By: Ian Blaylock
Greetings! My name is Ian Blaylock, and I am the manager of Enter the Cinema. One thing that a lot of our team members here on the blog, and at Red Fist, have talked about is our passion for movies that are… not so recent. One way we have decided to share our love of older films with you is through starting up a “Throwback Thursday” series. Each week, we will bring you a review and analysis of a classic film or movie (well received or perhaps not), and share our thoughts on each film. One reason I am excited to write some of these posts is that I have not seen as many films as some of the other blog members. (This is my way of getting to watch cool films for work.)
However, I have seen this week’s film, Back to the Future, before. It was chosen for the first post because the film is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The film is regarded as a classic among film critics, and is highly celebrated by some of my Red Fist coworkers. Let’s begin the review!
Back to the Future is the story of Marty McFly’s journey back in time. Despite being low on the city’s social ladder, Marty tries to make the best of things. One of Marty’s past times is helping out the enigmatic scientist, Doc Brown. Brown enlists Marty as he tests his new DeLorean time machine. However, trouble shows up, and Marty is forced to flee in the time machine. After hurtling back to 1955, Marty accidentally interferes in his parents’ first meeting. Faced with a potential time paradox, and with no clear way back to 1985, Marty must help his dad win his mother’s interest, and get Doc Brown to help him return home.
The film stars Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly with Christopher Lloyd costarring as Doc Brown. Both actors are known for their performances in this film, and with good reason. Fox’s McFly is a very likable character. He’s fun and laid-back, and has charisma to spare. Fox really owns the role, pouring in his own charisma and dry wit into the part, which is what makes his performance so iconic. Llyod’s Doc Brown is a bit of the opposite from Marty McFly. He’s wild, eccentric, and dramatic, is also quite hilarious. While I was watching the film, I was really impressed with Lloyd’s performance. He’s very expressive, which strengthens the character. Lloyd also really makes the character into a very lovable guy. Sure Doc Brown is a bit “out there,” but once Marty convinces him that he is indeed from the future, Doc Brown is extremely loyal and devoted to getting Marty back home. My take away from his character was that while he was super-excited to see one of his experiments realized and functional, he is also deeply concerned for Marty and his situation. This really goes against the scientist stereotype that is often seen in films where the scientist is just plain mad, or is cold and aloof.
The other main characters are interesting as well. Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer (Claudia Wells), is really supportive of Marty and his dreams. She comes off as someone who is her own person, and is not just “the girlfriend.” Marty’s mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), is quite interesting. In 1985 she’s portrayed as being old, cranky, and very strict. However, in 1955 Lorraine is a bit boy crazy, and doesn’t want to be seen as boring. This becomes a problem for Marty when she meets him, and becomes instantly attracted to him. Because of this developing crush, Marty spends a lot of time trying to avoid her. In turn, she becomes more and more infatuated to him as the movie progresses. She even follows him to the Doc’s house! The movie draws a lot of comedy from this, and from the fact that she is the total opposite of her future self. Lorraine is also a strong character. She is clear and direct about what she wants, and takes action to try and get there. Marty’s dad, George McFly (Crispin Glover) is another story. George is actually pretty much the same in 1955 and 1985. He is a total pushover, and lacks social skills. The audience is supposed to sympathize with him because, like Marty, we hope that he can transform into a better version of himself, and win Lorraine’s heart.
From a writing standpoint, Back to the Future is pretty formulaic. It hits the beats that it needs to, and clearly states the important things that the audience should remember for when these things pay off later in the story. This isn’t a weakness of the film because the execution of the story is really well done. The film is very lean on plot. Every scene leads us towards the climax, and then the ending of the movie. The film doesn’t waste time with superfluous subplots, nor is it over-indulgent. It does its job, and keeps the audience engaged and moving through the story. These are important things to have in a movie because time is always of the essence.
I think the film holds up pretty well after 30 years, but there are a few things that bothered me as I revisited the film. Although I like Jennifer for being independent from Marty, she doesn’t give him too much hell for gawking at women passing by when she’s talking to him. Also the relationship between George and Lorraine has always been a little weird to me given that the audience meets George while he spies on her with large binoculars as she is getting dressed. We are led to believe he is a much better person by the end of the film, because he stands up for her, but it’s still creepy. While Marty is a little shocked to learn that he spies on future mother, he doesn’t comment on this to George, which probably should have happened. Race is also handled a little weird in the film. The film spends some time making the point that the mayor of Hill Valley is African American in 1985. While it is progressive, we see Marty plant the seed for this in the future mayor’s head in the 1950s, when he works at the soda shop. While it is a funny moment when Marty tells him that he should be mayor, it is a little preachy. It probably would have been enough for the future mayor to have had the idea by himself, and be confident of his ability to achieve this goal, with Marty simply supporting him. Given that the band members at the dance are really the only other minorities present in the movie, more diversity would have helped the film as well. While these things might not have been a big deal when the movie was made, I think it is important to recognize and discuss how ideas about the importance of representation in media have changed over the last thirty years.
In the end, I think that Back to the Future is a pretty good film that uses solid storytelling techniques, and is entertaining to watch. It’s also a nice movie to watch after an exhausting summer of watching recent blockbusters at the multiplex.