Saturday, November 21, 2015

Review: Back to the Future Trilogy

First and foremost, I have neither the time nor the inclination to come up with a map of all the Back to the Future timelines, but luckily, the internet’s beaten me to it. Here’s one I’ve borrowed from the Back to the Future wiki.

Thanks, internet!
Now, I struggled for a little bit on exactly how I was going to talk about this trilogy. I mean, sure, I’ve reviewed entire seasons of shows at once, and I’ll even review Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe once I get to the end of it…. But there are only three movies to talk about. And I’ve already reviewed each one individually.

But when it comes down to it, for these three movies in particular, the most important thing I can talk about is the journey. When it all comes down to it, this trilogy is only about two people. Doc and Marty. So that’s probably a good place to start.

Get away from there, Clara! I said two people!
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox)
Marty McFly, in the end, is a typical teenager. He’s late for school repeatedly, he’s senisitve about what other think of him, and he really wants to be famous. And it’s because he’s so relatable that the lesson in the end becomes important. Do what you can with the time you have. Because only Marty McFly has a second chance. He might have a fear of failure, but in the end, he learns that the important thing is to try. And As I’ve said before, Michael J. Fox does a bang-up job in the role.

Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd)
Doc Brown’s story is absolutely tragic when looked at across all three movies. I mean, let’s look at the final timeline of Doc’s life, when all the meddling in time is done with. Doctor Emmett Brown lives alone in his mansion, surrounded by his own failed inventions, with only his dog for company. One day, he slips and falls while hanging up a clock, leading him to sketch some vague design.

Sometime later, a strange young man, claiming to come from the future, shows up. Doc assumes that he’s some prankster, but comes to believe his story when proof is provided. Though ensuring the timeline’s stability is difficult, they manage to get Marty’s parents together and send the kid back to the future.  After Doc rips up Marty’s letter about the future, the disappearing car makes Doc happier than he’s ever been.

An invention that works! He dances in the street with joy! Until Marty comes running down the street. That’s impossible! …is Doc insane? No, Marty came back from the future with a letter. It claims that the future Doc is stuck in the past, insisting that he’s happy there. For some reason, it says to destroy the time machine after Marty gets home. Marty tells him not to worry, though.

So Doc helps Marty get the DeLorean from its 1885 hiding place to fix it, but discovers that he dies of a gunshot wound after only a short time in the past. So after sending Marty back to the past, he goes along to start the 30-year task of building the time machine. Perhaps the thought of his own death in 1885 made him think about reading Marty’s letter. For whatever reason, he reads the letter and learns about his death in 1985, which he will now have to prevent to keep the timeline intact.

Over the next thirty years, he loses everything. The mansion. The family fortune. His respect. Even his dog, Copernicus. But he meets up with Marty again, which gives him some hope as the two become friends.

Unfortunately, he needs plutonium for the time machine, which he knows will lead to his own death once he deals with Libyan terrorists. So he fakes his death, sending Marty back into the past. With that taken care of, he finally gets to use the time machine himself. After seeing how much his future self and Marty messed with the time stream, he figures “What the hell” and heads off to have some fun in the future while he can. He gets a buttload of money, gets de-aged… but also finds Marty’s family in trouble.

Believing he can help, he gets Marty and Jennifer and takes them to 2015 to fix Marty Jr.’s little problem, just narrowly avoiding disaster after Marty Jr. happens to walk into the situation they we retrying to get him to avoid. Perhaps screwing around with time isn’t as fun as he thought.

And when he returns to an alternate 1985, he sees the potential damage that could be done with his invention, and begins to regret ever inventing it.

The one success of his life, and he wants it destroyed. Thirty years. Wasted. No family. Just Marty and Einstein.

He and Marty head back to ’55 to fix Biff’s time meddling, but he’s running out of time. An errant lightning bolt sends him back to 1885. He hides the car and writes Marty a letter, knowing that Marty will come back to get him after finding his tombstone. After spending a while alone, hoping he can stay out of history’s way, wracked with guilt over what his machine has done already, Marty arrives.

