Movie Review: Back to the Future (1985)

Grab your orange vests, start up the DeLorean, and accelerate to 88 MPH, ’cause it’s time to review Back to the Future!


Oh…Back to the Future…almost universally agreed to be a classic and loved by all. What can I say that hasn’t been said literally hundreds of times before? Nothing. But I’ll say it all again anyways. Because I’m an idiot for picking this film to review first. Sue me. (Please don’t. Please.)

For the uninitiated, Back to the Future a 1985 science-fiction action/adventure comedy directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, produced by Steven Spielberg, and starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. It grossed $381 million worldwide on a $19 million budget. It was received well by critics and currently holds a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Now that we’ve gotten past that, let’s get on to the interesting stuff. If you think that was the interesting stuff, than I have one thing to say to you:

Now, our film opens with a rather clever opening sequence, establishing the movie’s theme of time, with an interesting experiment of Doc Brown’s. We see our protagonist enter, not showing  his face until after he overloads a gigantic amplifier with a chord on his 80’s miniature electric guitar. He is blown away (literally) by the results, and can only remove his (of course) mirrored shades and utter, “Whoa…”

No, not this whoa, we'll get to that at a later date.
No, not this whoa, we’ll get to that at a later date.

This, of course, is Marty McFly, brought excellently to the screen by Michael J. Fox. Interestingly, Fox was a last minute recast, as he was the crew’s first choice but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, but the guy that was chosen to replace him, Eric Stoltz, was not working with the part. Marty gets an unusual call from Doctor Emmet Brown (Christopher Lloyd), a good friend of his, asking him to meet him at 1:15 A.M. the next day in the Twin Pines Mall (pay attention to that name) parking lot. All of a sudden, all of the clocks in Doc’s lab start to ring, announcing that it’s 8:00. Unfortunately for Marty, this was an experiment of Doc’s to set all the clocks synchronized to “exactly 25 minutes slow!” As you all know (at least for Americans, school starts at around 8:15, meaning Marty is late for school! He runs outside, and begins skateboarding to his destination. Of course, “The Power of Love” starts to play.

This song is so, so 80’s, in the best possible way. Anyways, Marty arrives late to school, where he gets his girlfriend, Jennifer, in trouble as well. He gets told by his principal, Mr. Strickland, that he’s “a slacker” and that “No McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley!” Wow. Real stand-up guy. Still a better educator than J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. We cut to after school, where Marty and his band, the Pinheads, audition for the Battle of the Bands playing a hard rock cover of The Power of Love. One of the judges, ironically played by the song’s original artist, Huey Lewis, tells Marty that they’re out because they’re just “too darn loud.”

We see Marty’s home life next, as he enters into his house where his father (George) is arguing with his supervisor, Biff, who crashed his car. George asks if Biff’s insurance will pay for the totaled wreck. Biff responds that it’s his car, and who’s gonna pay for Biff’s dry cleaning, because he spilled beer on his suit. Wow. Drinkin’ and drivin’. He then proceeds to bully George into doing his reports for him. And how exactly did an idiot like Biff whose best insult is “butthead” get to be George’s supervisor in the first place?

Anyways, this has ruined Marty’s plans of going up to the lake house with Jennifer, and he is clearly displeased. We meet the rest of Marty’s family, and learn that his brother works at a Burger King, his sister has no love life, his uncle Jailbird Joey is regularly in jail (wow, I couldn’t have figured that out), and his mother is alcoholic. Depressing. We learn how Marty’s parents met, when his mother’s father hit his father with a car. It is also clear that there is no love between Marty’s mother and father. We see that an episode of The Honeymooners is on, specifically, “The Man From Space,” on a rerun. We also learn that George McFly has a weird laugh…

Anyways, Marty is woken up at 12:28 P.M by a phone call from Doc Brown, reminding him about the appointment at Twin Pines Mall. He skateboards there, to find a truck emblazoned with Dr. E. Brown Enterprises. From out this truck exits the most iconic vehicle ever committed to celluloid: the DeLorean Time Machine:

