Sunday, November 14, 2010

Day 121: Back to the Future

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #73
Year: 1985
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd

Well, I'm back, again. Last week was just as rough as I predicted. This coming week isn't much better, but I fancy myself something of a trooper, and I'm ready to blast you with all the blog posts you can handle. But you don't read this blog to hear about my life, you read it to see what I have to say about great movies. Today's great movie is Back to the Future, a film I rewatched today after something like ten years since my last viewing. Not only did it hold up, I think I liked it better this time than I did as a kid. It's not impossible that this could be the most fun movie ever made. It reeks of 1985 pseudo-coolness, but somehow even the extremely dated aspects come across brilliantly today. I think it's the fact that it tackles the heady science fiction fixture that is time travel with a wry, comedic bent. Despite not taking it totally seriously, it is the quintessential time travel movie, and time machines will forever be pictured by moviegoers as Deloreans.

Robert Zemeckis' script is what makes the movie, even though Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd's performances as Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown respectively have become iconic in their own rights. Without Zemeckis' script, though, the characters don't have any of the scenes that made them iconic. There's no less than a dozen scenes – too many to list here, anyway – that have become absolutely classic, instantly recognizable, and repeatedly parodied. The climax of the film, after Marty has successfully orchestrated his parents' courtship back in 1955 and blasts out a shredding rendition of "Johnny B. Goode," had me fondly remembering how great it was the last time I saw it at age 10, and had me smiling even wider – and it wasn't the only scene that did that for me. Even the crass sequel setup in this movie gave us one of its most memorable lines with "Where we're going, we won't need roads." Back to the Future is exactly the kind of movie that the IMDb Top 250 exists to serve. It's considered a classic by most average American moviegoers, but would never get a nod on any sort of critics' list. This is why the Top 250 is useful. It gives us a list a movies that are, by and large, very good, but it combines the kinds of films that find their way onto the lists of AFI types (films with James Stewart in them, for example), the lists of art house critics (Kurosawa's works), cult movies with relatively broad appeal (The Big Lebowski and the like) and entertaining movies that everyone loves but no critic nor Oscar voter would dare to praise (this). Sure, some stuff from each of these four categories makes the list that absolutely doesn't deserve to, but the presence of movies from each makes this list what it is, and serves as the main argument as to why it's a good list.

Back to Back to the Future, perhaps my favorite thing about this movie is the total lack of reverence it has for time travel. It pretends to care deeply about the ethical questions brought up by time travel, but brushes them off just as quickly – when Marty discovers that Dr. Brown had been wearing a bulletproof vest when the Libyan terrorist shot him the second time around, he asks him whatever happened to not changing the course of history. Brown answers, deadpanning, "Well, I figured, what the hell." That's it. That's all they need to say. There needn't be an explanation for why Marty's whole family changed but he didn't, why there could be two Martys when he returns to 1985, what holes in the space-time continuum were torn as a result of Marty and Dr. Brown's meddling – none of it matters, because, well, what the hell? It's purely an entertaining movie. If you don't think too hard about it everything makes sense, and its approach to the time travel concept sheds all the needless pretension inherent in the genre. If I could hop in a Delorean and go to 1985, I would love to know how it felt to see this one in the theaters. It's a hell of a lot of fun.

The Good: The never-reverent-but-never-mocking tone.

The Bad: Like most mid-'80s movies, it suffers ever so slightly from being way too fucking mid-'80s. Why did people dress/talk/act/look like that, ever?

The Skinny: Deserves its spot.


  1. Glad to see you back, and I haven't seen this one, at least from start till the end. I will probably watch it within the next month.

  2. Don't know how it was back in the day, but when I watch it now in 2010, #73 on imdb feels WAY overrated. It is quite interesting and feel-good, but I can easily name 72 and more movies that I enjoy more. If it would be around 150-200, I would keep my mouth shut.