Review: Back to the Future (1985)

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Back to the Future zooms at us as a lovely mishmash of sci-fi thrills and 50s nostalgia that feels like pure happenstance. The one purported flaw, the fact that Marty McFly has no right to be in his family, is partially understandable. As Michael J. Fox wasn’t even slated to appear in the film. He was a last-minute replacement that just happened to pan out. But what a bit of serendipity it was all the same.

Without question Back to the Future clocks in as one of the most enjoyable adventures of the 1980s for delivering unadulterated audience satisfaction. It has all the great hallmarks we yearn for starting with rewarding characters, inventiveness that makes up for any corny interludes, and a pulse on what’s fundamentally entertaining.

Our introduction to the story tells us as much about Doc Brown as it does the teen rolling in on his skateboard, if not more so. Marty, the plucky kid with a penchant for rock n roll, finds Doc’s workspace in complete disarray thanks to an extended period of neglect. More on that later.

For now, the iconically cool vibe of “The Power of Love” underscores Alan Silvestri’s own cinematic orchestration on the project providing a fitting anthem for everything that is Back to the Future. McFly coasts around town on his skateboard using each passing car as his own personal lift. Rock is his main passion while his girlfriend Jennifer remains his main distraction. Meanwhile, Mayor Goldie Wilson looks to get reelected a la Nashville (1975) and Marty is accosted by locals championing the “Save the Clock Tower” campaign.

In fact, Hill Valley is a bit of a mythical city. It’s part Middle America, part fantasy, where the local principal is out to get our hero, his closest friend is a mad scientist, and he must battle against the ultimate affront of all time that he might not amount to anything just like his old man. Those are the stakes and this is the world. The perfect place for time travel. Doc in all his scatterbrained kookiness makes an appearance to introduce a DeLorean time machine into the storyline as well as the main conflict. The rest is in Marty’s hands as he whizzes away into the past.

The fact that it paints this world as a caricature as well instead of reality, far from being a weakness, becomes one of its bolstering charms. Refrains of “Mister Sandman” play throughout town. The local marques boast the star power of Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan (wink wink) in Cattle Queen of Montana (1954). Further still, the local five and dime features the tunes of Nat King Cole, Pattie Page, and of course, Tennessee Ernie Ford. Everyone gets a plug to set the scene.

A few good-natured jabs at incumbent President Reagan are also in order. After all, who could ever believe that an actor could become a president? Of course, nothing is all too surprising in this day and age. Still, the 50s via the 1980s were in many ways both simpler times. Star Wars and Van Halen. Chuck Berry and Jackie Gleason. That was the life.

It devolves into a glorious unfolding of circumstances as worlds collide and Marty’s cause begins to unravel at two ends. First, he needs to get back to the future, hence the all-encompassing title but in his haste, he accidentally tampered with the natural order of things – namely the initial meet-cute of his mother and father. It subsequently instigates one of the most awkward cinematic mother-son relationships known to mankind.

Having done irreconcilable damage to their relationship, Marty must do all he can to get his parents back on track. The problems are innumerable. Namely his mother’s infatuation with him, the dreamy out-of-towner Calvin Klein, his father’s undeniable dorkiness, and of course the bullies to end all bullies Biff. In fact, he’s been a thorn in George’s side for 30 years.

Still, with Doc’s aid (the quintessential secondary helper), Marty looks to right all that is wrong. It proves difficult as he attempts to set his parents up to attend the Enchanted Under the Sea Dance together – the fateful dance where young love kindled. Yet Marty watches his life slowly disappearing moment by moment as his parent’s union seems a slight chance at best.

With a few riffs of “Johnny B. Goode” and an imminent date with Doc at the old clock tower in town, a happy conclusion seems possible if not for the Libyan Terrorists still waiting for Doc in the future. After all, Plutonium doesn’t grow on trees and there are consequences for swiping it. Thankfully he doesn’t necessarily listen to his own advice about altering the future and Marty returns to a world that is strikingly different to the one he used to know. It’s strangely rewarding even if it does feel all too perfect in this third world.

While it becomes one of the most obvious films to shamelessly set up and plug its sequels (ultimately two other offerings), there’s no doubt that Back to the Future makes each a rewarding prospect. Not only is it boosted by a winsome performance by Family Ties favorite Michael J. Fox in a now defining role but Christopher Lloyd’s turn is equally laudable even if it easily typecast him in future tech nerd projects. There are certainly worst places to be.

Furthermore, under the tutelage of executive producer Steven Spielberg, director Robert Zemeckis became one of the great successes of the 80s and 90s with Back to the Future being yet another reason why Spielberg remained at the forefront of popular entertainment throughout the decade.

For their part, whether they like it or not Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd will remain pop culture gods in the hearts of nearly everyone. Bless them for that. Doc and Marty are as memorable now as they were back then and no doubt even years into the future. That’s right, a movie about a time-traveling DeLorean has staying power. There’s a bit of the magic of the movies for you.

4.5/5 Stars

4 Star Films’ Favorite Movies: 16-20

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Okay, here we go with the next installment in the series of my favorite films. But, in case you missed #21-#25 and have a passing fancy to see what I fancy,  check them out Here…

Otherwise, enjoy part II!

16. Back to the Future (1985)
Doc Brown and Marty McFly. A delorean time machine. Awkward mother, son relationships. High School Dances circa 1955. Good ol’ fashioned rock n’ roll. These are only a few of the reasons that Back to the Future is a perennial classic and the best time travel film around. Two more installments followed re-teaming Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, but it’s hard to top the original Sci-Fi classic.

