Rewind Reviews – Back to the Future – The adventure begins

Posted on 26 October 2020
By Andrew Siddall
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Science Fiction storytelling covers a vast array of ideas and concepts, from spaceships and alien invasions to dystopian futures and advanced technology, but one that is used time and again is time travel. In this Rewind Review we take a look at a truly iconic movie from 1985, Back to the Future!

Written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, Back to the Future follows teenager Marty McFly as he travels back to 1955 and accidentally prevents his parents from meeting. With his existence now on the line, Marty must work with scientist Dr. Emmett Brown to bring his parents together and return back to his time.

Marty is played by 80’s icon Michael J. Fox in the first of the three films. Michael J. Fox is perfectly cast as the 17-year-old, making him feel real and showing him react very believably to his situation. It’s hard to think of anyone else playing Marty, as Michael does such an incredible job.

Likewise, the ‘Doc’ is played by Christopher Lloyd. His wide-eyed, fast-talking approach is brilliant for the aging scientist, but he also does an equally impressive job of playing the younger version of himself. Like Marty, they definitely picked the best person for the role and Lloyd is clearly having a ball as the “Doc”.

Marty’s mother Lorraine Baines is played by Lea Thompson (Red Dawn), who does some fantastic work as both versions of the character. Lorraine is who most of the plot hinges on as her (uncomfortable) interactions with Marty in the past set the 50’s events in motion. Thompson is brilliant and she is one of the few actors to appear in all three films with important roles.

Making his one and only appearance as Marty’s father George McFly is Crispin Glover (American Gods). Like Lea Thompson, he is great at playing the character at both stages of his life. He’s probably the person who changes the most over the course of the film, and it’s great to see his relationship with Marty develop too. It would have been nice to see him come back for the sequel, but then again, we might not have got the same movie.

With the family being a central part of the film, we are also introduced to Marty’s brother Dave played by Marc McClure (Superman: The Movie) and sister Linda played by the late Wendie Jo Sperber (Grease), as well as Jennifer (Claudia Wells), Marty’s girlfriend. They help flesh out the world and add some extra backstory. They’re not in the film for too long, but they’re acted well and they do have a significant role in the plot.

Every movie needs a villain, and Back to the Future has a great one in Biff Tannen, played by a brilliant Thomas F. Wilson (Legends of Tomorrow). He is mostly portrayed as a school bully in the first film, but he does become more threatening as the film and trilogy progresses. Wilson is great in the role and definitely the best choice.

Everyone else is also on top form, including James Tolkan as Mr. Strickland and Billy Zane as a member of Biff’s entourage.

The story for Part I is a simple tale of not messing around with time, but it incorporates so much more in its short runtime. The story is tight and focused, with no scene unnecessarily added. The pacing is just right, zipping along nicely with excellent energy, and has a brilliantly executed countdown that adds some tension and stakes.

Time is a key theme, obviously, but the movie chooses to focus on family and choice, which gives us a very human and relatable story that threads throughout the entire trilogy.

The bulk of the story takes place in 1955. It’s not as drastic a change of setting from 1985 as the old west, but it’s enough of a change to contrast with where Marty comes from. The world is brilliantly captured with little details accurate for the time. It was a great choice to have the trilogy set in the one town (Hill Valley) throughout the series so that we get to see how different each time zone is.

We do get an idea of the attitudes and mentalities of the 50’s as well. It’s not focused on too much to keep everything entertaining and family friendly, but it is there to lend some more accuracy to the time period.

In terms of the time travel, this is one of the better interpretations, by using a DeLorean travelling at 88mph to travel through time. The consequences of this are also well established and form the backbone of the plot.

It does raise some questions about how things work, and the movie tries its best to answer them in a fun way, and for the most part it works. Other films, such as Avengers: Endgame (2019) are closer in theoretical physics than this, but it’s easy to understand and adds tense stakes to the film.

But it isn’t all science and tension. This is loaded with some fantastic humour that makes this a blast to watch. It is really funny at times, with none of it ever feeling forced or silly. It also makes the characters feel more grounded with most of the comedy coming from them and their reactions.

For a movie that came out in 1985, the effects really hold up. They’re used sparingly, with most of the effects only happening around the DeLorean sequences. That being said, some of the green screen effects don’t look great and do stand out a bit, such as Marty’s fading hand.

With the story spanning multiple timelines, we get to see multiple characters at different stages in their lives. The make-up effects are great and really sell the distance in time. It’s consistently good throughout the trilogy. Without it, it would be hard to buy into.

Accompanying the movie is an iconic soundtrack from Alan Silvestri (Predator). It’s instantly recognisable and adds a mysterious and fantastical layer to the film. Music is incredibly important to Marty, so it needs to be included in an interesting way. It sounds great and fits the movie really well, alongside the songs from Huey Lewis & the News and Van Halen, as well as Marty’s own version of ‘Johnny B. Goode’.

Back to the Future has had a huge impact on film and science fiction over the past 35 years and went on to spawn two sequels (Part II in 1989 and Part III in 1990), a great videogame (2010), a musical adaptation (2020), and even gets some great shout outs in Ready Player One (2018).

Overall, this is a flawless film. The characters are great and performed by perfect actors, the story is tight and fun, the effects are great and the music is iconic. This might not be everyone’s favourite part of the trilogy, but it is certainly the best. This is a must-see!

Rewind Rating: 5/5. “Great Scott!”