by MP Bartley
Lately, I've began to realise that slowly but surely, I'm turning into my father. I like the films he does, we watch the same television porgrammes, we have much the same views on things from sports to politics and my hairline's starting to recede like his. Hell, I even slouch in a chair in the same way that he does. It's a feeling that most sons will probably have at least once in their life, but for Marty McFly that feeling becomes much more close to reality as he becomes very close to actually taking the place of his father.Marty (Michael J Fox) is your typical 1980's American teenager. He sings in a band, has a cute girlfriend and has dreams of escaping Twin Pines, the small town where he lives. But, like all teenagers, his life also has his disappointments. His mother, Lorraine, is a frumpy, over-bearing nag (Lea Thompson), while his father George (Crispin Glover), is a spineless lackey in servitude to Biff Tannen (Thomas Wilson), who bullied George during high school and is doing the same in adulthood. Marty's only glimpse of excitement is with his crazy old friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), who has managed to build a time machine. Out of a DeLorean. Could it be any more 80's?
"The Greatest Time-travelling Incest Comedy Ever!"
But Doc Brown's invention has managed to anger some Libyan terrorists and in a tragic accident, Marty is transported back to 1956 - but without a power source to get back. To make it worse, he quickly starts a feud with the high school version of Biff. And to make it even worse, he accidentally disrupts his parents first fateful meeting, meaning he takes his father's place in history. So not only has Marty got to get back to the future (hey!), but he's got to make sure his mother and father meet and fall in love, or else he quite simply won't exist. A situation made worse by the fact that after meeting Marty, his mother, has, well...feelings for him. Shudder...
It's a story that any casual fan of film will be well aware of, but it's worth recounting because it serves to point out the first thing that makes 'Back to the Future' such a joy. It's a peerless screenplay, polished and structured to perfection. The above plot outline may take two paragraphs to write, but it's played out over 50 minutes before we're fully informed at just how messy Marty's situation is. Writer/ director Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale display here a superb sense of how to lay out a plot and integrate the twist and turns along the way. The plot isn't crammed into the first twenty minutes, and neither is it a bore to get through to the core of the problem. It's a film where the narrative flows wonderfully, full of incident and character, but never over-bearing, meaning that what is actually quite a complex film is also clear and focused throughout.
This results in a final 25 minutes that is one of the most enjoyable climaxes that any film has ever conjured up. The several plot-lines that Zemeckis and Gale have layered throughout, all beautifully come to a head, with, respectively, one of the best knock-out punches ever, the most romantic kiss ever seen, the funniest rock and roll performance put to screen, a terrific action climax on top of a clock tower that recalls Harold Lloyd at his best, and then to top it all off, a wonderful final cuddle from the script that shows 'Back to the Future' is second only to 'It's A Wonderful Life' in terms of showing just how much worth one mans life is.
That's 5 climaxes for the price of one, yet it never over-eggs the film, but instead dovetail into each other perfectly. Take that, Peter Jackson. Further proof of how great the script is, is in the tone that it takes. The storyline of Lorraine having a huge crush on Marty could have been hugely...icky to say the least, but here it's the ground-work for some of the films best jokes. And 'Back to the Future' is a film that is hilarious throughout. Marty's bewilderment at being sent back to the 1950's and meeting his parents and the earlier Doc Brown could have resulted in some clunkingly obvious jokes, but is instead played with marvellous subtlety and skill, such as the revelation of who's President in the 1980's to his first family dinner with the grandparents. It's just a vastly entertaining romp from the first minute to the last.
The cast also rise to meet the high standards that the script makes. Fox does the hugely difficult task of making a good-looking, cocky teenager also instantly likeable. Marty is someone who you like and would want to hang out with in real life, which is a rare thing in a film indeed. Lloyd also gets great mileage out of Doc Brown, a character that could fall into cliche or over-acting, but actually becomes one of the highlights of the film. Thompson is massively appealing as Lorraine, pulling off the tricky task of portraying both a teenager and a middle-aged mother in the same film. But praise should also go to two of the film's most over-looked, but best performances. Wilson is terrific as Biff, one of film's best school bullys, who really makes you itch for his come-uppance. And Glover is the real emotional heart fo the film. As a weak-willed, crushed older man and the shy, lily-livered teenager he could have become an easy joke, a wimp that deserves the beatings that life deals out to him. But Glover makes much more of the part than that, becoming someone who you empathise with instantly and root for throughout. It's the fine work of Fox, Wilson, Thompson and Glover in particular, that give 'Back to the Future' the emotional thump at the end that makes it so memorable.
Essentially, 'Back to the Future' is that rare thing: a perfect film. There's not one second of it that needs altering, not one moment that isn't the slightest bit entertaining. It aims for several targets of action, humour and emotion and hits them all out of the park.The Best Picture winners of the 1980's were: 'Ordinary People', 'Chariots of Fire', 'Gandhi', 'Amadeus', 'Out of Africa', 'Terms of Endearment', 'Platoon', 'The Last Emperor', 'Rain Man' and 'Driving Miss Daisy'. Not one of them can match up to the sheer verve and joy of 'Back to the Future'. Hell, very few films can. And who can't love a film with the line "Last night, Darth Vader came down from the planet Vulcan and said if I didn't ask Lorraine to the dance he'd melt my brain"?
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originally posted: 11/01/05 02:10:47