Back to the Future (1985)
November 3, 2020 3:03 PM - Subscribe

Eighties teenager Marty McFly is accidentally sent back in time to 1955, inadvertently disrupting his parents' first meeting and attracting his mother's romantic interest. Marty must repair the damage to history by rekindling his parents' romance and - with the help of his eccentric inventor friend Doc Brown - return to 1985.

Roger Ebert:
The movie, in fact, resembles Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" more than other, conventional time-travel movies. It's about a character who begins with one view of his life and reality, and is allowed, through magical intervention, to discover another.
Shelia Benson, LA Times:
If “Back to the Future” (citywide) had been about the size of, say, “Repo Man,” it might have been one of those appealing films that begs to be adopted. It’s not. It’s big, cartoonish and empty, with an interesting premise that is underdeveloped and overproduced.
Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune (Archived):
So although ''Back to the Future'' would seem to be part of what`s wrong with the often juvenile subject matter of today`s American movies, upon closer inspection--preferably from your neighborhood theater--it owes a great deal to Hollywood`s storied past, where films were finely crafted to appeal to everyone.
posted by hanov3r (36 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've seen it many times. There was a time when i could quote from it at will. BTTF is one of those all around entertaining movies that never get old. And it definitely has layers. For instance, as a kid back in the day, I watched Marty get taken away by Biff's thugs and Biff get in the car with Lorraine. Then George shows up and saves the day! Yay, whoo hoo! But thirty-five years later, that scene is watched with a much different perspective as George saves Lorraine from continued sexual assault. That added seriousness definitely puts a different spin that adds to the movie. That LA Times critic missed the forest for the trees I think.

Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, and Thomas F. Wilson: they're all great.
posted by Fukiyama at 3:27 PM on November 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

I recommend Back in Time [yt], a fun documentary that has a lot of great interviews with the actors and writers/producers of the movie.
posted by Fukiyama at 3:30 PM on November 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

My ex and I are such big BTTF fans that the youngest hanov3r child is named after Doc Brown.

There's a bunch of stuff this movie kinda needs to answer for - the whitewashing of rock and roll's introduction, Lorraine's treatment at the hands of Biff (and Biff's weird effeminacy in the nu1985) -but it's still a solid time travel movie and good fun.

Is it implied that Doc was hotboxing inside the Delorean inside the back of the van when Marty shows up?
posted by hanov3r at 3:43 PM on November 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

BTTF is my favorite movie trilogy of all time. It was the first movie I saw in the theater as a child. I have a shelf of model DeLoreans and other collectibles. My wife and I were married Sunday, and she and my mother teamed up to surprise me with a BTTF-accurate DeLorean driven by a local Marty McFly to drive me to the venue. He pulled up on the street, popped open the gullwing door, got out, and said he was there to take me to my future. I went with him without further questioning because when Marty McFly shows up, you go with him. "Are you with the wedding? It's OK if you're not. I just need to know." We also had some of our professional wedding photos taken with the DeLorean. My favorite is our hands held on the gear shift, rings prominent, with the time circuits display showing our wedding date and ceremony time for the Destination Time. I married an amazing woman.
posted by Servo5678 at 4:41 PM on November 3, 2020 [65 favorites]

Servo5678, that's the coolest fucking thing I've ever heard and I'm insanely jealous.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:12 PM on November 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Please excuse the crudity of this model...

I don't think I caught that line the first 3-4 times I saw the movie, but it kills me now every time. This has been such an institution since shortly it came out, it's hard for me to imagine it was just a summer movie, even though I saw it in the theater with my mom when I was about 8, back when one of the big draws for us to go to the movies was the air conditioning.
posted by skewed at 6:32 PM on November 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I didn't realise at the time that the early 1980s was a golden age for popcorn movies - it's nicer if you do, I think, (as with the current golden age in television), because otherwise normal seems faintly disappointing. Back to the Future was one of the high points of that golden age. It took several weeks for me to coincide with a cinema showing that wasn't sold out, and when I did I was completely transported. It's one of the few occasions where I remember a cinema audience breaking into a spontaneous round of applause at the end.
posted by Grangousier at 12:15 AM on November 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Despite the problem with Marty inventing rock and roll, it was a truly excellent film. I wonder why it never had any sequels.
posted by happyroach at 2:07 AM on November 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

I always found the "mom unknowingly has the hots for her son" subplot to be really ick-inducing, rather than funny.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:26 AM on November 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm gonna quote myself from a 2014 thread:

Marty McFly did not invent that music, and BTTF doesn't suggest that he did. He was playing Chuck Berry's old music, and 1955 Chuck Berry heard it and that inspired his music, which Marty McFly heard decades later and then brought back to 1955. So Berry stole the music from his alternate timeline self, but any way you look at it Chuck Berry still created that music. It's a clever little tossed-off joke, you see, based on a time travel paradox.

posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:25 AM on November 4, 2020 [13 favorites]

UH's summary above makes sense. As far as the accidental incest thing, remember that this is the 80s, when we also had Sixteen Candles and its date rape and Long Duk Dong. The most disturbing thing about BttF for me was that, in the altered "ideal" timeline, Marty's parents are smug yuppies. Injecting potential incest into a goofy time-travel comedy may seem off-putting to some, but both Futurama (another SF comedy cartoon) and DS9 (a fairly serious space opera that occasionally dabbled in comedy) both had jokes referring to someone becoming their own ancestor, or thinking that they had to be.

