Spoilers occur throughout…Marty McFly has big dreams but lacks any of the confidence to reach for them. His high school principal is convinced every generation of the McFly family are losers. And it is not hard to see why Marty may struggle with that. His parents are meek. His father is pushed around by his boss Biff. Biff has George McFly writing up his reports as well as supplying him with his car. His mother is uncomfortable with the notion of a girl calling a boy. His sister and brother are unemployed layabouts. And his uncle pretty much lives in prison, failing to get parole at the beginning of the film.
Marty’s only bright spot is his girlfriend Jennifer. She is confident Marty should be successful, especially as a musician. One evening, Marty is asked by his friend, eclectic inventor Doc Brown, to help him with a top secret project. The project turns out to be a Delorean car that Doc converted to… A TIME MACHINE. After an attack from rogue Libyans (it makes sense, trust me) forces Marty to jump into the Delorean and race off, triggering the time travel. Marty finds himself in 1955. Marty runs into his father, who turns out to be just as as weak willed as his grown up self.
But it is when he saves his father from being hit by a car that everything goes wrong. He discovers the act prevents his father and mother from starting their relationship, instead, young Loraine falls for Marty. Marty Tracks down Doc Brown for help and they set out to fix Marty’s parental relationship (discovering that he and his siblings will be erased from the timeline if his parents fail to fall in love).
As bizarre and outlandish as the plot may seem (and even creepy, what with the subplot that Marty’s mom has a crush on him), everything fits together nicely. The film establishes all the town’s important monuments in about two minutes. Each character is quickly defined in brief dialog. And the film presents the science of time travel in ways that seem complex, but easy to suspend disbelief for. Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale also have a simple gimmick for communicating to the audience the severity of the situation. Marty has a photograph of he and his siblings, each of whom fade from the photograph through the course of the movie.
Back to the Future was Michael J. Foxes first big starring feature film role. A role that almost never happened, the film began shooting with Eric Stoltz, but after awhile, it was felt he was just not right in the role. Up until this point Fox had been a rising television star. But Back to the Future pushed him into the next level.
Crispin Glover brings a likable and sweet nerdiness to the role of George McFly. This is important, both for George and Marty. While Marty is a “cooler” kid, a lot of his insecurities are mirrored in his father. When George makes his third act turnaround, Glover does so with a great performance. Lea Thompson is sweet, with a hint of rebellion, as Marty’s mom. A lot of the fun for her character is the juxtaposition of the woman she is in the future and the teen she was.
As Doc Brown, Christopher Lloyd brings his signature manic style, making for an entertaining performance Thomas F. Wilson will probably be forever tied to Biff Tannen, but he is extremely memorable in the role.
While the old age makeup for all the actors certainly looks like “Old People” makeup, it is not so distracting as to damage the enjoyment of the film. A lot of the effects still hold up for the film.
The tone of the film is light, with plenty of humor. And the jokes, for the most part, have withstood the test of time. There is one gag that has not held up so well, because, looking back, it is an image issue. The gag on it’s face is not remotely malicious, and the filmmakers probably never once had it occur to them that they were basically attributing a form of music created by black musicians to a white kid from the future.
Decades later, Back to the Future is every bit as entertaining as it was in 1985.