Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: "Back to the Future"

You know a little honesty could have avoided this whole plot.

Just saying.
This is pretty much the time travel movie. It’s got a little bit of everything. Paradoxes, second chances, setting right what once went wrong, et cetera. It also notably averted showing us what happened to 1985 until Marty gets back, preferring to use that photograph as an indicator.

The basic set-up is quite simple. Marty gets stuck in the past, accidentally changing it. From there, he has to set things right within a time period. After a week, he’ll never be able to get home. And while Marty’s at it, he wants to somehow prevent the death of his friend now that he has this chance. What adds depth to the movie is the rich character interactions.

So now that I have a chance, let’s talk about the disappearing Marty. Long story short, why did Marty take so long to be erased from time?

Basically, as time progressed, things got more and more different from the way they were “supposed to be.” Marty’s older sibling disappeared first because it quickly became less and less likely that they would be conceived. Marty only kept existing because a future with him in it was still possible in those moments. And because he could still potentially exist, however unlikely it was, he still existed for those moments.

Schrödinger’s Marty, if you will.

Or to put it simply….

The ultimate explanation.
There are plenty of lessons to be demonstrated in this movie.

“If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

But this movie also demonstrates that you only live once. And it does this by having Marty change the past, ironically enough. By showing the radical difference between the versions of 1985, the film illustrates that you only get one shot at life. Which would you rather have, the life where you took a chance and won big? Or played it safe and ended up miserable?

But we should also discuss something that the film hints at, but never directly addresses.

Nature vs. Nurture

Sure, you can infer that Biff, George, and Lorraine are completely different now. But are they?

George is more confident, but who’s to say that he still doesn’t laugh like a dork at The Honeymooners? And Biff is the same as ever, being a punk trying to get away with something. The difference now is that he’s not only scared of George McFly, but the things he tries to get away with are pettier; he goes from trying to force himself on a woman to neglecting that second coat of wax.

The essences of the characters are still true, but their situation has changed their approach to life, making them happier and more successful. So really, the film takes a neutral stance on the issue. You yam who you yam, but your experiences still shape you along with your predisposition.

After all, Biff cows to George McFly, but his villainy is far from over...

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox)
Marty McFly is not a slacker. He’s afraid of failure.

There’s a conversation in the beginning of the movie that was supposed to be followed up on where Jennifer told him to send his audition tape into that record company. In a deleted scene, he decided not to before going to meet with doc at the mall. But at the end of the movie, you can see the sealed manila envelope in the McFly kitchen, indicating that he changed his mind.

He also has a terrible sense of time. Not only does he give himself only ten minutes to drive to the mall and save Doc, but he was tardy three times before Doc’s clocks were slow. Not to mention he was already late for school when he arrived at doc’s place.

Marty McFly is like the companion archetype on Doctor Who. An average joe with typical interests you’d find in your average kid from 1985. In fact, Michael J. Fox based his performance on… himself in high school. Skateboarding, wanting to be famous, being a bit of a punk… That’s all Michael J. Fox. And because the character seems so natural, Fox gets recognized as “McFly” more than “Michael J. Fox” in some parts of the world. Fox loves to tell the story about how he was on a trip to Bhutan, and a Buddhist monk looked at him and yelled “Marty McFly!”

Fun Fact: Michael J. Fox’s four kids have never seen Back to the Future. No wonder Doc comes back from 2015 ranting to him that something’s wrong with his kids.

Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd)
The iconic Christopher Lloyd role.

Okay, one of the two iconic Christopher Lloyd roles.
Three, if you’re above a certain age.
But Doc Brown will go down in history as one of the greatest fictional scientists. With a manic delivery and a bit of a scatterbrained way of focusing on the wrong details, Lloyd created a memorable character with the energy of a cartoon character and the heart of Carl Sagan.

Doc’s mannerisms were based on a combination of Einstein at his most eccentric and famed conductor Leopold Stokowski.

Every detail is perfect. From the way he says “jigowatts,” to his unbridled glee over inventing something that works, to the hunch Lloyd improvised to be able to fit into shots with the 5’ 4” Michael J. Fox. Lloyd brings a genuine warmth to the role that helps make his intergenerational friendship with Marty believable.

According to Bob Gale, Marty was told to stay away from Doc Brown. So naturally, he sought him out. Once Doc found out that Marty thought he was cool and accepted him for who he was, the two bonded and Marty worked to feed Einstein and keep Doc’s place clean while he worked on experiments.

George McFly (Crispin Glover)
Boy howdy, Crispin Glover sure is a character in his own right.

By all accounts, if any of his ideas had gotten into the finished product, the movie would have been a lot worse. For example, he wanted to make his hair stand straight up in the scene where Marty finds him writing as an homage to Eraserhead. When it was pointed out that this would match the film they’d shot the previous day, he responded “Brando never matched.”

And on top of that, Glover was so nervous that he couldn’t speak, meaning that a lot of his lines were dubbed over in post.

In the end, though, the character works. All it takes to accomplish something is to decide that you’re going to try. And instead of being a failure for thirty-plus years, George is motivated to take control of his own density destiny and follow his dreams.

At the end of a thirty-year journey, George McFly emerges as a published author and a more confident human being. Not because Marty helped him, but because he decided to step up to the plate to save the one he loves. Not because Marty told him to, but because he knew it was right.

While Marty outlined the scenario for him, George was the one who stepped up when things got out of hand. That which did not defeat George McFly did not make him stronger. He made himself stronger by refusing to back down.

Lorraine Baines/McFly (Lea Thompson)
So, just want to get this off my chest. Lea Thompson is really hot and I might just have a bit of a crush on her. But not to degree of my sister’s crush on Mike Nesmith of the Monkees.

