(Midnight Movie) Back to the Future Review

Back to the Future Midnight Movie Review
By Bret Dorman

Robert Zemeckis, co-writer/director of Back to the Future, wrote a forward to the book First Time Director by Gil Bettman. I picked this book up shortly after dropping out of film school. I have to say I learned so much more about the theory of film from this book than in any of my classes. It’s a good read for anyone interested in making movies or just interested in movie making.

I read this book in the Red Cross van, from the almost 2 year stint I was a phlebotomist (hint: anyone dropping out of film school looking to quickly pay off loans, do phlebotomy). During the trips from HQ to blood drives and back I would scrunch up in the back with this book and portable DVD player watching scenes looking for the things Bettman would describe.

In it he basically preaches the school of Spielberg, of whom Zemeckis learned a bunch for this movie I’m sure (while developing his own style). Spielberg is, without a doubt, one of the masters of artistic entertainment. Blockbuster filmmaking.

One of the things I’ve said about comedies over and over is they are not inherently cinematic. Back to the Future stands out as one of those exceptions. Need proof? Its been almost 25 years since it came out and its beloved just as much then as it is now.

Classic BttF font. Classic Tire Fire tracks. Classic Marty McFly.

The Story: Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) inadvertently goes back in time using Doc Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd) stylish time machine (DeLorean). There he must try to figure out a way to go BACK TO THE FUTURE (that’s the name of the movie!) while not messing things up… more than he already has! Also, people from the past are like, totally different!

Back to the Future boasts the same sort of fish out of water time travel comedy bits any good fish out of water time travel comedy would have. A guy wants to make a name for himself? McFly tells him he’s going to be Mayor, which inspires him to want to be The Mayor! Drinks called Papsi FREE and TAB don’t exist yet? Imagine the confusion in those words! Darth Vadar and Planet Vulcan are from two different yet to be existing sci-fi series? Combine them and use them to scare the living daylights out a guy who is into sci-fi stuffs! Wearing a puffy vest? Must be a sailor! There comes a point where you have to think Marty would realize he is in the past (and he does), so why would he continue to make a ‘fool’ of himself by pointing out the plots of The Honeymooners that haven’t aired yet? Well… normally this would bother me, but Marty’s naturally frantic and outspoken behavior make it more of a character trait than an actual source of constant comedy. All the setups and payoffs don’t seem like stretches desperately put in to keep the audience interested, they are instead integrated into scenes of genuine tension.

Poster 1 of 3 for the trilogy. Mondo style.

What’s the genuine tension? Oh… I don’t know… how about changing the course of history and wiping out your entire existence? Is that not scary enough for you? Most comedies focus on a love relationship of some sort. Here, the writers cleverly turn those tables to anti-love. Marty’s girlfriend is absent for most of the movie as he is trying to get his past-mom to fall out of love with him. Also, most comedies ultimately have some relatively low stakes. Getting kicked out of High School/College, winning some sort of tournament, keeping a job/getting a promotion, or solving “The Big Case” are all good base stories ripe for comedy infusion. The more personal the stakes, the more we invest in the outcome. But Back to the Future has its main character, out of misguided self-preservation, actually putting his own life in danger. Some action movies have a hard time conveying such a foreboding sense of finality for its main characters life, so to see those sort of stakes in a comedy is pretty refreshing, even today.

BBFs 4eva. Both past and future.

Really though, what makes Back to the Future work as a re-watchable classic is the comedic mismatching and chemistry between Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd. You never know how or why Marty started hanging out with the outcasted Doc, but you know immediately they are good friends. A friendship that even in the past can pick up (almost) immediately where it left off. Doc’s reaction to Marty explaining how the time machine works is one of the movie’s best moments. In the hands of any other actor, the line “1.21 Gigawatts?!?! 1.21 Gigawatts. Great Scott!” would have become laughably ridiculous. In the hands of Christopher Lloyd it becomes comedic gold transcending into the legitimate sci-fi geekdom lexicon.

Having just touched the tip of the iceberg (Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson, Biff in all his evil glory, and an awesome Indiana Jones-esque skate board car running moment to name a few), there’s a reason Back to the Future is pretty consistently ranked the #1 Time-Travel movie of all time. Film critics have something to admire, casual film watchers get something to laugh at, sci-fi geeks get something to worship, and hard core time-travel enthusiasts get a movie to debate over and won’t give them a headache while doing so.

Why You Must See It At Midnight: The lightning might hit the Clock Tower at precisely 10:04 p.m. but the magic happens at midnight. Whether Back to the Future is in your regular rotation, a movie you haven’t seen since childhood, or (more improbable than Time Travel itself) you haven’t seen it at all, you can’t miss out this Friday and Saturday. Besides, the way I figure it if you’re going to watch a movie at midnight, you might as well do it in style, at Chicago’s own Music Box Theatre.

It’s the little things that count…

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