Back to the Future stands as an action/comedy/science-fiction movie capable of defying, well, time. The uncharacteristic union of master and apprentice held between “Doc” Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and the hip, girl-chasing skateboarder Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is energy inducing. The comedy comes exclusively from within the movie itself, with no external references or cultural limitations, which makes Robert Zemeckis’ timeless classic both instantaneous and genuine. Back to the Future (the entire trilogy, actually) is magical, in the sense that it escapes the dystopian craze of contemporary blockbuster cinema; in the case of Back to the Future, time travel is this wonderfully positive discovery, intended to bring on countless others, and with no heavy narrative burden to bear, the viewer is instead invited to fearlessly follow along in Marty’s mercurial efforts, and go on a wild ride back into the past, and eventually, the future too.
Marty’s central dilemma in Zemeckis’ original film from 1985 is outlandish, to say the least. His travels (which send him twenty years into the past) put him in the perilous position of courting his own mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), who erroneously falls for Marty instead George (Crispin Glover), Marty’s father, and thus endangering his temporal existence altogether. Writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale were daring in their script for the film, as the film straddles the fine line between the pre-cognizant existence of its chief protagonist lightly, his historicity entirely in the making over the course of the film’s narrative trajectory, with Marty’s very autonomy being ironically decided (or undecided) by his otherwise very capable actions within a strictly pre-written past, and one in which he has no role.
Which brings the conversation around to the most fascinating aspect of Marty’s travels: His being able to see his mother and father as teenagers. We hear stories from our parental units often starting with the phrase, “Back in the day,” or “When I was a teenager,” and we commence a series of eye-rolling and inaudible groans, predictably. But are their stories true? Marty is astounded to find that his mother was not always as straight-laced as she had led him to believe, and his father is not such a spineless jellyfish, incapable of thinking for himself as previously believed, but was in fact a once closeted, science-fiction writer of substantial ambition. Marty, in a sense, satiates our curiosity about our younger versions of our parents, as we will never know what our parents were really like, unless we were to go back in time and see for ourselves, of course.
Movies often act as time capsules, and in Back to the Future, we are given insight into two, depicted eras: The 1950s and 1980s. Despite being released 30 years ago, I still find it funny how some things don’t change. Or, more accurately, how the trends of the 1980s have manifested currently. Take Marty’s outfit for example. Change the cut, and darken the wash of Marty’s jeans, and untuck his shirt, and I see a getup my brother would wear. Or how guys still gawk at girls in workout clothes (oh, the power of yoga pants). Seemingly, we’ve reached a cycle of recurring trends. When watching Back to the Future (despite the grainy appearance) I forget the film is, in fact, three decades old. The production and design team accurately represent the two eras within which the narrative takes place between, and time is defined by the products and brands that are used, making the inclusion of specific consumer products easily traced to specific events, and those events to exact periods of time, which points towards the film’s intelligence and coherence in using time travel as a narrative set piece, and not in place of actual plot.
I cannot mention Back to the Future without including a plug about the time machine. It is iconic (and I must admit I did feel a bubble of envy when our own Sean W. Fallon was able to get a photo taken next to the original DeLorean from the film’s set). Some may argue that the DeLorean is what made the movie. Others would argue the movie made the DeLorean. I see both cases as being true, as although the DeLorean Motor Company was dissolved years prior to the movie being released, the DeLorean time machine will forever be preserved. The time machine appears as though Doc Brown designed and constructed it himself in his lab, from the welded pieces and mismatched textures and finishes. Even now, it breathes of a future and past time, as it rapidly sets ablaze during departure, and freezes back to a state of rigidity upon arrival.
And the musical score is epic. Here, we have this fun development of events paired with a full-scale orchestra. It acts as a background reminder, prodding at the viewer to remember that this is a science-fiction adventure. You can the sense of the grandeur otherwise reserved for a Star Wars movie, with the score remaining in the background. And this aspect is important, as it does not derail the viewer, but further immerses the viewer on all levels. At times, you cannot recall if a scene had background music or not, which is not a flaw, but an achievement, as the music becomes fully integrated with the characters, the lines, the emotional output, and the tone.
Back to the Future is not reserved merely for time travel aficionados. Its universal characters and trip into the past is an unparalleled adventure, which makes the film well worth watching 30 years into the future.