Putting my love for Back to the Future into words has been terrifying, but it’s one of the greatest mainstream Hollywood films ever made. It’s the complete genre transcending package, so come and geek-out with me at 88mph.
1. “Well you’re not going to be picking a fight dad…da..Daddy-O”
As a kid discovering that you parents had a life before you arrived is a little freaky. In my personal opinion it’s the official transition into adulthood; accepting your parents as peopleso you can prepare to wade into whatever life throws at you. The idea of meeting your parents as teenagers is what kick started the idea for Back to the Future in Bob Gale’s mind. Working back from 1985 to 1955 provided the perfect timeframe to work in as teen culture started to dominate in the 50s. Not only does Marty McFly meet is parents but he changes the course of history and thus must put them on a romantic collision course or he will be erased from time. It’s the ultimate challenge for any protagonist and Marty also has to figure out how to get back to 1985 too. The film is layered so well as the stakes are pushed higher and higher, but it’s this basic ’teen parent’ premise that is at the center of the film and it’shandled brilliantly. The idea was even too much for Disney who rejected the script due to the relationship between Marty and his mother being a little too edgy.
2. Genre is transcended
All great films are hard to define with a genre because they often encapsulate everything that’s wonderful about the art of filmmaking. Back to the Future manages to jam in science fiction, comedy, drama, action, adventure and even a little horror (come on, a parent having a crush on you is terrifying). For this reason, when explaining Back to the Future to someone who hasn’t seen the film, it’s so hard to pin down one defining feature due to its complexity wrapped in a friendly Hollywood blockbuster.
3. Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis
The two guys that threw the whole thing together with a little help from Steven Spielberg. Gale and Zemeckis crafted the script and Zemeckis took on directing duties. Time travel can be such a difficult topic to cover, but built on top of the idea of meeting your teenage parents, they could play around with the setting and different ways Marty could influence history such as the birth of rock n’ roll with his performance at the school dance. Jokes are set up across time like Marty’s uncle always being in jail as well as major plot points featuring the clock tower lightning strike. They also made a wise decision of making time travel possible across both space and time, which led to the time machine going mobile. Everything in the film just makes sense, they don’t bother going into small details because all you need to know is that the flux capacitor “makes time travel possible” – it’s a film, not a science lesson. There is a great sense of fun instilled into the film by Gale and Zemeckis and they continue to be the gatekeepers of the franchise so we don’t have to endure a remake while they’re both still alive.
4. The DeLorean
The car itself in reality may have been a huge flop but in Back to the Future it became iconic. It became more than just a car; it’s a character in the film. Doc Brown even admits “if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”
5. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd
There are lots of wonderful performances in the film but the friendship between Marty and Doc is elevated by two wonderful actors. Eric Stolz was originally cast as Marty but Zemeckis had to make a tough call and replace him early in the production because it wasn’t working out. Fox stepped into a film already in production and had to catch up to the rapid pace being set by Lloyd with his mad scientist act. Fox is charismatic and charming while Lloyd is perfect as the backyard scientist. Gale and Zemeckis believed that a genius tinkering away in their garage that would probably invent a time machine verses the resources of the US Government. Lloyd mixes in elements of Albert Einstein with the eccentricities of a clown – the template for the great modern film scientist.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies