In the summer of 1985, Universal Pictures released "Back to the Future," a time travel/comedy-adventure directed by Robert Zemeckis, who co-wrote the script with writer producer Bob Gale ("1941," "Used Cars"). Though it was green-lit by the studio because it was executive produced by Steven Spielberg, no one thought that it would be a big hit, much less kick off a successful film trilogy.
After all, who in the world wanted to watch a movie about a time-traveling teenager and a lovable eccentric scientist, especially if they were played by Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, two actors who were best known for their roles in TV sitcoms but not bankable movie leads?
Luckily for the "Back to the Future" cast and crew, plenty of moviegoers did.
The film begins in October 1985. Marty McFly is a typical California adolescent who leads an unassuming life in the town of Hill Valley with his nice but unambitious family. His dad, George (Crispin Glover) is a nebbish who tells awful jokes and allows himself to be bullied by his supervisor Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). His mom, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), is an alcoholic, and his two siblings Dave and Linda (Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber) are as socially inept as their parents.
Fortunately, Marty is somewhat less nerdy than the rest of the McFly clan. He has a cute girlfriend named Jennifer (Claudia Wells) and he knows how to play a mean guitar. He’s brasher than his dad, a trait that often puts him in the sights of Mr. Strickland (James Tolkan), the Patton-like disciplinary officer at Hill Valley High.
Other than Jennifer and his rock band wannabe buddies, the bright spot in Marty’s life is his friendship with the brilliant but eccentric Emmett “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd), a mad genius obsessed with inventing a time machine.
Marty McFly: Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?
Dr. Emmett Brown: The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?
On the night of October 26, 1985, a bizarre series of events sends Marty back to November 5, 1955, the same date in which his parents met as teenagers. Of course, Marty’s travel through time disrupts his family history; he saves his future father from being hit by Lorraine’s dad’s car, causing his future mom to be attracted to Marty instead.
Marty McFly: Whoa. Wait a minute, Doc. Are you trying to tell me that my mother has got the hots for me?
Dr. Emmett Brown: Precisely.
Marty McFly: Whoa. This is heavy.
Dr. Emmett Brown: There's that word again. "Heavy." Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth's gravitational pull?
In case you have not seen "Back to the Future" yet, I won’t divulge any more plot points. More than half the fun of watching this Steven Spielberg-produced gem is discovering its many twists and turns. Suffice it to say that Marty must somehow resolve a plethora of paradoxes created by his presence in 1955 and, of course, find his way back to the future.
My Take: In the making-of documentary included in the " Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – Special Collector’s Edition" DVD, writer Nicholas Mayer says that time travel stories give filmmakers “an excuse to do something.” This is true of Mayer’s two time travel movies ("Star Trek IV" and 1979’s "Time After Time"). It’s also true in "Back to the Future" and its two sequels.
"Back to the Future" is a funny and sweet fish-out-of-water tale of a teenager who, in his jaunt to 1955, realizes that his parents weren’t always adults. George and Lorraine were once kids, too, with personality traits that Marty never thought they possessed.
Who knew, for instance, that the conservative vodka-tippling Lorraine was a flirtatious young girl back in high school? Or that George, target of Biff Tannen’s bully-boy tortures, was an aspiring science fiction writer? Marty certainly didn’t, until he rode Doc Brown’s souped up De Lorean and was hurled 30 years back into the past.
Director Robert Zemeckis ("Romancing the Stone") gets excellent performances from his large cast, but his focus is on leads Fox, Lloyd, Glover, Thompson, and Wilson. The interplay between the five actors and their characters in the “past” and “present” is what makes the film work.
Take, for instance, the “my mom has the hots for me” story element. In the hands of lesser talents, this tricky complication could have either been too risqué or fallen flat as a horrible take on Oedipal complexes. Yet, the cleverness of writer Bob Gale’s screenplay and the performances of Michael J. Fox and Lea Thompson combine in such a way that the result is simply magical.
Though it’s clearly a 1980s movie with (then) state of the art special effects by George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic, "Back to the Future" harkens back to the comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Era. Yes, the script has a few swear words that wouldn’t have been used in a 1950s film, but the overall tone is more innocent and gentle than the more sexually-themed teen comedies that were popular in the 1980s. "Back to the Future" is funny, sweet, and lighthearted.
Blu-ray Specifications (25th Anniversary Trilogy Set):
Language: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
Subtitles: French, Spanish
Dubbed: French, Spanish
Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 3
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Universal Studios
DVD Release Date: August 30, 2011