny, reclusive man of the house (Glover) is a spineless businessman bullied to do one of his fellow employee?s paperwork, and Marty?s overweight mother (Thompson) spends her evenings lecturing to the kids about how they should not see anyone until they know it?s true love. You question if these two even have any feelings for each other at all. She struts throughout the kitchen as if attempting to drink herself to her grave, and he snaps bitterly at the dinner table when she dreamily recalls the few precious years they spent as teenagers. It?s not that this couple is on the brink of collapse. They raise their children in a quiet, little suburban neighborhood with enough income to get them by, but the interior of their residence is more fitting for a retirement center, complete with dull wallpaper and murky light shading. They should give Home Improvement a try.
When he?s not squirming in the middle of his parents? disputes, Marty spends most of his time playing with the toys built by an eccentric inventor named Dr. Emmett Brown (Lloyd). Brown could form a Wacky Scientist social club with Dr. Frankenstein and, say, Billy Nye the Science Guy. During one late evening, Marty is summoned to the outside of a shopping mall where he will videotape the birth of Dr. Brown?s latest creation. He is stunned out of his mind to see the testing of a time machine built out of a Delorean, but after being chased by a group of nuclear-hungry terrorists, he literally rockets to the year 1955. This is where the film takes a slightly dramatic turn. While feasting his eyes on the glorious sights that the fifties had to offer young teens, such as the revolutionary jukebox and the astonishingly cheap music records, he runs into his parents. The dweeby teenage version of his father is nothing different than the adult version: a scrawny, spineless pushover, easily talked into any situation that might get him into trouble at school. The meeting with his mother is much more severe. During what is supposed to be the first meeting of his parents, Marty is run over by his future grandfather?s vehicle, and awakens in his mother?s bedroom, who falls head over heels for her own son at first glance. This is where he rushes to the aid of a younger Dr. Brown, who teaches the teenager that he must have his mother fall in love with his father before the whole space time continuum is disrupted! Oh, and he must help him get back to his own time as well.
There is also some gut busting comedy involved. In one of the later sequences, Marty comes to the conclusion that he must go to drastic measures to force his future dad to cross paths with his future mom. After dressing up in one of Doc Brown?s spare nuclear suits, he stealthily sneaks into his father?s bedroom, places a ?futuristic? set of headphones upon his ears, and cranks some Van Halen full blast. In a raspy, otherworldly hiss, he informs his father that he is Darth Vader, an extra terrestrial from the Planet Vulcan. Bear in mind that audiences had not yet been introduced to either Star Wars or Star Trek, so, as a result of this clever gag, tears were streaming down my cheeks the first time I saw the scene unfold.
I suspect there are those who believe that a science fiction comedy like Back to the Future, a film that appeals more to teens who get a kick out of flashy special effects, does not deserve to be on any critic?s top list. As fate would have it, I have already compiled a list of five of the finest films to be crafted during the eighties, and Back to the Future just happens to be one of them. Its comedy was, at times, sidesplitting. It also introduced the world to an actor who never really got his full ride, and it features a show-stopping music sequence in which Michael J. Fox bellows ?Johnny B. Goode? on stage. As a teenager, I must say that it?s almost a shock to see that adults really were just like myself at one time or another.
*The Five Finest Films to be Crafted During the Eighties:
1. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
2. Raging Bull (1980)
3. Amadeus (1984)
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
5. Back to the Future (1985)