It's so beautiful...
It’s so beautiful…

From this beauty emerges Dr. Emmet Brown, Christopher Lloyd giving an iconic performance. He has Marty film him putting Einstein, his dog, into the DeLorean, noting that his and Einstein’s watches are synchronized. He takes out a comically large remote control and accelerates the car to 88 MPH, at which point it promptly disintegrates, or so we think. Doc explains to Marty that he invented a time machine, and that he sent Einstein one minute into the future. When Marty asks him why a DeLorean, he responds, “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” Makes sense to me. When Einstein reappears, they leap out of the way of the DeLorean, which was obviously still going 88 MPH. Makes you wonder why they were still standing there. Anyway, Doc begins to explain how it works, and how you program in the date and time for your destination. He begins to enter in some dates, such as the birth of Christ. (Which he enters in as 10/25/0. You’d think a genius like Doc Brown would know that Christ’s birth happened around 5 A.D. And that we don’t actually know the date.) He then enters in November 5, 1955, which he describes as a “landmark date in science.” It was the day when he slipped off a stool and hit his head, the day when he came up with the idea for the flux capacitor, which makes time travel possible. He tells Marty that he took some plutonium to power the time machine from some Libyan nationalists, promising to build them a nuke. Instead, he built them a bomb filled with used pinball machine parts. He tells Marty that he plans to go 25 years into the future, but then realizes that he forgot to pack extra plutonium for the journey back. Suddenly, he exclaims, “They found me. I don’t know how, but they found me.”

Gee…I wonder how they found you?

Doc Brown is shot and killed by the Libyans, and Marty gets into the DeLorean trying to get away, but inadvertently triggers the time machine, traveling back to the last date entered in: November 5, 1955.

So Marty arrives, crashing into a  barn. A 1950’s family finds him there and mistakes his DeLorean for a U.F.O. and Marty in his radiation suit for an alien, due to a comic that the family’s son was reading, in which the U.F.O. and alien share an uncanny resemblance to the DeLorean and Marty. Interestingly, due to this scene, Universal Studios president Sid Sheinberg had an insane idea to title the movie “Spaceman from Pluto,” because he believed that nobody would go to  a movie with the word “future” in the title…wow. That’s crazy. Robert Zemeckis only managed to stop this by asking Spielberg to do something about it. Spielberg thanked Sheinberg (lots of S-bergs around here…) for his “joke memo” and that everybody got a kick out of it. After that, Sheinberg dropped the idea. Anyways, Marty removes his radiation suit mask, only for the kid to say that he has mutated into human form. Wow. Were people in the 50’s really this gullible? Anyways, Marty escapes in the DeLorean, crashing through one of the pine trees. He is confused, and decides that all of this must be a dream, until he comes across the unbuilt Lyon Estates. He tries to get a ride from an old couple, but they think he’s an alien, too. Marty hides the DeLorean and walks to Hill Valley. We then hear the song “Mr. Sandman.” I just love this song, and the entire 50’s atmosphere of this section of the movie.

Marty walks into a diner, where he is asked what’s with his “life preserver.” He sees his father, who will be referred to as George for the remainder of this review, being bullied by Biff very similarly to the earlier scene. Biff tells George that he needs to do Biff’s homework, and give Biff enough time to copy it down, so that it’s not in George’s handwriting. He also calls George an Irish bug. There also seems to be a thug in the background obsessed with 3D glasses.

He looks up Doc Brown’s address, and tears it out of the phone book. Marty sees the future mayor, Goldie Wilson, working as a diner employee. He tells him that he’s going to be the mayor, and he really seems to like this idea. George exits, riding a bike, and Marty follows. He sees that George is being a “peeping tom” and spying on Lorraine, Marty’s mother. He falls from the tree, and nearly gets hit by Lorraine’s father driving a car, but Marty saves him. It seems like Marty has already forgotten the story of how his parents met. Because of this, Marty is hit instead, prompting Lorraine’s father to exclaim, “Stella! Another one of these damn kids jumped in front of my car!” Okay, one question: How often does this happen?

