1985. There were a lot of good movies that came out that year. Stallone was back in two of them, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV. Oprah had her acting debut in The Color Purple. And the world was learning that Goonies never say “die”.
It was the year that I turned 8 years old. I was in the third grade and I had developed a fascination with reading. I read every book that I could get my hands on. My town’s public library had become one of my favorite places, followed closely by my school library. And not only had I discovered a love of reading, I had discovered a love of science fiction.
One of my favorite books of that time was a “choose your own adventure” story. You would read the first couple of pages of the book and then it would give you a choice to make. The page that you read next would depend on what your choice was. It was great because you could go back over and over and make different decisions and have a whole new story. This particular story had to do with time travel. I thought that the concept of traveling to the past or to the distant future was intriguing. I used to run around in the woods behind my house and pretend that I had been transported to a prehistoric time when dinosaurs still lurked around every corner.
It should be no surprise to anyone that knows me that the movie from 1985 that has affected me the most was Back To The Future.
It was a classic and unexplainable trope in some of the old goofy sci fi stories that a teenage boy would be friends with some crazy old inventor who was usually called “Doctor” or “Professor”. It was a way to have a story for kids about someone their age having an adventure with technology that they couldn’t have created on their own. The Professor made the shrink ray or the clone maker. In this case, the Doc made the time machine.
Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, is friends with Doc Brown who created a time machine out of a DeLorean. The Doc’s machine runs off of plutonium which he stole from some Libyan terrorists and they track him down as he’s showing off his invention. The Doc is killed and Marty jumps into the DeLorean in order to get away, accidentally sending himself back in time 30 years to the year 1955.
Once he’s there he finds that his presence his disrupted history from occurring the way it should and that his existence in the future is in jeopardy. So, he get’s Doc’s younger self to help him solve the problem and send him back…to the future.
I get worked up just thinking about this movie. The premise is a little goofy. Yeah, it’s kind of weird for a 17-year-old kid to be friends with a man in his sixties or seventies, but it works to get us to the main part of the story which takes place in the 50s.
If there is one thing that this movie gets right it’s the feel of the 50s. You can almost believe that he really went there. The clothes, the music, the colors, the advertisements…all of it is there to create a sense of nostalgia. This movie wasn’t made for me. This movie was made for parents and for people just a little bit older than them. My mom was born in 1955. She was actually born on November 25, 1955, which is just a couple of weeks after the timeline of the movie. People that were a little older than that would remember this time from when they were kids and that’s who they were shooting for.
The thing that I like about this movie is that even though it has its roots in science fiction and it has a few scenes with special effects, it’s actually a pretty small film. Once Marty is transported to 1955, the movie depends on the story and the characters to carry it and not on special effects or CGI. And the characters absolutely delivered. Crispin Glover is a weird guy but nobody else could have played the role of George McFly. He was a coward that Marty helped to find his backbone and not only ensured that he and Lorraine (Lea Thompson) would get married but he actually made their future better. Thompson was great as Marty’s mom even though it was kind of creepy (really creepy) that she almost tries to “get with” Marty….**shiver**.
And who can forget Thomas F. Wilson as the big bully, Biff Tannen. Everyone has known a Biff in their life. He’s the guy that thinks he’s the greatest at everything but he’s really just a tiny weasel in a big suit.
Fox and Lloyd hold this movie together. I think that even though there was a huge age difference that they are one of the best comedy duos of all time. They have a chemistry between them that worked not only in this film but was the greatest part of the two sequels that came later. It seems so strange to find out that Fox almost didn’t play Marty. The part was actually given to Eric Stoltz because Fox was busy making Family Ties. They filmed almost the entire movie with Stoltz in the lead but just realized that the chemistry wasn’t there and the movie wasn’t working. They were able to work out a deal with NBC to get Fox at night and on the weekends and they reshot almost the whole film. If that had not happened then this series would not be the well loved classic that it is today.
I quote this movie so much that it’s come to be accepted by my family as part of my dialogue. How many times have I gotten into a car and said “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”? It’s a number that is too high to attain. “This is heavy” is a staple of mine as well.
And, yes, the paradox stuff doesn’t quite work out. We know that if you changed history and it was something that caused you to not exist that it would be pretty instantaneous. You wouldn’t watch a picture of your family slowly fade and then see your fingers and hand disappear. But this is a family comedy, not a straight up sci fi film, so it works.
So today I’d have to say that Back To The Future is not only my favorite time travel movie of all time, but it is definitely the most defining movie for me that came from 1985.