17. Shane (1953)
There are numerous classic westerns from the Golden Age, but Shane is one of the most unassuming. It’s a treasure of a film, revolving around of the great iconic heroes of cinema, the eponymous Shane. He’s a gunslinger, upright and kind, but he’s also deadly. Within the expanse of George Stevens’s tale of the untamed West, is a human heart and also foreboding moments of darkness. It’s the complexities of this film that bring me back to it time and time again. Its main character being a fascinating man indeed.

18. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Walking on that beach in St. Andrews Scotland was one of the most enjoyable things in my life thus far. Partially because it’s so incredibly gorgeous in a raw, untouched sort of way. But the other reason is due to this film, full of heart and some of the most inspiring music ever. By telling the biographical story of the likes of world class sprinters Eric Liddel and Harold Abrahams, it successfully blends so many things that I like. Sports, history, Great Britain, and deep spiritual dilemmas. Let us remember those few men with hope in their hearts and wings on their heels.

19. The Odd Couple (1968)
I’m a fan of comedies that boast good unadulterated fun. The Odd Couple is one such film born of a Neil Simon play and subsequently turned into a successful television show. This is the rendition starring the bickering duo of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, both in fine form. They take this simple tale about two divorced men living together and make it a bellyful of laughs. Their poker playing buddies are a gas as well. It remains a classic with renewed value each and every time.

20. The Dark Knight (2008)
I am a product of the age of superhero films. Some mediocre, some simply run-of-the-mill, but few have left such an indelible mark as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight. What sets it apart is a villain, a most worthy adversary for the cape crusader. Heath Ledger’s Joker is the creme de la creme of cinematic bad guys, and he elevates this film to be one of the most intriguing moral tales released in the last decade. This is far more than a superficial action flick.

Back to the Future (1985)

Starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, the movie follows Marty McFly as he befriends the quirky Doc Brown. McFly witnesses the assassination of his friend by terrorists and unwittingly finds himself leaving his peculiar family and pretty girlfriend. He takes Doc’s DeLorean time machine back to 1955 and finds himself in a practically different world . Soon Marty is caught up in his own history when he messes with the first meeting between his teenage mom and dad. On the advice of a much younger Doc Brown, Marty tries to repair their relationship while the Doc gets ready to send Marty Back to the Future. Although he alters the past, Marty finds life even better back in 1985. The Doc turns out okay and his family is drastically different, in a good way. This film is great fun, full of sci-fi adventure, entertaining sequences, and enjoyable characters. If you ever want to catch the stars in some great TV shows watch Taxi and Family Ties.

4.5/5 Stars

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

This is a powerful film from the 70s that has such an intriguing conflict between Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. There have been many chilling villains in the annals of cinema, but Nurse Ratched was arguably the coldest and yet understated of them all. She makes this a true battle for supremacy. Nicholson is supported very nicely by the rest of the cast who he helps to rile up.

*May Contain Spoilers

Originally adapted from the novel by Ken Kesey, the film tells the story of a criminal interned in a mental hospital, because he thinks it will be “life on easy street” with a bunch of crazies. Jack Nicholson plays this Randle McMurphy, who goes in ready to live easy and challenge authority whenever he can.

Meanwhile, the doctors observe him seeing if Randle really belongs. As he grows accustomed to the institution, he becomes the instigator of the other patients. Whether they are playing cards, talking with the group, taking medication, getting their exercise, or taking a fishing trip, he always looks to get his way and have the other patients rally around him. However, he must deal with Nurse Ratched, a cold and iron-fisted woman, who keeps everyone at bay believing it is for their own personal well-being.

In fact, she chooses not to send McMurphy away because he is their problem and Ratched is ready to deal with him in the way she sees fit. Not even McMurphy seems able to prevail over Ratched and her tactics in the end. He starts a riot in the ward after they are not allowed to watch the World Series, and as the final straw, he holds a wild Christmas party with girls and alcohol. He plans to get away in the aftermath with his new-found friend “Chief,” only to wake up in the morning to a very displeased Ratched. Her pressure causes one unstable young man to commit suicide, and with the opportunity to escape right in front of him, an enraged McMurphy strangles the nurse, only to be subdued. Things quiet down and the patients revert back to their old ways with “Mac” nowhere to be seen.

One night he is returned and in a Deja Vu moment, the Chief goes to talk to Randle, only to see a blank look on his face. Ratched’s methods have seemingly won. However, Chief is able to use Randle’s plan to escape and keep the hope alive. Nicholson was backed by a stellar cast including Louise Fletcher, Danny Devito, Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif, Will Sampson, Sydney Lassick, and William Redfield.

Although this film is rougher around the edges, it reminds me of the earlier dramatic classic 12 Angry Men, because both films have wonderful casts that are able to create such tension through their collaborative performances. Much like Henry Fonda, Nicholson is the undisputed star, but all the other players make this movie truly extraordinary. Early on there are some definite comedic moments, but the film begins to get darker as the story progresses, and Ratched gets more and more strict.

Furthermore, this film is shot in a realistic almost bleak documentary-like style that really adds to the film. It is almost difficult to watch the scene where Randle chokes Ratched because it is up-in-your-face and graphic. Despite, the fact that the ending is depressing, there is still a hint of hope. It is one of the things that makes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest so riveting. Much like many of the patients that inhabit the facility,  the mood constantly swings like a pendulum from humorous, to calm, to bleakness, and finally hopefulness.

5/5 Stars