All this week, Film School Rejects presents a daily dose of our favorite articles from the archive. Originally published in August 2011, Kevin Carr celebrates a Movie We Love, Back to the Future. Fitting, as today is November 12, the 58th anniversary of the famous Hill Valley Thunderstorm…
Marty McFly is just your typical high school kid who has his own rock band, rides a skateboard to school every day and wants to make out with his girlfriend in his own car on the weekend. He also has a inexplicably close relationship with zany Doc Brown down the road, but that’s all okay because that guy has just invented a time machine out of a sports car.
After the terrorists that gave Doc Brown the plutonium to get the time machine working come after them with big guns, Marty travels back to 1955 where he meets his parents, accidentally stops them from falling in love and must find a way to get them back together before he disappears from existence.
Why We Love It
You know that crazy-haired old coot down the road from you who lives in a barn and survives on a constant diet of Jolt Cola and Pixie Stix? You know that one that everyone is sure has murdered some suburban family and stashed their body parts in various places around the house? Imagine he is a loveable old scientist who wears vintage clothing and says things like “Great Scott!” That’s the type of charming 80s fun we see in the summer runaway hit Back to the Future.
Back in 1985 when Back to the Future came out, all the contemporary references were so trendy. From Marty’s teenage slang of saying “heavy,” which 1955 Doc Brown misinterprets as a future gravity problem, to his clothing styles (I’m sure he had a Swatch in there somewhere), this is as indicative of 80s fads as a show like Square Pegs or a movie like Revenge of the Nerds.
As much as Back to the Future was a champion of its decade, it was a champion of then-30-years-past 1955 and all the pop culture of that time. It was a movie version of That 50s Show, serving up a huge slice of nostalgia to go along with a chocolate shake at the malt shop.
Back to the Future was a love letter to the 50s, and since it just came out recently on Blu-ray, watching it today is also a love letter to the 80s. From the music to the fashion to the simple good-versus-evil storytelling, it makes us think of what we thought was a simpler time (which really wasn’t any simpler than today; we just didn’t pay taxes back then when we were kids).
And yes, there’s that music. As a 50s throwback film, there were great oldies in the soundtrack, including “Mr. Sandman,” “Earth Angel” and “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” But there were also some quintessential 80s music, including Huey Lewis and the News’ hit theme “The Power of Love.” And all the music nerds of the day have to giggle at Huey Lewis himself declaring that Marty’s band was “just too loud.”
Even beyond the pop music in the soundtrack, there was Alan Silvestri’s brilliant score that made the film as much of an adventure as it was a sci-fi film or comedy. In a decade dominated by John Williams soundtracks, this is one that still sticks in my mind more than anything else.
Time travel stories can be tricky, not just because of the paradox pitfalls in the writing and the fact that by the 80s a lot of the core stories had already been picked over by Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. They’re tricky because it’s hard to retain that hard sci-fi element of the genre and keep the film grounded as a period piece. Back to the Future manages this perfectly, far better than it does with its subsequent sequels that came out a half a decade later.
But in the end, Back to the Future was just damned fun. It was a true escape movie that allowed you to travel back through time and spend a few hours in the shoes of Marty McFly, even if they’re horribly dated (and probably way too small for most of us) now.
Moment We Fell in Love With
As a kid, I was sold on this film the moment Doc Brown’s dog Einstein was thrown one minute into the future in the DeLorean. But the climax of the film is where it brings in that surge of emotions. I’m not talking about Marty and Doc Brown successfully orchestrating the scientifically impossible timing of charging the DeLorean with a lightning strike. I’m talking about the “Earth Angel” moment, when Marty is literally fading out of existence and George McFly gets the balls to stand up to Biff who was about to have his way with Lorainne and her impressive cleavage.
Who would think that a scene featuring the potential rape of the leading lady is not only fully acceptable in a PG movie, but emotionally brushed away seconds later. Ah, the 80s.
While I do truly love the Back to the Future sequels (even with the almost unforgivable plot addition of Marty refusing to be called a chicken), the original still holds up as the best of the series. It’s also represents a time in director Robert Zemeckis’s career when he actually made real movies, rather than overblown special effects films or mo-cap CGI presentations. It is essentially 80s, and to my thirteen-year-old eyes watching it at my huge six-screen multiplex in Columbus, Ohio, it was a defining film of my childhood.