So, Marty wakes up, believing this all to be a dream, even hearing his mother’s voice. Everything is dark, and he tells her that he had a horrible dream that he went back in time, to which she responds, “Well, you’re safe and sound now, back in good ol’ 1955,” prompting Marty to exclaim, “1955!” He soon realizes he’s not wearing pants, and that Lorraine is calling him Calvin Klein, because it’s written on his underwear. He asks where his pants are, and she tells him that they’re on her hope chest. Marty dresses, and they go downstairs, where we see the rest of the Baines family, including the future Jailbird Joey, who just loves his playpen so much, he cries whenever they take him out of it. We see that the same episode of the Honeymooners is on, on the Baines’s new television prompting Marty to say that he knows this one, and Lorraine’s brother to ask how that’s possible, as it’s brand new. Marty says he saw it on a rerun, and tells him he’ll find out what that is later. Marty asks Sam Baines where he could find the address he tore out. Sam tells him, and Marty responds, “that’s John F. Kennedy Drive,” prompting Sam to ask, “Who the hell is John F. Kennedy?” Love that line.

Anyways, Marty leaves abruptly, when Lorraine starts stroking his leg underneath the table. He runs to Doc’s house, and when he gets there, Doc has him participate in a mind-reading experiment, using this:

Obviously, it doesn’t work, and Doc doesn’t believe Marty when he tells him that he’s from the future, until Marty tells him the story that Doc had told him earlier about what had in fact happened earlier that day, the day in 1955, when Doc slipped and hit his head, and that that’s how he had gotten the bruise on his forehead. After this, he shows Doc the time machine, which they bring back to Doc’s house. Doc is overjoyed that he actually builds something that works. They sneak it back to the lab, and then Marty shows Doc the footage off the camera. And how, exactly, does one hook up a 1985 camera to a 1955 black and white television? It’s a good thing they don’t show us, because you can’t. Anyways, Doc finds out how much electricity the time machine needs, resulting in this excellent line:

They decide that they will need to use the bolt of lightning that will strike the clock tower, and Doc finds out that Marty has altered the past, resulting in the photograph of Marty and his siblings slowly changing. There’s one problem though. How does this even make sense?

noheadAs we see, apparently this has created a timeline in which Dave, Marty’s brother, was born with no head. There’s only one answer to how this makes sense: It doesn’t. It’s a plot device, a video game progress bar, the moon falling in Majora’s Mask. It doesn’t really matter.



So, Marty and Doc go to the high school, where a kick-me sign has been taped on to George’s back. Doc asks Marty if it’s
possible that he was adopted. They find out that Marty’s mother has “the hots” for Marty. Eww. They realize that they need to get George and Lorraine alone together, and Doc notes that there’s a “rhythmic ceremonial ritual coming up.” When was Doc born again? Anyways, they plan on getting George to ask Lorraine to the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. Marty first tries to get George to ask Lorraine in the cafeteria, but George says that he doesn’t think that she’s interested in him. Marty has to come up with a plan! What does he think of? What will he do? Well, obviously, he dresses up in his radiation suit, sneaks into George’s house in the middle of the night, announces himself as “Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan,” and threatens to melt George’s brain with his Walkman if he refuses. That makes perfect sense!

George attempts to ask Lorraine out to the dance, telling her that he is her destiny, but mispronouncing it “density.” Biff shoves him aside, causing Marty to start a fight with him, ending in a chase through the town involving Biff and his thugs in their car vs. Marty on a skateboard improvised from a wooden scooter. This chase ends with Biff crashing into a truck full of manure, and responding with the appropriate curse word for “excrement.”