But alas, there’s no fuel. And while trying to figure out a solution with trains, he saves a woman and falls instantly in love… only to learn that history says she died. Even without a working DeLorean, he’s still screwing up history. In his own words, it’s brought nothing but misery. And when he realizes that he should head back to his own time and leave Clara behind… well, now he’s lost the only thing that made him happy after all this time.

All of this is why I can forgive the cheesy ending where Doc and Clara have two sons and a time-train. Because after going through a lifetime of misery, Doc deserved no less than the happiest of deus ex machina endings. And for that same reason, I don’t hate Clara as an addition to the series. Because, again, with thirty years down the drain, he needed something to live for again.

Still can't explain why he did a 180 on his views on meddling with time, though.
Still, makes you wonder where he went after flying off at the end, huh? Perhaps he traveled out to the farthest stars to found a new civilization (after getting a few more “rejuvenations,” of course). Founded on the principles of responsible time travel, of course. Harnessing a black hole with two brilliant scientists, Omega and Rassilon to get unlimited jigowatts. But then, thanks to some complicated business, found himself having to escape the planet he had founded by hiding in their genetic birthing “looms,” only to be “reborn” far later as a new man. A new man with a knack for running away, but keeping his old title of “Doctor.”

Just saying, it's possible.
Also, Christopher Lloyd. Great performance. Yadda yadda.

Themes
I talked about the “chicken” thing and such already, so I’ll just mention the big one that goes all the way through all three movies. You’re not as lucky as Marty McFly. So make the best of the time you do have. Think about the future, because you can’t go back to the past.

Music
Alan Silvestri’s iconic theme is… well, just that. Iconic. Right up there with the Star Wars theme. Really, what more is there to say about it after gushing for three Reviews alreadyt?

Visuals
For the most part, they still hold up after all these years. In fact, many of the practical effects look better than the CGI they throw around today. Although with ILM doing the effects, would you expect no less?

Well, it's fair to expect better than this.
Scripting
While the first one is incredibly well-written, the second and third could have benefited from actually being the same movie, so we wouldn’t have forgotten the events in II that III is making call backs to. Still, the trilogy still boasts some of the best plotting, and dialogue to come out of Hollywood.

Best Film: Back to the Future
The first and the best.

Worst Film: n/a
It’s all a matter of opinion whether Part II or Part III is the absolute worst.

Best Actor: Thomas F. Wilson
As I’ve said before, I give “Best Actor” not to the character I enjoyed the most, but the actor who I feel delivered the most in terms of acting. And nice-guy Thomas F. Wilson’s portrayal of several scumbags at different ages while keeping each performance (relatively) nuanced is pretty darn impressive to me.

Best Heroic Character: Doc Brown
Who doesn't like Doc Brown?

Worst Heroic Character: Jennifer Parker
Yeah, the lack of any solid female characters is a bit of a weak point with the trilogy.

Best Villainous Character: Biff Tannen
Mean, stupid, unintentionally funny, and it’s very satisfying to see him get what’s coming to him.

Accept no substitutes, buttheads.

Worst Villainous Character: Needles
He just kind of comes out of nowhere for the second and third films, basically to fill the typical Tannen role of egging on a McFly. I can only imagine they used Needles because Biff wasn’t shown to have an identical son in the first film.

Honorable Mention: Wallet Guy

Never change, Wallet Guy. Never change
Best Line
Doc Brown: “Where we’re going, we don’t need… roads.”

Final Verdict
All in all, one of the more satisfying trilogies out there. While it’s true that the sequels aren’t quite as good as the first film, I can think of many worse sequels from other franchises.

And hey, I'll be talking about another 80's film next January, as well as its sequel in February. So maybe I'll get a chance to talk about one of those "worse sequels from other franchises."

See you then!

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