Oh nostalgia, such power you carry; Back to the Future, along with possibly Star Wars, were my go to feature when suffering a bad day, and held by a constant admiration and craving that led me to them time and time again. Much like accumulated experiences, nostalgia plays a significant part over the film’s high concept premise, leading its audience, depending on how old you are, to the familiar or the curious avenues of our past. It was an idea that would remain timeless, the idea of seeing your parents at the prime of their lives and the environment they once thrived bring such thrust of exhilaration within me that I was able to forgive much of the film’s shortcomings.
Robert Zemeckis’ emergence in the 80s comes off as a protégé of the legendary blockbuster filmmaker, Steven Spielberg, taking some of his familiar trademarks and managing to provide enough originality to avoid becoming a carbon copy. Much of his films are immediately accessible, filling them with such energy and wit, that it is hard to not be invested despite one’s feeling towards the premise or the characters themselves. In my personal opinion and despite the fact that I have only seen a few from his entire body of work, Back to the Future is his strongest film; one that has captured a whole generation through its identifiable ideas and infectious energy.
A premise as simple as it could be; a young boy named Marty McFly, living in the town of Hill Valley, has a close friendship with the local scientist, Doc Brown, who finds himself transported back in time to 1955 through Doc’s latest invention, the time travelling DeLorean. Through sheer luck he runs into the younger forms of his parents, and through sheer instinct he saves his father from a car collision, which was integral to the meeting and romance of his parents; in this difficult situation, along with the aid of his closest companion, Doc, Marty attempts to fix the broken relationship between his parents whilst preparing the time machine for the upcoming lightning storm that possesses the required energy to send back to 1985.
Character development may not be rich, but it is undoubtedly present, with Marty’s father slowly gaining the self-confidence needed to thrive in life, which parallels with Marty’s own journey, thus leaving us a slightly different boy that he was when he accidently entered the seemingly isolating but curious world of 1955. In Marty’s first-hand experience of his parents’ memories, he develops a sense of understanding towards them; finding sincerity in his empathy and sympathy that compels him to improve their lives, unconsumed by any drives of selfishness that would make his meddling antagonistic.
Comedy is Back to the Future’s strongest element, it controls the film’s pacing and it is executed with such subtlety and breeze that the whole experience becomes further rewarding with each subsequent visits; even up to now, which would be above the 15-20 viewing range, I still find myself grinning over an overlooked reference. It is the idea of Zemeckis and his crew deeply committing to the concept and having as much fun as they can with the freedom they have been provided.
Much like Spielberg’s Jaws, this is a film that is endlessly quotable; lines that has stayed with me as I grew and matured, at times utilising them in my daily conversations, with only a 25-30% success rate of someone picking up the reference; may it be Lorraine’s innocent and awkward “Over there, on my hope chest” or “Lou, give me a milk….. Chocolate!”, these are lines that are handled with such great effect, despite the fact that they add very little to the actual progression of the story; it is a strong comedic approach that never breaks the flow that it has created for itself, which many films fail to provide.
My core issue with the film is found in its final act where Doc and Marty find themselves upon barriers that may jeopardise the success of their goal; it piles upon one another with these issues that are saved only through pure luck; this is where I can finally see the strings that Zemeckis is pulling, the artificial construction for tension simply drags the moment from an outcome that is so clear.
It is in the performances of its five key cast members that add heavily in the film’s playful touch; Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown), Lea Thompson (Lorraine), Crispin Glover (George), and Thomas F. Wilson (Biff); they all slip into their roles perfectly, with all taking on distinct swaggers that evokes feelings of envy and laughter within me. This is Fox at his most iconic of roles, and I can see why, from the way he walks or runs from one location to another, his impressive skills as a skater and a guitarist would leave many male audiences in awe whilst the ladies with adoration, and I can see this character’s impact from a personal level since I see my father, even up to now, models himself with the fashion stylings of the character, and even playing Johnny B. Goode with striking similarities. Another key standout was Thompson’s performance as the dual-sided Lorraine, who carries the familiar rebellious nature of every adolescent, while upholding a pristine and naïve persona that even had us and Marty fooled; in this film, it shows that she has the ability to carry her own through subtle moments of comedy and without resorting to the self-indulgent melodramatics that could easily be found in such a role.
This is Zemeckis at his peak, utilising his playful and nostalgic sensibilities and place them in a film with such a captivating premise that is both unforgettable and immersive; I doubt Zemeckis could provide anything in his future career that could top this wonderful piece, and by the sight of his later works, I doubt he could.