With help from his eccentric scientist-friend (Christopher Lloyd), a teenager (Michael J. Fox) accidentally travels back to the 1950s, where he meets his mom (Lea Thompson) and dad (Crispin Glover) before they’ve become a couple. Complications ensue when Thompson develops a crush on her own son, and Fox wonders how he will ever get his parents to fall in love — and thus save his own future existence.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Mad Doctors and Scientists
- Science Fiction
- Time Travel
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “oedipal comedy” (!) — “directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and produced by Steven Spielberg” — is a “sweet and highly imaginative” “crowd pleaser”. He notes that it “manages to avoid vulgarity”, instead providing “much healthy humor that would have been appreciated back in the innocent fifties” — primarily having to do with “the cultural gap between the fifties and the eighties”. Peary highlights the “excellent” acting, but complains that “only Fox and Thompson play real people”, arguing that “the rest are caricatures, mere pawns for the filmmaker’ gags.” He also shares his unease about the ending, noting that “instead of returning to the future, I’d prefer sticking around in the much more lively, inviting past to watch the revolution in television, rock ‘n’ roll, etc., and see how Thompson and Glover progress.” Further, he’s “a little uneasy seeing the present so altered by Marty’s trip to the past”.
Peary’s review is an interesting one to read so many years later, after two sequels have been released (the trilogy is now firmly entrenched as a cult favorite) and we’re living in yet another era that would feel somewhat foreign to inhabitants of just a few decades ago. As a time travel flick, Back to the Future holds up really well, despite Peary’s concerns: as many questions as we may have about the ethics and viability of changing our current reality by retroactively impacting the past, it’s easy enough to accept the film on its own narrative terms and simply enjoy the ride. I don’t quite agree with Peary that Glover is merely “the definitive nerd”; in fact, he’s quite convincing and sympathetic as a smart, talented, geeky young sci-fi fan who simply wants to be left alone. And while Lloyd does make “all previous wild-eyed, wild-haired wacko scientists look second-rate”, his over-the-top enthusiasm actually serves as a critical reminder that he’s co-existing in multiple time-spaces and has a different take on the entire situation.
Note: I was pleasantly surprised to find and enjoy About Time (2013), a more recent time travel flick that handles its logistics and narrative threads with equal aplomb. It’s well worth a look as well.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly
- Crispin Glover as George McFly
- Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown
- Authentic, colorful sets
- Many memorable scenes
Yes, as a cult favorite and modern classic.
- Cult Movie
- Genuine Classic
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)