Back to the Future (1985)    3 Stars

“Marty McFly’s having the time of his life. The only question is — what time is it?”


Back to the Future (1985)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson

Synopsis: A young man is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, Dr. Emmett Brown, and must make sure his high-school-age parents unite in order to save his own existence.

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There’s something of a fairy tale element to Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future. The hero rides into a foreign land, not on a white charger but in a battered DeLorean, to save himself, but in the process saves a damsel in distress – his own mother – who doesn’t even realise she’s in peril. When she kisses the hero, though, she senses something isn’t right, and it’s the comic sidekick – the hero’s father – who’s transformed into Prince Charming.

Michael J. Fox plays Marty McFly, an ordinary teenager who just happens to be friends with an eccentric scientist, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), who has transformed a DeLorean into a time machine. In order to create the power required to transport the motor back in time, the Doc cheated some Libyan terrorists out of a shipment of plutonium, and they exact a deadly revenge. The deed is witnessed by Marty, who makes his escape in the Doc’s Delorean, and finds himself catapulted back to November 1955. Marty seeks out the younger Doc Brown in the hope that the Doc can help him return to his own time, but by interacting with his own father, Marty has inadvertently changed the future and jeopardised his own future existence. To put things right he must ensure his parents share their first kiss on the night of a school dance – but his own mother appears to be taking a decidedly unhealthy romantic interest in Marty…

It’s startling to consider that the length of time between the release of Back to the Future and the present day, and the distance of time travelled by Marty McFly are nearly the same (I’m writing this in September 2012, just three years short of the thirty years that Marty travels.) Somehow, it’s difficult to imagine 1985 being recreated with such an idyllic eye should a remake be made today. Everything looks clean and bright in this 1955 version of small-town America, and it kind of makes you wish you could accompany Marty just to smell that blue-sky clean air and immaculately trimmed grass in front of the town hall. But the seeds of 1980s freedom of sexual expression are clear to see in the sexual attitude of Lorraine Baines (Lea Thompson), Lea’s future mother, and the predatory instinct of Biff Grimes (Tom Wilson). Marty’s arrival marks the introduction of Chuck Berry’s dirty brand of rock ’n’ roll and the creation out of nothing of his signature song, Johnny B. Goode. In 1985, Marty learned the chords to the song and, in 1955, Chuck heard Marty playing it over the phone. So nobody created it.

Time travel stories are prone to plot holes, and this one’s no exception – although that’s part of their attraction. But there’s a kind of youthful exuberance, a fresh innocence, about Back to the Future that is endearing enough to allow us to cut it some slack. The plot complexities of the second movie – although providing a cleverer version of the story – turned many people off, and the third movie was one journey too far, but this first episode of Marty’s adventures is untouched by excessive ambition and the taint of money-grubbing cashing-in – it’s a funny, exciting, unaffected edge-of-the-seat race against time, the kind of movie which comes along maybe only once or twice in each movie-going generation.

(Reviewed 1st September 2012)