For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Time Travel Movies, here’s a review of Back to the Future (1985) by Me
If you missed any of them, here’s a recap:
This month we had 16 reviews for GG:
- Donnie Darko (2001) – Reut
- La Jetee (1962) – SG
- Time Bandits (1981) – Tim
- Time Bandits (1981) – David
- Time After Time (1979) – SG
- Back in Time (2015) – Eddie
- Quantum Leap – Pilot (1989) – MovieRob
- Enchanted (2007) – Kim
- Back to the Future Part II (1989) – MovieRob
- Back to the Future Part II (1989) – That Other Critic
- Back to the Future Part III (1990) – MovieRob
- Butterfly Effect, The (2004) – MovieRob
- Source Code (2011) – MovieRob
- Back to the Future (1985) – James
- Terminator, The (184) – Kieron
- Back to the Future (1985) – MovieRob and @moviereview365
Thanks to everyone who participated this month!
In addition, I watched and reviewed 6 additional movies from this genre for my Genre Guesstimation series. 1 of them will be now included in my own favorites of the genre.
- Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
- Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
- Primer (2004)
- Voyagers! (1982)
- Shuffle (2011) *
- Somewhere in Time (1980)
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Abbi of Abbiosbiston.com We will be reviewing our favorite Alternate Love Story movies. In order to get a better idea as to what this genre might include, check out this post by Abbi from last year. Please get me your submissions by the 25th of November by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org Try to think out of the box! Great choice Abbi!
For this review, I decided to do something a bit different.
My friend Pat from @moviereview365 (on twitter) and I decided to start discussing movies in depth and below is our first (of hopefully many) movie discussions. We decided to discuss BTTF because of its timeliness and also because Pat couldn’t quite grasp why I love it so much.
Let’s see what Pat and I thought of this movie:
Number of Times Seen – Too many to count (Theater in ’85, cable, video, DVD, 7 May 2013, 13 Nov 2014 and 8 Oct 2015)
MovieRob’s Favorite Trivia – Apparently Ronald Reagan was amused by Doc Brown’s disbelief that an actor like him could become president, so much so that he had the projectionist stop and replay the scene. He also seemed to enjoy it so much that he even made a direct reference of the film in his 1986 State of the Union address: “As they said in the film “Back to the Future”, ‘Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.'” (From IMDB)
Rating – Oscar Worthy (no change from original review)
Here is our conversation: (Pat in Red, me in Blue)
Pat – Back to the Future is one of the most beloved, referenced, and appreciated popular films of the last 30 years. Being a staunch opponent of its decency and value, I must know: what do you actually enjoy about the film in general?
Rob – I think for me, a lot of it has to do with the fact that I saw it at such an influential period in my life; I was 11 when it came out in the theater and it was just so awe-inspiring watching it on the screen. I even recall thinking how cool it was that the date of the movie would actually occur in 4 months, so maybe, just maybe something life this could really happen 🙂
I was able to feel a connection with Marty, Lorraine, George and even Biff because they were just a few years older than me. It’s funny actually, because even when I watch it now, those 17 year old “kids” still feel older than me and I’m now 41 🙂
The cultural references of the time worked so well in this script and I have always been awed by the way they depict Hill Valley in both 1985 and in 1955. They managed to create two parallel towns that have so much in common even after just 30 years.
The dialogue is curt and funny and I can laugh at the jokes over and over.
And above all, who wouldn’t want their own DeLorean that can travel through time if it reaches 88 MPH?
I think the bigger question here is for you Pat: How can you despise such a loveable movie?
Pat – The real issue is that Back to the Future for some reason always felt so tacky to me. It’s too commercial and too easy. The name in and of itself is flagrantly catchy in a way that would make marketing professionals blush. Also, maybe I never liked it because Michael J. Fox never had that ‘IT’ actor for me. Fox just never turned the dial and made me think, ‘Man that guy is working out there.’ Throw in the fact that it’s full of plot holes (we’ll get to those) and that Robert Zemeckis, in my opinion, isn’t that great of a director without Tom Hanks brilliant aid.
Further, it really bugs me Marty McFly has no real problems. Marty never faces any real crisis. He’s so happy go lucky and his conflict is made up while he’s having an awesome adventure time traveling and I never really sensed a consequence to any of his actions. It’s so first-world-problems-eque in conflict.
I guess I genuinely wanted something deeper from BTTF, something more investigative of the repercussions and the effects their actions throughout history had on the world. Which leads me to my next question: Why is there no “butterfly effect” after Marty goes back to 1955? Seemingly nothing has changed when he returns to 1985. That’s like one of the main issues with time travel throughout all films. Any small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The science behind it bugs me….
