Movie Review | Back to the Future
Movie summary: Marty McFly, a 17-year-old high school student, is accidentally sent thirty years into the past in a time-travelling DeLorean invented by his close friend, the maverick scientist Doc Brown. (IMDb)
Much like my other reviews of older movies, there isn't really anything new for me to say about Back to the Future or its sequels and so I'm not going to even try and pretend that I have a special viewpoint that should now be taken into consideration. Instead, I'm going to go through the notes I took while watching the trilogy again for these reviews and point out anything I thought was worth mentioning.
The first of which is a strange place to start, but it's with the dialogue. Not so much the lines being spoken, or even their delivery, but rather how it doesn't quite fit with the other sounds present, with a lot of it sounding like it was re-recorded in post-production. Not a big thing, but it was very noticeable at the start of this movie and shows how far sound mixing and editing have come since then.
Secondly, there's the issue of how very different from his family Marty (Michael J Fox) turned out to be. Yes, he may have ended up like them eventually as we do go on to see that his mother was rather more lively in her youth than she is in the present day. Again, nothing major, but it did slightly disconnect Marty from his family in my mind and mean that the stakes of preserving their existence felt a little flat.
Next up is a couple of MCU connections: the most obvious being Avengers: Endgame and Scott Lang calling the time travel in this movie a "bunch of bullshit", which feels more true of the sequel than this movie. The second is the DeLorean having an 'icing' problem similar to Tony Stark's first Iron Man suit he builds after escaping the Ten Rings in Afghanistan.
When Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) first tests the time machine with Marty present, it arrives one minute in the future freezing cold to the touch and the doors are difficult to open because of them. While ice is still shown every other time the DeLorean time travels after this point, it's merely for visual continuity rather than any kind of issue.
There's also the link of Alan Silvestri acting as composer on both Back to the Future and a number of Marvel movies. The main theme of this trilogy is just as iconic as the Avengers theme, but the rest of the score is pretty damn good too. Writing this has actually made me want to download the score and listen to it while I write the rest of this - it's pretty brilliant from start to finish.
After Marvel comes The Terminator, with Back to the Future explaining next to nothing about how time travel actually happens and simply saying that Doc's invention, the flux capacitor, is responsible. Again, this is the right decision as the story isn't about the mechanics of time travel, it's about the characters and wasting time explaining what the flux capacitor does would only take away from that.
In fact, the movie almost acknowledges this when the 1955 version of Doc sets up an experiment to show Marty on how he is planning to send him back to the future - it spells out exactly how it will work and allows the movie to move forward with the story of Marty and his family without it coming up constantly across the length of the movie. A lot of exposition delivered very well and serving the story too.
Speaking of 1955, it's interesting to see how Hill Valley is depicted over the course of the movie, with the songs from era providing a light tone to add to what seems like constant sunshine and fun. But a black worker is mocked and told to get back to mopping floors when declaring his intention to become mayor thanks to Marty inadvertently giving away what he would go on to do regardless.
Then there's how the women are treated, which is pretty much as secondary to the men and especially to the young Biff Tannen (Thomas F Wilson), who'd not only be expelled, but probably face police charges if he treated a woman like that today. It isn't even just the attempted rape near the end of the movie, but he is flat out molesting her in full view of dozens of other students at lunch while in school.
It's only when it looks like Marty and Biff are going to fight that a teacher steps in, and you have to wonder just how far Biff would've been allowed to go if Marty hadn't been there. It's telling that Lorraine doesn't make a complaint about Biff's behaviour to anyone either - she's almost certainly aware that she would be ignored as a girl making a complaint about a boy.
Unfortunately, this does lead to what I think is Back to the Future's sole weak point, and that is what the movie seems to paint as an ideal of masculinity. It involves violence, whether punching an attempted rapist or shoving another guy to the ground and the movie approves of this behaviour, with a happy ending coming around thanks to George McFly (Crispin Glover) proving he's a 'real man' by virtue of becoming physical to protect 'his' girl.
The movie does paint the two guys he deals with as absolutely deserving of contempt and punishment for their behaviour, but it just goes to show how attitudes regarding how men should behave in order to get 'their' woman weren't that different between 1955 and 1985. All the more strange because Marty's girlfriend, Jennifer (Claudia Wells), seems to like him primarily for his musical talent more than his physicality.
There's a few more things about the ending that irritated: the first is the DeLorean's engine cutting out before Marty set off to travel back to 1985. The engine does seem to cut out after every arrival in a new time, but it seems to happen purely to increase tension this time and doesn't really work, proving more of an eye-roll than 'oh no'.
The second is so incredibly petty and minor that I'm reluctant to mention it, but why does Lorraine still have puffy cheeks in 1985 after Marty changed the timeline? Unfortunate genetics from her parents? No, not from what we see in 1955. The easiest way to depict the very young-looking Lea Thompson as older by covering her actual features? Almost certainly, but putting weight on just your face is very unfortunate!
The last nit-pick (and holy crap are these last few things nit-picks) is that the ending felt a little less satisfying than I remembered, which I think is due to viewing movies a little more in-depth as I've gotten older. As an ending to a standalone story, it works great, but movies are so intent on building franchises now that it has retroactively affected Back to the Future for me and made the final scene worse thanks to it now feeling like nothing more than a set-up for Part II.
Back to the Future is one of the most perfect movies ever created and would be held in similar regard regardless of whether the sequels existed or not. Clever, but not complex; sweet, but not sickly so; constantly funny, yet containing multiple moments of extreme tension. It's one of of the most perfect balancing acts in movie history, although some dated elements do let it down.