Back to the Future (1985)
Dir. by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson
Teenager Marty McFly is accidentally transported thirty years into the past when terrorists interrupt the testing of a time machine invented by a mad scientist friend. Now stuck in the 1950s, he attempts to convince the younger version of the scientist to help him repair the time machine, while avoiding his own teenaged mother, who has the hots for him.
I believe this was one of the first movies that we taped on VHS when we first got HBO, way back in the late 1980s. I know that we had it at least by the time that we went to England, in 1990, as I remember watching the movie while I was there. I watched that tape a whole lot, as the movie took an incredibly long time to finally be released on DVD – not until 2002, I believe.
So I’d originally intended to avoid all of the big, well-established classics for this blog: all of the Star Warses and Indiana Joneses and the like. Back to the Future definitely qualifies as one of those, by my estimation. However, I recently had the chance to watch it alongside someone who’d never seen it before, and was able to see it again with fresh eyes through him.
I’m happy to report that he really enjoyed it, and laughed at most of the jokes despite being young enough to be one of Marty’s kids from Part II. I was actually concerned about that, as I’d previously watched Ghostbusters with him for the first time, and he actually hadn’t enjoyed that one. I think part of that might be that Ghostbusters is very effects-heavy for a comedy, and that’s the part of the movie that’s aged the worst.
Anyway, I myself found that the movie was still mostly as good as I remember it being. Both Fox and Lloyd turn in career-best performances, and the surrounding cast is pretty much uniformly excellent as well. And I’d say that about 90% of the humor still lands for me – pretty much everything that comes out of Christopher Lloyd’s mouth is memorable. However, there are definitely exceptions to this.
One of the biggest is the way the movie treats its PoC characters. There’s not many of them (though you could definitely explain that by virtue of most of the movie being set in the still-segregated mid-50s), and about half of them are extremely stereotypical Middle Eastern terrorists. Despite being the ones to kill Doc Brown at the beginning, they are pretty much shown to be incompetent, only realizing later that the bomb they were given was a complete fake. The only other characters of color are Goldie Wilson, the busboy who later becomes mayor, and the band that plays at the dance at the end.
In both cases, they’re set on their future paths by the actions of Marty. He apparently inspires Goldie to run for mayor, though the script does point out that he was already attending night school, so at least he may have been headed that way anyway. The movie also tries really hard to make it seem like Marty invents rock and roll. During his performance of “Johnny B. Goode,” a member of the band called his cousin, who’s strongly implied to be Chuck Berry (the actual writer of the song) and tells him about the music. While anyone who knows something about the history and evolution of rock will know that this is ridiculous, it’s definitely not a good look for the film to be making jokes about how black artists wouldn’t have been successful without following the lead of a white kid.
Another scene that I found a lot more uncomfortable this time around was the assault scene near the end, when George finally finds the courage to stand up to Biff. In this case, it’s meant to be uncomfortable, as Biff is clearly committing sexual assault against an unwilling Lorraine, likely as a prelude to a full-on rape attempt. However, in the modern cultural climate of 2021, I found it even more harsh and out-of-place in the previously light-hearted film than I believe the filmmakers had intended. So did my viewing partner, who commented on how Biff had gone from schoolyard bully to serious jail time in the space of seconds.
Overall, though, I’d say we both found it to be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. He’s asked me to make up a list of other 80s classics he should watch, so I may end up writing about more of the classics than I’d originally thought.
-After we were done, we watched a bit of the documentary about the making of the movie. I can’t imagine anyone but Michael J. Fox playing Marty, and I highly doubt that the movie would have been the classic that it’s become if they’d stuck with Eric Stoltz.
-This movie has probably single-handedly kept the DeLorean on the road, as only about 9,000 were ever produced. I’d wager at least half of the ones currently in drivable condition were only restored because the owner’s a Back to the Future fan.