Back to the Future is not only an instant classic for the ages but the film kicked off a successful trilogy of classic movies about time travel.
This film never gets off the ground without Steven Spielberg. It’s very much an old-fashioned film that brings together a number of themes. As Spielberg says, the script brings together two different generations. But even with Spielberg coming on board, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale still had their own worries. They didn’t have a successful film under their belt by this point. Not I Wanna Hold Your Hand or Used Cars. It took Romancing the Stone to become a hit before a studio would greenlight Back to the Future. It would become the first film set up by Amblin Entertainment at Universal that was not directed by Spielberg.
I grew up watching these movies. It’s always so fun watching Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travel from 1985 to 1955 and become this teenager-out-of-time. Of course, you can’t help but drop your draw when Lorraine Baines-McFly (Lea Thompson) tries to start a relationship with him in 1955. That’s where Walt Disney Pictures passed on the film. I mean, the film is an instant classic but this aspect of it is the only part that really doesn’t work. That’s why we’re rooting for George McFly (Crispin Glover) to win the girl. It’s a classic subversion of traditional tropes. Marty already has a girlfriend, Jennifer (Claudia Wells), but he leaves her behind in 1985. No matter where we are in the timeline, Thomas Wilson is always the antagonist. This is certainly the case with watching Biff Tannen.
One thing that I find very fascinating in watching the Tales from the Future documentary is that Christopher Lloyd originally put the script aside because he wasn’t interested in the project. Can you imagine a world where the actor is not in the role? I certainly can’t! It’s the same with Michael J. Fox replacing Eric Stoltz in the lead role. Of course, he does double-duty with shooting Family Ties during the same time. The film is not Back to the Future without either actors playing Marty McFly and Doc Brown. Oh, I’m sure it would be successful but it would not be the same. Only Christopher Lloyd could bring the necessary energy to portraying Doc Brown. Similarly, Sid Sheinberg wanted to call the film Space Man from Pluto. I’m sorry but that just does not work!
Musically speaking, there is so much to enjoy about this film. One, we have “The Power of Love” from Huey Lewis and the News. Two, composer Alan Silvestri also contributes one of the greatest movie themes in cinematic history. Silvestri scores the entire trilogy and if you’re the type to use movie themes as an alarm or ringtone, his theme song is a must. He gives this film the big score that it requires. Of course, we also have Marty (Jack Campbell) delivering a show-stopping performance of the Chuck Berry classic, “Johnny B. Goode.” He’s basically up there on stage inventing rock and roll in front of a crowd that is not quite ready for it. One can understand why Chuck Berry was reluctant to let filmmakers using the song. All in all, the music only elevates this film to the next level.
Visually, this film has a few things going on. One, you have the present day 1985. The other thing going on is that you have to design the period portion of 1955. Production design isn’t an easy feat but I love how they take advantage of the Universal Studios backlot and bring this sense of nostalgia while they’re at it. Dean Cundey’s camerawork is absolutely amazing and he gets the job done. He shoots both periods with different lighting just to make the two periods look different. In terms of the backlot, they reinvented the backlot for the film and with the exception of the fire, nobody really changed it since the production.
What impresses me the most is the compressed post-production schedule. This required additional people working on the sound in post. Never mind the ILM special effects! Because Fox shooting Family Ties and such, he did not start until January 1985. Filming ended in late April. The release was pushed forward to July so as to get more time in movie theaters. The ultimate result is one heck of a theatrical experience for all involved.
Back to the Future is the very definition of a summer blockbuster and the adventure-comedy is one of the best films ever made. Thank you to Steven Spielberg for giving Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale a chance when everybody else turned it down!
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
SCREENWRITERS: Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale
CAST: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover
Universal released Back to the Future in theaters on July 3, 1985. Grade: 5/5
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