Bonus question: How was Marty’s dad not totally bummed out when he came to realize his son looked JUST LIKE that Calvin Klein they’d met 30 years ago? He had to have recognized the correlation. Where was the marital strife? Where was the late night drinking binges and domestic abuse (kidding)? That had to have weighed on that poor fellow thinking his wife had an affair with Calvin.
Rob – What’s wrong with a simple kind of movie if it makes you feel good and entertains?
Yes, the story is simple and there are some plot holes, but overall they gave us a film that many people can relate to (not because of the time travel issues – despite it being really cool), but rather because who wouldn’t want to meet their parents as teens and getting to see what kind of people they were before they started a family?
I think Zemekis did a brilliant job here and without this movie, I don’t think he would have been able to succeed later on with Gump and ultimately Cast Away.
The conflict didn’t need to be deeper; this isn’t a drama, it’s a sci-fi adventure movie and no one cares for complex characters or situations, we just wanna have fun and be entertained (which this movie delivers on superbly)
They decided to play around with the whole consequences of ur actions here and had things gradually change instead of it being instantaneous.
Regarding a worldly B.E., I’m not convinced that a movie like this needs to dive into this kinda territory they set the sci-fi rules dial low on this, but it still works because we get to see the changes in his immediate family by his actions.
Basically, I just powered on my suspension of disbelief switch, but still let this film convince me that this is the real science in their movie world.
The bonus question is actually quite easy I think: I’m a few years younger than they were at the time of the movie, (I’m 41, they were 47) and when I try to think back to how my memory depicts people from 30 years ago, I can understand how they can have holes in their memories.
They both wanted to believe that George saved Lorraine by himself, because he was the hero. Biff doesn’t care abt “Calvin” because he was bested by George and is afraid of him knocking him out again, so he has no reason to fill those gaps in his memory.
The only part that I could concede on that issue is if they had pictures from the Enchantment Under the Sea dance which shows how similar Calvin and Marty look, but basing it solely on memory just doesn’t make me disbelieve.
How old were you when you first saw it? Did u see it in the theater or just on video? Cause I can understand how both of those factors help me love this movie so much and still keep those memories of it fresh in my mind 30 years later.
No affair could have happened because Marty was long gone by 1967/8 when he was conceived and he does have two older siblings who look nothing like Calvin/Marty.
Pat – You make some fair points there for sure about the sci-fi adventure genre. I forget that the late 80’s were a time that embraced similar goofy films like Weird Science, My Science Project, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. When pondered through that context, it makes sense that BTTF rose to the top as the best and most memorable of its contemporaries.
You also make a good point about the revisionist history of it all. It’s probably easier to remember George being the sole hero because he received all the praise and it worked out for him in the end. Plus, Biff’s bad memory of bested by George would likely have been one he’d buried long ago since it wouldn’t be a good memory for him over time. So the psychology of it all works in that regard.
The first time I saw BTTF I was around 10 years old and I saw it in the theaters at this cinema that would show throwback films on the big screen. So that part was cool and distinctive so I actually remember my first time seeing it. I remember liking it when I did because it was easy and fun-loving. I guess just over time my tastes in film have changed so much that the dearth of depth to BTTF just doesn’t get it done for me. Further I suppose the fact that they released two sequels really bastardized the overall effect for me and cheapened what the original was really worth. Which leads me to my next question: why do you think they made the sequels? Was it shameless money grabbing? Or do you consider them as important as the first?
Also, what influence do you think BTTF had on the time travel genre as a whole? I know I discussed some contemporaries at the time above, but what about how it shaped the sub-genre going forward, potentially its influence on recent releases of the Hot Tub Time Machine Series?
Rob – First of all, I’m glad to I was able to properly answer your questions about the revisionist history and why it was such a great movie for its time.
In that regard, I’ve actually been thinking about it lately and the fact that up until then, most sci-fi time travel movies were of a more serious nature which helps soften the genre into also including fun comedic themes as oppose to serious romantic or dramatic themes that we prevalent in the years beforehand.
Which leads me to answering your second question:
Yes, BTTF was very helpful in influencing the genre on a whole in the fact that film makers could see what kind of reception a fantasy/sci-fi/drama/comedy could get. This movie was an instant hit and despite it not fitting the normal screenwriting playbook, people still loved it and kept going back to see it again and again.
