Americana Movie Month: "Back to the Future" Review

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Young Marty McFly is trying to find his place in the world, when his peculiar friendship with "Doc" Emmett Brown ends up sending him back to the 50's, messing up history. Marty has to get his parents together and employ the help of the younger version of Doc Brown to get home to 1985.
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Americana Movie Month: "Back to the Future" Review

-- Rating: PG
Length: 116 minutes
Release Date: July 3, 1985
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure/Comedy

"Back to the Future" has become a legend in its own time. Many pieces of modern pop culture reference the film, and when you take its sequels into account, it presents a fairly well thought-out view of time travel back and forth through the past, present, and future. It's unlikely that you'll meet someone who hasn't at least heard of the movie, and most would rank it as a modern-day classic. The real question is, does nostalgia make the film seem better than it actually is?

As a refresher, "Back to the Future" follows the adventure of a teenager named Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) who has befriended local scientist Doctor Emmett "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd.) Both are outcasts in their own way; Marty is a headstrong wannabe rock-n-roller who can't back down from the implication that he's afraid, while Doc is considered a crazy fringe scientist who spends most of his time inventing things that simply don't work. While Marty tries to balance his dreams of stardom and spending time with his loving girlfriend, Jennifer Parker (Claudia Wells), against a life where nothing seems to be going the way he planned, Doc Brown invites him to the unveiling of his latest invention.

While Marty films, Doc Brown introduces the plutonium-powered time machine that he built into a DeLorean and demonstrates its ability by sending his dog Einstein a minute forward in time. Soon after this revelation that the machine works, however, Doc is gunned down by the terrorists he stole the plutonium from. In a desperate attempt to escape, Marty jumps into the DeLorean and tries to outrun the pursuing van full of terrorist, not realizing that in doing so he would activate the time machine and be propelled thirty years into the past.

Once Marty is in the past, the real fun of the movie begins. Seeing Marty battling culture shock, dealing with a much-younger Emmett Brown, and trying to undo a few mistakes that threaten to completely unmake Marty and his family are what really make the movie fun to watch. Little scenes from earlier in the movie come back in a big way as Marty and Doc devise a plan to power the time machine without plutonium, and Marty learns firsthand that his parents are much different people than he had grown up thinking they were.

It's easy for movies such as "Back to the Future" to try and rely on visuals and the overall plot gimmick alone, but this film completely avoids that trap. The visual effects used are minimal for the most part, letting the plot itself carry the load of telling an engrossing story. The writing is intelligent, and the actors really bring their characters to life, especially in regard to the changes in characterization between their 1950's personas and the adults they have grown into by the 1980's. Seeing the alternate versions of the adult characters after Marty's adventures is also entertaining because it allows you to see the lasting effects that Marty's actions had on the timeline and those he cares about.

While "Back to the Future" has its problems, they are largely minor issues that are easily overlooked in the larger scope of the film. Viewers see a few awkward scenes, and the gradual "fading away" concept used to create a sense of urgency due to the changed timeline seems a bit strange if you think about it for too long. The seemingly rough patches or questionable bits of the time-travel plot devices involved are fairly easily ignored in light of the rest of the film, which not only is very well done but also works equally well as a standalone movie or the first part of the larger trilogy storyline.

In the end, it's pretty easy to see that "Back to the Future" has stood the test of time and really deserves its status as a modern classic. It's smart, it's funny, and it really helped to propel several great actors into the spotlight where many of them remained for decades afterward. The movie is largely rewatchable, and surprisingly, the special effects don't seem dated or out-of-place even though the film was made in 1985. On top of that, the 25th-anniversary remastering of the film that was released in 2010 went a long way toward improving the look of the film without adding a lot of unnecessary special effects or compromising the director's vision. It's perhaps fitting that "Back to the Future" is a film that just keeps getting better with time.

Rating: 4 out of 5