And she’s a solid actress to boot. Her wide-eyed teenager is just as believable as her dead-inside housewife. And… that’s it. This movie really isn’t about her. Quite the opposite, it’s about Marty trying to avoid her.

So instead, let’s bring up a bit of “trivia” being passed around the internet.

“Lorraine must have gotten raped in the original timeline if George didn’t save her.”

No. She didn’t. Because Biff never drunkenly accosted Marty in the car after the manure incident in the original timeline. George and Lorraine went to the dance, kissed, and that was that.

Simple as that.

Of course this means that Marty accidentally put his mom in a position for Biff to make the attempt….

Meaning that he also turned Biff into an attempted rapist.

Yeah, overthinking details isn’t always fun.

Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson)
Biff Tannen is an unrepentant horse’s rear end who managed to coast through life riding on the broken back of George McFly. Until things change. But Thomas F. Wilson is apparently a really nice guy. Happily married. Couple of kids.

So it’s a darn shame that people assume that Wilson’s a jerk in real life. In reality, he paints. And carries around cards with pre-answered questions for fans about Back to the Future because people ask him the same ones so often.

But alas, Biff doesn’t go far beyond “bully” in the movie. Still, Wilson’s portrayal gave some life to the character, especially with the ad-libs of “butthead” and “make like a tree and get outta here.”

Biff wouldn’t fully be fleshed out until the sequel, but that’s another story.

The Time Machine (DeLorean DMC-12)
Yep. The car.

Some fans think that the DeLorean has a mind of its own. Haven’t you noticed that the DeLorean always shuts down to prevent flagrant paradoxes?

It kept McFly from driving into town by refusing to start. It refused to start until the last second in 1955, apparently fixing an error in Doc’s calculations (the DeLorean was probably faster than Doc thought). It refused to start in time to get Marty to the Mall to save Doc.

Hmmm… a moody Time Machine prone to breaking down? Looks like Doc’s invented a TARDIS!
Except it’s certainly not bigger on the inside. Michael J. Fox kept hitting the date readout and Flux Capacitor every time he changed gears.

Yeah, I don’t usually do this, but I’m talking about the writing itself. It’s that good.

Back to the Future is an incredibly well-crafted story from a writing standpoint.
Ever heard of Chekhov’s Gun?

Neither of those are correct.
It’s a literary device. Summed up, certain details should only be included if they’re going to come into play. For example, if there’s a gun on the table in Act 1, then somebody’s probably going to get shot with in Act 3.

Back to the Future is packed with Chekhov’s guns.

Lorraine reminiscing about how she and George met? Set-up for the timeline being altered.

The “Save the Clocktower” charity? Sets up the lightning strike in the final act.

The stolen plutonium news report? Doc’s power source.

And it applies to the jokes, too.

George gets asked what he was doing in that tree in 1955 and the punchline arrives several scenes later when we see him being a peeping tom.

Doc has a clock in his living area with Harold Lloyd hanging on one of the hands. Doc does just that in the final act.

The episode of The Honeymooners where someone pretends to be an alien? Marty gets mistaken for an alien in 1955, and then goes on to pretend to be Darth Vader from planet Vulcan.

Pretty much every other line of dialogue sets up a future plot point or twist. Back to the Future might be one of the most well-crafted movies of all time. And I’m dead serious when I say that.

Spielberg was hesitant regarding the hiring of Alan Silvestri. I can only imagine that Spielberg himself traveled to the future and listened to the mediocre soundtrack for Captain America: The First Avenger. But he unknowingly praised on of his music tracks in a preview cut of the film, so it all worked out. Still, they cut out the opening jingle he wrote for the titles, so the score doesn’t actually be gin until the DeLorean is unveiled 18 minutes in.

But that’s not to say there isn’t music. Huey Lewis gave them “Power of Love” as well as writing “Back in Time” for them after he saw an early cut of the film. And “Power of Love” is quite simply one of those songs that sums up the 80’s in film, alongside the Ghostbusters theme and Caddyshack’s “I’m Alright.”

There are only about 32 special effect shots in the whole film. Makes sense. There’s actually not much stuff out of the mundane between for the middle of the movie, when nobody’s time traveling. The effects still hold up, except for the big two exceptions.

The booger on the Mona Lisa.
The other booger.
But still, 2 out of 32 ain’t bad. And it’s not like those effects ruin the whole film. They're not bad, they're just not as good.

The old-age makeup is hit and miss. Glover and Wilson are pretty good, though Lea Thompson looks a little rubber-faced. But the subtle makeup for Doc in 1985 is probably the best of all. Nothing drastic, just a few wrinkles in the right places.

Here’s a question, though. Why does Strickland look the same as ever thirty years apart? Apart from having less hair, the man looks virtually the same. Was the actor allergic to the prosthetics, or what?

Best Actor: Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox was filming this from 6 PM to 6 AM. Then after getting about an hour of sleep, he went to film Family Ties. Giving us one of the best-remembered time-travelers in all of fiction while practically a zombie is no simple task, but by God, he did it.

Best Character: Doc Brown
Come on. “Great Scott!” “1.21 jigowatts?” You can’t not love Doc Brown.

Though I must admit that the 4th Doctor handily won that rap battle.
Best Line
Marty: "Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"

Final Thoughts
Quite simply one of the greatest films of all time. Funny, tense, witty, clever…. Even most of the effects hold up after all this time. Certainly the music does. A wonderful stand-alone film that leaves you wanting more, but more than satisfied with what you got.

So naturally, they made sequels. And since October 21st, 2015 is coming up, you bet I’ll be covering them.

See you then!

(Also, thank you all for every single one of those 150,000 views and beyond! Hope to see you all when the NewtCave reaches 250,000!)

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