Here on Fishing in the Discount Bin, I kinda hate tackling my absolute favourite movies, because I never know what to say. But, I keep watching them, and I keep trying. I'm embarking on the Back to the Future trilogy, and I'm starting at the beginning with Back to the Future. This is in my notes at July 4, 2015.
What can I say about Back to the Future that hasn't already been said? Much like when I covered Star Wars and Ghostbusters for this column of mine, it's one of those films that's the background noise of my childhood. It's always there. Much has been said of it's greatness. Hell, film schools even use it as a textbook case in how to set up gags and have them pay off later on. Co-writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale have said that simply came about from working backwards. If we're going to have our hero take part in this big skateboard chase in the middle of them film, of course we need a scene at the beginning showing he can ride a skateboard.
I've already covered Back to the Future in this column. Back when I got the trilogy on Blu-Ray, I watched them all, and just kind of offered up my general thoughts on the trilogy. I said I'd go back some day and examine each film individually. And since yesterday, July 3 2015, was the official 30th anniversary of the film, it seemed like a good time to at least watch the first one.
When it comes to the stories of the making of films, I know the story of the making of Back to the Future better than any other. Probably because, when I was in Japan, a friend loaned me a copy of Empire Magazine recounting the story, and since it was one of the few reading materials I had in English, I read it over and over and over again. I do like the story of how co-writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale came up with the story.
They met in film school. They had a love of sci-fi and wanted to do a time travel movie. But they couldn't figure out what their time travel movie should be about. Then, one day, Gale was back home, helping his parents clean out the house. He stumbled upon his dad's old high school yearbook, and leafing through it, discovered his dad was the students union president back in the day. "My high school was so big, I never knew the students union president," thought Gale. "I wonder...if my father and I were the same age, would we be friends?" Gale was reflecting upon the strange feeling this question brought up, and recounted the tale to Zemeckis. "I think I understand," said Zemeckis. "It's like your mother saying she never kissed a guy until she met your father, and then finding out she was the school slut!"
Anyway, that gave them their hook: a teenager from the present day goes back in time and meets his parents when they were his age.
I'm not exactly sure when I fell in love with it. I never saw it in the theatre. My brother did, as part of a class trip. When he came home, he was very excited about the film, and couldn't stop telling me about all the cool stuff that happened. "And then, he jumps off his skateboard, runs on top of the car, and the bad guys run into a truck full of horse poop!" Finally saw it on video. I think my fandom became hardcore when Christmas of 1989 rolled around and I got swept up in the hype for Part II.
I had the soundtrack. Loved the soundtrack. Many a morning began with me doing my paper route, listening to that soundtrack on my Walkman. The Power of Love was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song. According to history, radio announcers were forced to call it The Power of Love: The Theme from Back to the Future so the movie studio could get a little more free advertising for the film. Back when I was at a station that actually played The Power of Love, I'd fill the intro with as many jokes and references to the film as I could.
And as awesome as that song is, we can't overlook Alan Silvestri's amazing score. Musically, that film is perfect.
It still makes me laugh after all these years. The final scene at the dance, where Marty interrupts Johnny B. Goode with a typical, 1980s hair metal guitar solo, to the horrified looks of the band and the crowd gets me every time. Or Marty's simple shock at being in the past, and discovering his dad was a nerd and his mother wasn't always so uptight. Zemeckis recently said that what makes the film work so well is Michael J. Fox's performance, and I'm inclined to agree.
It is almost like there's two films at play: the teen comedy of Marty interacting with his parents, and the sci-fi film of Marty and Doc and the ramifications of time travel. Christopher Lloyd is also great as Doc Brown. And the way everything comes together for that climax, with the DeLorean charging down the street, a literal ticking clock, Doc frantically working to fix everything, Silvestri's building score...movie making at its finest.
And I always love that ending. Where Marty discovers he inspired his parents to be better people. His girlfriend returns to him, and then Doc shows up to take them on further time travel adventures. Again, the Silvestri music swells, the audience gets the stand-up-and-cheer moment of the DeLorean taking flight. It's so good.
Back to the Future is perfection. Sheer perfection.