I'm looking at what I originally wrote years ago for my Canon of Film entry for "Back to the Future" (I've mentioned this a few times before but, most of these post I wrote years before I ever started this blog and I mostly use those pieces as the original base for these posts, with some re-editing of course), but it's clear to me as I read it, that, I don't have any idea what the hell I'm talking about. Seriously, I start off on, some pandering about the possibilities of time travel and the sci-fi philosophical theories on the effects and aftereffects of the possibility of time, like the ancient theory of how, stepping on a cockroach during the stone age can lead to alternate universe in the the Nazis win WWII and you know all that Butterfly Effect stuff and whatnot but, honestly, what the hell does that have to do with "Back to the Future"?
Or maybe a more precise thought should be, "Why this film?" Of all the damn postulation about time travel, dating back to the beginings of cinema, and I don't know, eh, H.G. Wells, or perhaps Mark Twain, or if you really want to press it, since Washington Irving, or just or fascinations with other time periods of the past, or possibilities of what the future will be like, how did "Back to the Future" become the film that is forever lauded and ingrained in our consciousness as the perennial example of time travel? I can bullshit all I want, but let's just face it, any logistical perspective you take on it, this film, shouldn't be the movie that is our standard for time travel. But thirty years later,eh,-, I just got the irony of how it's now 2015 and I'm talking about "Back to the Future", but 30 years later, this is the film?
What is it about "Back to the Future", really? I mean, I'm with everybody on it, it's one of my all-time favorites, like everybody, and this seems to be the one iconic '80s movie that even Hollywood sees absolutely no point in reviving or bringing back, and they would get bloody hell, from everybody in the world if they ever tried. This movie, about a DeLorean, turned into a time machine, that involves a plot revolving around a mother falling in love with her son, is the greatest,- or at least the most beloved time travel film of all-time? And there's a lot of time travel films out there; I even had a screenwriter professor tell me not to write time traveling scripts, because they don't accept them anymore in Hollywood, 'cause there's too many of them, and there's nothing really new to add to it, so we've sorted through this idea pretty thoroughly, and yet, explaining why this crazy, kinetic, zany film is the beloved masterpiece that everyone says it is, is truly almost impossible.
I think a lot of this has to do with the brilliant execution, perhaps a lot of it is expectations as well; we know how all the time travelling theories and films worked and the movie knows them too, so maybe it's just because it's such an out-of-nowhere version of such a story that we had. How somebody, or who that person was that came up with the idea to turn a DeLorean into a time machine, I don’t know, but we love whoever it was.... The main plot line involves Marty McFly, (Michael J. Fox) as a teenager who’s life isn’t the greatest. He’s got a band, sort of, he has a girl (Claudia Wells), but his family is a mess, so much so that somehow, he’s become good friends with Dr. Emmett Brown (A brilliant Christopher Lloyd) who concocts the now famous time machine using a flux-compaciter. What happens is that, Marty ends up in the time machine, and somehow ends up in 1955, when his parents were just teenagers. And now, his mother (Lea Thompson), God help Oedipus, has developed a crush for Marty, which leads to one of the most bizarre and memorable scenes in the history of time-travel movies involving a parked car out of a school dance. I imagine most people have seen the movie, and know that for a first-time viewer, it’s best to let the movie deconstruct itself through as Marty tries to get his parents together, get Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) to stop picking on his Dad (Crispin Glover), find the 1955 Doc, who can figure out a way to transport him to 1985, hopefully, and if all goes well, wake up and realize he’s hopefully just having a bad nightmare. Whew!
I'm gonna propose that, the popularity of the movie has quite little to do with time travel. Ironically, it does hold up on that level, but the movie is just pure absurdist id. It revels in just how preposterous the story is. Christopher Lloyd, I realize now, gives one of the greatest performances in film history, making a completely ridiculous character who's job is to, basically explain the importance of everything that's happening, (Exposition dialogue, always the toughest dialogue to do) and make him an interesting enough character that we're intrigued by him, and questions like, "Why and how is this mad scientist good friends with Alex P. Keaton?", seem completely irrelevant. It's also the first movie that really takes a look at parents, as teenagers. Roger Ebert's review mentions how children don't conceive of their parents as ever being teenagers, and maybe that's true or not, and I certainly think that, in this modern day and age, I'd rather not think of my parents as ever being teenagers, but it's definitely the first film that really analyzed that possibility. I think mostly though, it's just a great classic example of pure Hollywood filmmaking. Zemeckis was always great at taking something absurd and treating with the such comedic earnestness that we can help but get caught up in the film, he probably did this best with "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", but that actually had a historical characters and concepts at it's helm. "Back to the Future", with the exception of the use of time travel theorems, is completely original. Yeah, it's a three-act structure and all, but it's amazing how all the jokes and plotpoints work so well.
It's just fun; it just works. I wish there were more concrete ways to explain why "Back to the Future" is so great, but...-, well, it just is. Whatever it catches onto us, whether we just love Michael J. Fox and Marty, whether we like the idea of a DeLorean turned into a time machine, or the mythos works, or the idea of going into the recent past and changing how our actions effect the future, whether it's just a great comedy, the amazing score by Alan Silvestri, the incredible using of building drama, even at the most unexpected times, etc. etc. It's really quite brilliant, and yet, explaining why it's brilliant or better than others.... I guess this is one of those times where, for those few people who haven't seen, you'll just have to trust me and say that, "Just watch "Back to the Future" and trust me, it's good." It's everything that we hope a Hollywood blockbuster should be.