Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Back to the Future

Year: 1985 (Part I), 1989 (Part II), 1990 (Part III)
Running time: 116 minutes (Part I), 108 minutes (Part II), 118 minutes (Part III)
Certificate: PG
Language: English
Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Micheal J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells, Elisabeth Shue, James Tolkan, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, J. J. Cohen, Jeffrey Weissman, Mary Steenburgen, Matt Clark

Marty and Doc, having just seen some serious shit
when that baby hit 88 miles an hour.
There are many reasons why the 1980s should be forgotten – the fashion, the hair and a good deal of the music being just three. However, if the decade that taste forgot was ever wiped from our collective consciousness, there would be nothing to fill the gaping hole in my childhood left by the absence of Back to the Future. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is pretty much the most perfectly-realised typical 80s American movie teenager - obsessed with cars, plays guitar, has a girlfriend (Jennifer is played by Claudia Wells in the first film, and by Elisabeth Shue in the sequels), but has enough insecurities, geekiness and confidence issues to stop you losing any and all sympathy for him. Right from its initial set up, the film gets everything right. McFly is a great main character – the average (at least, average in a movie sense) school kid with a slightly bizarre family is something that many of us can relate to. Fox is just great; Marty is a guy we immediately want to spend time with, making him the ideal character to follow on this convoluted journey through time.
"Do you know what this means? It means that this
damn thing doesn't work at all!"

Just as we’ve got accustomed to Marty’s world and to his oddball family, including alcoholic mum Lorraine (Lea Thompson) and completely wet dad George (Crispin Glover), who lives his life very much under the domineering thumb of bully Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), the film plays its trump cards – Christopher Lloyd’s portrayal of the slightly wired Dr Emmet Brown and the genius DeLorean / time machine unveiling. What follows is a jump through time to when Marty’s parents were at school, and following the mess he made of his parents original meeting, McFly has to get his mum and dad back together for the first time for the sake of his own existence.

The film is full of quotable dialogue (I still find myself barking “Slacker!” at people I don't think are pulling their weight), and, brilliantly, the three main characters all have their own catchphrases. This lends itself to a great drinking game – whenever Marty says ‘Heavy’, Doc says ‘Great Scot!’ or Biff calls someone ‘Butthead’, down a shot – if you can handle your drink as inefficiently as me, you will be plastered way before the end of the trilogy.
Roads? Where they're going, they don't need roads.
Because the film is so much fun, the Freudian twist of Marty being the object of his own teenage mum’s desire is not as creepy as it could have been, and instead adds to the comedy. When you meet George, Lorraine and Biff in the 1950s you realise just how effective the ageing make-up is on the three actors in the opening scenes; all three are extremely convincing as older versions of their characters. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Fox's attempt to play Marty's teenage daughter Marlene in Part II (although admittedly, this was played for laughs and not realism).
Marty and Doc find themselves in the wrong 1985 in Part II.

The film builds great characterisation on great characterisation and leads up to two of the most memorable climactic scenes in movies - Marty finally gets to play to an audience in a hilariously over the top cover of Johnny B. Goode, which moves on to an incredibly tense sequence involving clock towers, vertigo, stalling cars and lightning. I find myself on the edge of my seat with my fists clenched even though I've seen it a hundred times.

The sequel is one of the biggest mind benders in film history, with Marty and Doc going back to the past to save the future, or the present, or both..? It is truly a masterstroke to retread the events in the first movie five years after it was made, and having two plots literally run side by side. In the first film Biff, while unpleasant, was a bit of a buffoon, but, given the keys to obscene wealth, we get to see just how ugly a person Biff could become.

As with many stories that involve time travel, it pays to not give the finer details too close a study, lest your brain turn to cheese, but the whole thing does hold up extremely well, with most of the inconsistencies so minor that you can only applaud the practically watertight writing.
The DeLorean heads to 1885 for Part III.

Despite a startling change of style, for the most part the third film shows the makers of Spider-Man, The Godfather, X-Men and Shrek among others how to get the third part of your series right. Shifting a good deal of the main focus from Marty to Doc is a good idea, with the good Dr. Brown falling in love with teacher Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen). There is some retreading of certain events from the first movie, for example the building of the model town for a demonstration of the climactic plan, and (of course) the Biff-equivalent Buford 'Mad Dog' Tannen (Wilson again, obviously) clocking a face full of shit. One particularly reminiscent retread is the scene in which a female character turns up at an awkward moment with one of the pair trying to stay cool while the other flaps behind their back until they leave. What works is that this time, Marty and Doc’s roles are reversed from the relative scene in the first film. The trilogy climax is also a sort of retread of the original, it just happens to be on a bigger scale, with Marty and Doc hijacking a steam train and using it to push the DeLorean up to 88 mph in a fantastic sequence which is somehow even more suspenseful than the ending of the first movie.
Marty and Doc at the Shonash/Clayton/Eastwood Ravine.
A brilliant, brilliant trilogy that will endure in the movie going public’s hearts indefinitely.

Back to the Future: 9/10
Back to the Future Part II: 8/10
Back to the Future Part III: 8/10

My own scores follow the general feeling in that Back to the Future is an absolute bona fide classic, while the sequels are not quite on a par, but a great deal of fun nonetheless. See Matt at Total Film's review of the original, Roger Ebert's opinion on Part II and Empire's Kim Newman's take on Part III, as well as Jonathan's video review of the whole trilogy.