It’s too late now for George to get a date with Lorraine, so he instead decides to take Lorraine to the dance himself, try to “take advantage” of her (all part of the act, of course), and then have George arrive as the conquering hero.

It’s the night of the dance, everything is going according to plan, until Marty realizes that Lorraine is not the squeaky-clean girl she will claim to have been in 1955. This rips the entire plan apart at the seams, and she kisses him, but stops and says that it’s like “kissing [her] brother.” The car door is opened, not by George, but by Biff. He’s angry about the damage to his car, and he has his thugs take Marty away, and plans on, well…”taking advantage” of Lorraine. The thugs lock Marty in the trunk of the band that’s playing the dance, Marvin Berry and the Starlighters. George opens the car door expecting to see Marty, but instead sees Biff, who tells him to walk away. George finally stands up for himself and knocks out Biff. Marty arrives in time to see the aftermath of this, having been broken out of the trunk by Marvin, who injured his hand, and can’t play. Marty substitutes in on guitar, and starts to disappear when some idiot cuts in on George, and starts dancing with Lorraine. Just look at these effects!

Obviously, this isn’t actually a problem, as George pushes away the idiot anyways, with no interference by Marty, making you wonder why he was in danger in the first place. Lorraine and George kiss, and the photo is restored to normality. Marty picks the next song, describing it as “an oldie, but…well, it’s an oldie where I come from.” He starts to play Johnny B. Goode, but goes overboard on the guitar solo, freaking everybody out. He remarks that they aren’t ready for that, but that their “kids are gonna love it.”

Marty says farewell to his young parents, and George thanks him for all the advice. Lorraine says that Marty is a good name. Hmmm…well, then! Why’d you name your first son Dave? Seriously, that’s unusual.

Marty’s late to the clock tower, because he had to change out of “that zoot suit.” He tells Doc goodbye, and Doc finds the letter telling him about his death that Marty had hidden, tearing it up. The cable disconnects from the clock tower, forcing Doc to go and reconnect it. He also has to zipline down the cable to connect it to the streetlight. How old is Doc supposed to be at this point, again?

Anyways, Marty revs up the DeLorean (after several failed start-up attempts) and drives it into the cable at 88 MPH. He goes back 10 minutes early (this time to the Lone Pine Mall, because he destroyed a pine tree in the 50’s), but still doesn’t arrive in time to save Doc…or so he thinks. It appears that Doc had taped the letter back together, learned his fate, and used a bulletproof vest to save himself from the Libyans. Looks like everything’s a happy ending! Doc decides to go 30 years into the future, and says goodbye to Marty, and that he’ll see him soon. When Marty wakes up, he finds that the entire timeline has changed, his parents are healthier, Dave now works at an office, George is a published author, and Biff now works for George! After what happened in 1955? Okay, then.

Marty finds out that he now owns the truck he was admiring in the beginning of the film, and that his plans to take Jennifer to the lake house are now intact. Suddenly, Doc Brown arrives, with a really, really freaky outfit, including silver shades he can’t possibly see out of, and a transparent plastic tie. Apparently, we’re supposed to start dressing like this this October:


Doc tells Marty that something has to be done about his and Jennifer’s kids in the future. He fuels up the time machine with a Mr. Fusion, using a ton of garbage to fill it up. Marty expresses a concern about not having enough road, causing this line:

So, that’s the end of the film. It was not intended originally to be a sequel tease, but rather to show the endless possibilities of a time machine, with the “To Be Continued” being added to home video after the sequel was made.

And that’s Back to the Future! One of my favorite films of all time, but not a film without flaws. The time travel logic is weak at times, and there are some actual shake your head moments, especially involving the likelihood of Biff becoming George’s supervisor at any job, in any timeline. Overall, though, this film is called a classic, and I heartily agree. I give this film an A+.

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So, that’s that! I already have a film picked for next week, as I will always have, but feel free to leave your suggestions for the week after next in the comments below! Next week, join me back here for the 2008 Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly comedy, Step Brothers.

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