By Marty Mulrooney
Back To The Future is a 1985 science-fiction comedy film directed by Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) and produced by Steven Spielberg. Starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, it tells the story of Marty McFly, a teenager who is accidentally sent back in time to the year 1955 and must find his way back home. A global phenomenon upon release, it grossed over $380 million worldwide and received critical acclaim, as well as two sequels and an animated TV show. 25 years later, fans now have the chance to see where it all began, digitally remastered in cinemas across the UK and US.
Most of AMO’s readers will already be familiar with Back To The Future. Not only is it a classic film, it has stood the test of time amazingly well, no pun intended. Still, for those who may have hazy memories, let’s quickly recap the story. Having been sent back in time, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) accidently stops a fateful event that originally led to his parents meeting in 1955. He now has one week to set things right and ensure that his parents get together so he will still be born and not suddenly cease to exist.
He meets up with a younger version of inventor Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who was shot dead at the beginning of the film by Libyan terrorists for stealing weapons-grade plutonium, just before Marty jumped back in time. In 1955 plutonium isn’t readily available, so the unlikely pair must find a way to harness an impending lightening strike to generate the required 1.21 gigawatts of power into a device called the ‘flux capacitor’, which makes time travel possible.
The time machine itself? One of the coolest, most iconic cars ever, a modified DeLorean DMC-12. The DeLorean Motor Company went bust in 1982, three years before the film was released, due to poor sales and the car itself being relatively underpowered. Make no mistake: the DeLorean isn’t technically anything special. Yet Back To The Future cemented it into popular culture forever. So much so, that the car went back into production in 2007, albeit via a different company who bought the remaining parts inventory. The DeLorean is as much a central character in Back To The Future as Marty or the Doc.
This is a film that paces itself perfectly; there are no throwaway moments, every scene fully embellished. A television reporter comments on stolen plutonium during the opening credits. Moments later, Marty McFly enters, kicking his skateboard underneath the Doc’s bed… straight into a huge yellow box with a radioactive warning sticker on its side. There is constant duality throughout: Marty confides in his girlfriend about his insecurities about becoming a musician. These words are later repeated verbatim by his own father, who is terrible with women and also can’t handle “rejection”.
Such trends are delicious. Marty’s mother scolds the eager behaviour of his girlfriend, painting a picture of her own youth as one without vices. Yet in 1955 she constantly refers to time traveller Marty as “a dream”, desperate to be alone with him. This subplot in particular could have been crippling to the film if handled badly. Disney even deemed such an idea “inappropriate” for a family film. Yet director Zemekis knows his craft and when to push and pull the various narrative threads: Marty’s situation is consistently hilarious and never mishandled.
Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover, as Lorraine and George McFly respectively, are perfectly cast. Make-up allows the actors to play Marty’s middle-aged parents in 1985, as well as his youthful parents-to-be in 1955. Here, the seeds are sown for his mother’s constant vodka drinking and his father’s push-over personality. Yet Back To The Future is a modern day fairytale and not only can the future be set right… it can be made better. Thomas F. Wilson completes the cast as bully Biff Tannen, an effective antagonist in a film that needs to remain light even during its most tense and exciting moments.
The sound for the re-release is superb. I have never heard the film sound so crystal clear, The Power Of Love rumbles powerfully throughout. Johnny B. Goode is still an immense crowd pleaser too: it doesn’t bear thinking about that this scene was originally going to be cut! Then again, Eric Stoltz filmed three months as Marty before Michael J. Fox was brought in, and John Lithgow was the original choice for the Doc… so who knows how things could have turned out in an alternative timeline! Alan Silvestri’s compositions boom louder than ever, an epic score for an epic movie.
The visual quality sees the most improvements. The initial opening credits still look slightly grainy, but as the film progresses new details continue to pop out. Admittedly, sometimes things look too good: makeup is slightly more obvious upon the actor’s faces at times. Yet overall, everything looks incredible. The DeLorian hitting 88mph is still one of the best special effects gags in modern cinema, blue electricity cracking all over its metal frame before making way to a lone pair of flaming tire tracks.
This a film full of special moments. The Doc looking confused at Marty as he edges away from his side, a remote controlled DeLorean barrelling towards them at 88mph. Lorraine mistaking Marty’s name as “Calvin Klein” because of his purple branded underwear. George knocking Biff clean out, fulfilling his “density”. Marty headbutting the DeLorean’s steering wheel in defeat before it finally splutters to life…
25 years from now, nothing will have changed. Back To The Future is a perfectly cast, tremendously acted, beautifully paced adventure that continues to please with each repeat viewing. The chemistry between Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd is priceless, their comedic timing impeccable. It is somewhat ironic that, for a film about time travel, Back To The Future remains timeless.
10 OUT OF 10
The digitally remastered Back To The Future Trilogy will be released on Blu-ray at the end of October 2010.
Telltale Games are currently working on Back To The Future: The Game, with Christopher Lloyd reprising his role as Doc Brown.