I actually watched an interview yesterday about BTTF where it was stated that it goes completely against every rule of perfect screenwriting yet still managed to work and it is one of the few movies to ever manage this.
Unfortunately, I have trouble putting any of your examples in the same category as this movie, because they all truly are goofy 80’s films and none of them are as good as this one, but similarly to a movie like Star Wars which was able to begin a new kind of genre, it’s hard to compare other movies’ successes which followed in the genre because a groundbreaking movie phenomena is hard to reproduce if not almost impossible.
I like both sequels a lot because they did two things:
1) They continued the adventures of Marty and Doc while keeping the story interesting, fun and worthwhile.
2) They knew not to take themselves seriously enough and actually made fun of things in the first movie.
Were they made purely for money grabbing reasons…I think not.
I personally think that they had an idea to continue the story and when all was said and done, they came up with some much exposition that they had to make two movies instead of one.
Keep in mind tho, that this was the first time in history where they were able to show a preview for the next movie at the end of the film. LOTR did that afterwards and I’m having trouble thinking of which other movies might have borrowed from the concept.
The 6 month wait between Parts II and III was in some ways more agonizing than the year between each of the LOTR movies because it had never been done before. Yes after Empire, we all knew there would be a sequel, but we didn’t get to see footage to hype those expectations.
What kind of changes to this movie do you think should’ve been made in order for you to possibly like it more? Or is it just a lost cause?
Pat – I liked what you had to say about it being a cultural phenomena at the time, akin to Star Wars. That is something I certainly did not experience having seen it much after it’s original release and only recently re-watching it. Perhaps, that could fit somewhere mixed in my general chagrin for the franchise. I also agree that in the way they prompted the sequel at the end of the original, it gave a great deal of hype to the sequel. Then when, the sequel begins its the exact same scene, which is actually unintentionally funny if you’re watching them back to back. It’s one thing to give hints at a sequel, but its another to outright deliver one before even writing it.
The problems I have with BTTF, besides the obvious aesthetic impossibilities, are probably too tough for me to get past to conceivably consider the film an all timer. For example, I think it might actually be inadvertently racist at times. Consider how Marty gives Chuck Berry the idea for rock and roll. Basically the two black characters in the film have their biggest contributions to society suggested to them in an arrogant offhand comment by a cocky white kid. How’s that for political incorrectness?
Another sketchy instance is that George McFly employs Biff to be his attendant and do odd jobs. Let me preface this by saying, I know its supposed to mock how the peaked-in-high-school jocks with no brains end up with dead-end loser jobs. That part is great. Yet, fundamentally, George hires the guy who attempted to date rape his wife back in the day! What the almighty hell! I know it’s mature to bury the hatchet and move on, but come on man! That’s pretty messed up. If it were me, I’d be keeping my distance from that creep. Plus, the whole sexual assault scene really doesn’t age well. In 2015, where there are staunch campaigns protecting young women from instances like that, it is simply cringe-worthy that such a topic was even attempted to poke fun at.
What’s up with that Rob?
As far as changes, perhaps the most straightforward one is that I don’t like Michael J. Fox a whole lot. Something about him pisses me off and just doesn’t do it for me. Imagine a young Emilio Estevez in that role. Estevez would indubitably be less lighthearted than Fox, but he sure would’ve brought more edge to the film. Fox’s cockiness is child’s play compared to what Estevez would’ve dropped on us. Another change, which perhaps fuels the lampoon a great deal, is the Calvin Klein name. It’s always struck me as superbly stupid. A name based off an underwear joke? It’s so surface level. Zemeckis could have easily mined for a more clever name for Fox’s character. Anything would’ve been better in my opinion, but hey I’m probably just a hater. How’s that for changes mate?
Rob – Yea, I guess certain movies of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were cultural phenomena and it feels as if one needed to be there to get the full experience. Unfortunately, that kind of experience is lacking these days with the kind of movies that Hollywood has been churning out lately.
I actually was referring to the prompt at the end of Part II with a preview of part III. The last scene in Part I that gets repeated in part II was just a way to show the story will continue…but they had no real clue that they would be making a sequel. In an interview I saw recently with Bo Gale (co-writer), he said that had they done it deliberately, they wouldn’t have had Marty’s girlfriend be a part of that scene because they had nothing to do with her in the sequels and she was a completely wasted character in both (she was even compared to the dog Einstein numerous times…talk about a slap in the face of Elisabeth Shue!!! 🙂
I actually never thought about the whole black issue until you mentioned it now and yes, it might seem a bit racist, but I don’t think it was meant that way at all. . I think it was just a coincidence.
