Retro Review: ‘Back to the Future’

Editor’s notes: With Back to the Future, we are introducing a new monthly ‘review’ series dedicated to classics. The chosen movies will receive a team rating based on a point system that considers its overall quality and timeliness. This series will be published typically in the last week of every month. Enjoy!

When one thinks about time travel, what comes to mind are complex mathematical equations, time paradoxes, and tongue-twisting scientific expressions. While it isn’t hard to find a time travel movie that doesn’t take its time travel too seriously, it is rare to find enough examples of such that deliver on the fun. Back to the Future promises the usual fascinations and apprehensions of time travel movies with a lot of fun on the side. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and released in 1985, Back to the Future has become a classic and has inspired successful materials like Rick & Morty.

Marty and Doc. Brown running a series of tests. Via Universal Pictures.

The standout element in Back to the Future is its lightheartedness. The movie approaches complex issues like the grandfather paradox, love, ambition or a lack thereof, and circumvents them humorously. The science gadgets look like life-sized toys, the scientist looks like the stereotypical mad genius, and the protagonist is a kid struggling through his teenage years. Everything feels like a well-told time travel joke, but Back to the Future sets a fine balance from the opening scene. We see Doc. Brown (Christopher Lloyd) get murdered by terrorists very early in the movie just before Marty (Michael J. Fox) travels back in time and this occurrence hangs over the duration of the movie forebodingly. Matters reach a dramatic height when Marty’s mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), falls in love with him in the past. Moreover, there are real consequences if Marty fails to get his parents together and if he is unable to warn Doc. Brown about his impending death. There are stakes, but Back to the Future has a lot of fun while dealing with them. 

For a lighthearted movie with its acting heavily reliant on mannerisms, there are pretty good character depictions. Particular examples would be George Mcfly (Crispin Glover), who nails the awkwardness of a nerd impeccably and Doc. Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd, captures the eccentric genius hilariously. Doc. Brown and Marty are the obvious inspirations for the characters Rick and Morty. Marty darts around the movie at the heart of all the scenarios. He is very much the protagonist in control of the plot and also the aide to the zany machinations of Doc. Brown. The interplay and chemistry between both characters carry the movie from beginning to the end. 

Via Universal Pictures.

For a movie released in 1985, the technical achievements and CGI in Back to the Future are quite admirable. The opening scene is a visual fest of practical effects and visual storytelling. The pragmatic math that Doc. Brown utilizes to return Marty back to the future is a running example of the sci-fi practicality in the entire movie. To cap it all, the closing scene features a futuristic airborne vehicle. These effects were further improved upon in the subsequent additions to the trilogy. Back to the Future is a classic that sets the tone for future pop culture, and certain character bios can be traced back directly to this movie. But beyond its classic stance, it is a humble science nerd film with a loud touch of humour.

Rating: 9.5/10

Side Musings

  • The time related gags in this movie are ingenious. 
  • Crispin Glover might just have set the tone for how nerds are depicted in Hollywood teen movies. 

Back to the Future is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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