Back to the Future may be the most fun I’ve ever had at a film. It’s funny, dramatic and the time travel is internally consistent. But’s it’s also a time capsule for kids of the 80’s.
I probably don’t have to recount the plot of the film, here, on this page. But just in case…
Marty McFly witnesses his friend Doctor Emmett Brown, a scientist, gunned down while demonstrating his new time machine made from a DeLorean. Marty is then accidentally transported back in time, 30 years, to 1955, where he accidentally prevents his parents from meeting. In order to get back, he and the 1950’s Doc Brown must figure a way to get Marty’s parents back together, repair the time machine, and figure out a way to get back to 1985! (Exciting, isn’t it?)
What’s amazing about this film is that everything you need to know about 1985, 1955 and the characters is all right there in the film. Doc Brown describes the site of the [Twin Pines] Mall as having belonged to Farmer Peabody (who had a weird idea about breeding pine trees). When Marty returns to 1955 he runs over a pine tree, as he escapes from the farmer with a shot gun who thinks he’s an alien. Later after Marty gets back to 1985, he rescues Doc from Lone Pine Mall. Brilliant.
The film is full of details like this, that enrich the story, and provide elements for viewers to discover on repeat viewings. Great Scott! It also has tones of quotable, funny lines. You’ve got your favorite, butthead! And I love these lines every single time I watch the film!
But what I thought about this time, on the 30th Anniversary of the film, is how we can romanticize the past. For the filmmakers, Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale, looking back 30 years from 1985, it’s how I look back 30 years at 1985. How different things were, and how awesome it seems now. I spend time looking to recapture elements of that time, like trying to find an arcade to play honest to goodness video games, or listening to the music that was popular then. All these things are in the film and are part of the film. The touchstones that Marty holds on to, are the same things that a teenager from today visiting 1985 would find odd, in the same way Marty tries to fit into the world of his parents adolescence.
Likewise, Doc can’t understand the future that Marty has come from. Actors becoming President, everything being ‘heavy’ in the future, 1.21 ‘jig’-awatts. These utterly fantastic stories are too much even for his intellect to understand! Think about living in 1985 and having someone from 2015 visit you. We all carry portable devices in our pockets with the sum of human knowledge, my arcade is located in a tiny box in my house, and they’re making a 7th Star Wars film! How absurd would that seem?
As I’ve mentioned previously, time travel films are wish fulfillment dreams. They take you someplace that you can not possibly go, and show you things that you will never be able to see or know. Sometimes those places are terrible and scary, filled with killer robots, and mutants. But some times, they’re idyllic yester-pasts, where you can see a side of your loved ones that you never knew existed and get a chance to make a good life even better.
To be continued…