The George/Biff thing was just done for laughs, I don’t think they thought too deeply about whether George should employ Biff or not… it was just a way to show the whole turnaround for the McFly’s.
The sexual assault issue is also one that I think was less regarding as such back in the 80’s. I definitely hear where you’re coming from, but I think, it was all part of the setup and no one thought it thru too far…yes that scene would be very different today than it was 30 years ago.
It actually reminds me of how that scene in West Side Story (1961) where the Jetts assault Anita. In the movie and play, they just push her around, but if it was made years later, they would have turned it into a full gang assault or gang rape which would have been too strong a scene at the time.
I actually believe that MJF was the best choice for the role because he was able to pull off the comedy, the drama, the love scenes and the whineyness like no one else could. I’m sure that you’re aware that Eric Stoltz was originally cast in the role and was fired after 3 weeks of filming because he just couldn’t get everything the way that Zemekis wanted. Have you seen The Secret of my Success (1987), that’s also a role where MJF was able to hit the gamut of emotions and feeling just right like he did here.
Regarding the underwear joke, I think your trying to dig too deep in order to find a deeper meaning for this movie and it just isn’t there because it was just meant to be a fun comedy about what would happen if you met your parents and inadvertently broke them up.
Pat – You know I actually did see Secret of My Success and liked it very much. “Don’t cut back! We need to expand!” <<The simplest business solution of all time. That one was funny and I consider it to be a must watch for any modern day business man, along with The Hudsucker Proxy, Wolf of Wall Street, and Glengarry Glen Ross. Tangent aside, Marty McFly is a great comparison to Brantley Foster because they are in fact the same character, as if McFly – a teenager in BTTF- went on to graduate college and work in the mail room of a big corporation postgrad. Not entirely implausible. I like where your head’s at with that one.
I agree with what you have to say about the sexual assault scene as well. It had to be tame for that time period and for that audience. I mean, look at the kind of stuff they’ve done with scenes like that recently, especially Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. That was really violent and I can’t believe it even plays in this film age. I’d imagine it would’ve been 1000x more offensive had something like that been produced before everyone became so numb to watching high levels aggression in film like we are today.
Our long analysis has mended many fences- on my end- and cleared up some of the overall meaning of the film for that era. Consequently, I was wondering what films of today’s modern era (last 5 years) do you think have had similar or comparable cultural impacts that rival what BTTF did for your generation and perhaps have some staying power? Do you have any that weren’t books (i.e. Twilight, Harry Potter, LOTR, Hunger Games)?
Also, just curious here but what changes, if you would conceivably make some would you make to potentially better Back to the Future? Is there anything that might push the dial another notch for you?
Rob – Love the flow of ur thoughts connecting SoMS and BTTF (actually never thought that) 🙂
Glad I was able to mend some fences here…I still LOVE this film and our conversation hasn’t dampened that love one bit.
Cultural impacts – hmmm. For the oughts (2000-10) I might have to say The Dark Knight (2008) for sure would be on that list. It revitalized the whole superhero genre. The Departed (2006) also would be there because it also redefined the police action thriller in a whole new way.
For the 90’s, I’d say Toy Story (1995) (duh) because it unleashed PIXAR who has lots more hits than misses in the 21 years since and The Shawshank Redemption (1994) because it showed that it’s possible to make a movie about friendship that can surpass all bounds.
I think we should round up this particular conversation with your answers to that same question.
Regarding your final question, I feel that this movie was as close to perfection as possible and really nothing should be changed because it’s THAT good 🙂
Pat – You know, i think you’re dead on with the Dark Knight trilogy comparison. I racked my brain last night grasping for straws and didn’t even think towards one of my favorite trilogies or the Superhero genre at all. The way Batman Begins sucked us all back into the origin story, then Dark Knight & Rises brought us terror, honor, mayhem, relief, and pain was magnificent…and perhaps more like the 80’s experience of Back to the Future. A more lighthearted parallel for me was The Hangover Trilogy. The first one was a pretty groundbreaking comedy. It energized the boys’ trip comedy sub-genre and gave the people something original to view. It helped that it was hilarious and came out of nowhere. Then, like BTTF, kept the same basic idea for the following sequels, which were widely panned and/or misunderstood. All in all, you loved the first of both, watched the sequel, and probably shit-talked the third installment.
Anyways, it’s been great chatting Back to The Future with you, Rob. We are definitely going to have to do it again sometime. Until next time, peace.