Back to the Future is an American science fiction movie written and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmet, the film is set in the mid 80’s and the plot pivots on Marty’s quest to return to his rightful time period after accidentally travelling back in time to the 50’s via Emmett’s state of the art time machine.
Acting and Character performances.
When I walk into any film, the first thing I hope for is that I will be invested in the main characters whom the story’s happenings centres on alongside the story itself. I need characters who are flawed but have redeemable qualities. Characters who you could empathize with and understand their plight. That said, does Marty McFly fit the bill as far as the latter is concerned? You bet he does.
Everything I loved about this character was presented to me in say, the first fifteen minutes of the film; I found this quite satisfactory because it deals with the characterization part pretty fast hence saving the rest of the runtime to develop the story. Within the first fifteen minutes or so, you already know that Marty is errant in the way he talks back at his teacher in school; you already know he’s a ladies’ man in the way he interacts with his girlfriend or oogles at attractive women in the streets; you already know that he is into music and is passionate about it. Ladies and gentlemen, that is what I call characterization 101; as it should be.
However, it doesn’t end there. We come to know shortly afterwards that his mannerisms are undoubtedly inspired by his somewhat dysfunctional family; a dad who has as much confidence as a cow headed for a slaughterhouse and a mother who can barely serve a decent meal in the house. He is struggling on the inside to be the polar opposite of what he probably could have turned out to be. That’s why when he inadvertently travels back in time before their parents met, you could see the passion and drive he had in trying to change how events unfolded leading up to them falling in love and eventually creating a family together. Michael J. Fox’s performance in this was exceptional; I wouldn’t want it any other way honestly. He owned the role perfectly and I can’t imagine Zemekis, the director, choosing another actor to play Marty during the casting process of the film.
Dr. Emmett was another character I that I loved in this and understandably so. Played by Christopher Lloyd, he is a brilliant scientist who isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea in Hill Valley. He spends most of his time cooped up in his home working on something science-related which is pretty much the staple of most hardcore scientists. I understood his role in the storytelling; he is the catalyst who transitions the story to a new level through his impressive time machine which sees Marty travel back and forth in time in the span of 30 years.
My fascination with the character leans more along the lines of his multifaceted personality; he is not just your ordinary scientist who is oblivious of life in general and how it works. He has considerable wisdom. Beyond just wanting to help set up Marty’s parents through the younger version of himself from a scientific perspective, he imparts wise words onto Marty on how he should right the wrong of coming in between his parents’ love life even though he doesn’t have one of his own. All this of course, has to be attributed to Lloyd’s great acting as he went all out to sell this character the best way he knew how.
The Plot, Merits and Demerits.
I am no science buff nevertheless anyone who knows me personally knows that I love the idea of time travel; however far-fetched it might be. Over the years, I have always been attracted to films that flirt with this very idea and this particular one is no exception. I see this flick as a love letter to the one and only Albert Einstein; one of the greatest minds of all time who strongly believed in the possibility of time travel.
Come to think of it, this homage was perfectly represented through Christopher Lloyd’s character; I mean, Dr. Emmett even bears a striking resemblance to Einstein whether in appearance or in speech. For any film maker, it is not easy to use this premise and interweave it into heartfelt narrative involving the ups and downs a young man’s mission in trying to change the past so that his present can be a lot better than it is. Zemekis aces it either way.
How the director addressed the ‘fish out of water’ storyline through Michael J. Fox’s character in this is just exemplary; I bought it all the way because there was a lot of realism to it. When Marty arrives in his town upon time travel, he finds a much different Hill valley in many ways; the estate where he lives hasn’t been built yet, he finds out that the Mayor was just a simple waiter in the local diner, Ronald Reagan is not President but just an under-rated actor, among many others. I loved that sequence a lot and thought it was well executed both from an acting as well as a directing point of view.
The camera work used here is not that sophisticated but it used to great effect all the same. That opening scene where the camera moves slowly but with a visual intent of giving the audience member a complete feel of Dr. Emmett’s ‘lair’ was very interesting and I loved it. The production design in this movie should not be understated under any circumstances; it does justice to the storytelling as well.
Back to the Future also explored certain themes within its story quite well; themes that were mostly out to serve the character of George McFly, Marty’s father. First off, we have redemption and transformation i.e George had to go out of his timid ways to land the girl of his dreams because as we all know, women love confident men; a quality that the latter character was bereft of. Additionally, there is the theme of sacrifice i.e George standing up to the local town bully and giving him a piece of his mind when the guy was wrongfully taking advantage of his crush despite knowing very well that he doesn’t stand a chance in a fight. Speaking of the bully, Thomas F. Wilson’s performance as this sadistic character in Biff Tannen was excellent; by far one of if not the best bullies I have seen in a movie.
I guess my only issue with the flick is the fact that theatricality is over used at certain points in the film but it’s a negligible issue; I’m going to sweep it under the rug.
Back to the Future is an all-time classic without a shadow of doubt. I had only watched this film once before and back then I didn’t even get to finish it yet alone pay attention to it. Re-watching it made me appreciate it more for how unique the film was in being ahead of its time, much like James Cameron’s ‘The Terminator’ which was released just a year before. I mean, this was the highest grossing motion-picture of 1985 and it’s no surprise why it was. I look forward to reviewing the sequels as well.