Something that no one has mentioned so far is that a super-crude (in both the technical and sexual senses) cartoon parody of BttF [seriously, super-duper NSFW] ended up being the prototype for one of the animated hits of the twenty-teens.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:53 AM on November 4, 2020

What a great movie! They captured lightning in a bottle and I’m glad they have refused to permit remakes.
posted by Monochrome at 3:56 PM on November 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

What struck us, on pandemic re-watch, was how accurate Marty's house life was. Honestly, both in the before and the yuppie after. Like yes, that IS what it it looked like at home in the 80's. And that exactly was the sort of once-shiny-now-crumbling look that our smallish towns and housing developments had.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 9:59 PM on November 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

In other 80's classic neighborhood news, it has been speculated, in the 'everything is a shared cinematic universe now' sphere, that
the bike chase in E.T. is through the construction site for the new neighborhood at the beginning of Poltergeist.
posted by bartleby at 11:50 PM on November 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

The whole trilogy has been on cable channels multiple times per week for the past several months, so it's been easy to have recently caught it. I'm trying to think if this was the most popular non-Star Wars mainstream movie that I liked in my teens.

From the first soda shop scene to the end of the Enchantment Under the Sea dance is perfect moviemaking craft. I can't even namedrop the skateboarding double I know because it's shot and edited so well you can't recognize which one he is (there were three). I mean, they're obviously not MJF, but that's as much as Zemeckis'll give ya.

that IS what it it looked like at home in the 80's

Successful George is such a perfect time capsule of a look and attitude that pervaded the US, more accurate than American Psycho for sure. Movie people were like that, regular people were like that, TV people were like that. It was not fantastic at all, they nailed it. The rest of the family, too, but particularly George. And the lifted Hilux was a vehicle probably 10% of my school drove. The only missing period-correct detail is a divorce.

the bike chase in E.T. is through the construction site for the new neighborhood at the beginning of Poltergeist

Probably The Gate is somewhere in there too, years later.
posted by rhizome at 12:23 AM on November 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

Ryan North did a great read-through of the BTTF novelization by George Gipe. It's a fun chapter-by-chapter comparison of the book (which seemed to be based on an earlier draft of the screenplay) and the movie.

posted by rsclark at 8:09 AM on November 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

All amazing things to be said about this movie aside, nothing made me laugh as hard in 2017 as the joke on GLOW where it was revealed that BTTF stole the plot of "Mothers and Lovers," the psychological magnum opus that Marc Maron's character, a B-movie auteur with grander ambitions, had been working on throughout the first season of the show. I'm still laughing, TBH. RIP GLOW.
posted by kickingthecrap at 8:56 AM on November 5, 2020 [8 favorites]

All I can say is, I bet I'm not the only Gen X AFAB person whose transmasculine aesthetic root was shaped in part by Marty McFly.
posted by latkes at 9:26 AM on November 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

November 5th, 1955 ... a red letter day in science. 65 years ago today.

This movie was a big fucking deal to 10 year-old me. I remember trying, in vain, to make a copy of it from a rental with 2 VCRs, but it was maybe the first movie to have macrovision copy protection so it never worked. And you couldn't BUY a videocassette back then without spending over $100. Such a long time ago. Now I have a 1080p copy on my Plex server and DVD copy on a shelf in the basement. And the only thing i REALLY want is the Gibson ES-345 Marty plays in the climax.

Note: The Gibson ES-345 model was introduced in 1958, so it's an anachronism that sticks out to guitar geeks everywhere. Sweet axe though.
posted by wabbittwax at 9:42 AM on November 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

It is my opinion that Crispin Hellion Glover is vastly underrated. He is absolutely pitch perfect in BttF. And then there's this, from "Happy Days"
posted by chavenet at 11:47 AM on November 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

And then there's this, from "Happy Days yt "

Exterior shots, a Fonz-only storyline, and Ted McGinley? Has to be from the lost 12th season.

But yes, CHG is great and pure. And if you don't know, his Dad was is great, too.
posted by rhizome at 12:34 PM on November 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Sheila Benson was the WORST LAT film critic ever.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:59 PM on November 5, 2020

Raven dies, by a weird little coincidence, on the 65th anniversary of the day that Doc Brown invented the time machine. The obits are all putting BTTF front and center but she had a long, busy career and to me she'll always be Vinnie Terranova's mother from Wiseguy. (If you watched that show you'll never forget the despairing way she would wail, "Oh, Vincenzo"...)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:16 PM on November 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Exterior shots, a Fonz-only storyline, and Ted McGinley? Has to be from the lost 12th season.

S11E7, "Vocational Education". Also appearing in that episode: Steven Baio (Scott "Chachi" Baio's brother) and Ken Osmond, "Leave It To Beaver"'s Eddie Haskell.

Please excuse the crudity of this model...

I love that line. My favorite line that often gets missed comes during Lorraine and Marty's first meetings in 1955:

"Where are my pants?" "Over there... on my hope chest."
posted by hanov3r at 8:00 AM on November 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

The white-washing of the origin of rock is there, but it's also a well-known trope of the Thing That Was Not Invented By Anyone. Chuck Berry still has a lot of work to do if he's going to invent rock and roll from listening to five seconds of Marty jamming on the guitar.

One thing I really appreciated about that scene was a neat bit of writing. We need to know that the band member is calling Chuck Berry, but how to reveal the name of the guy without making an "As You Know, Bob" moment? People don't generally use each other's full names when talking on the phone. They solve this by making it very noisy, so the guy has to shout "CHUCK!!! IT'S YOUR COUSIN MARVIN!" (even louder) "MAR-VIN BER-RY!!!!". I appreciate that.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:16 PM on November 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Steven Baio (Scott "Chachi" Baio's brother)

Holy shit, there's a Baldwin Baio? Also note that Scott is an excitable and unrepentant Trumper (RNC16 speech, where he trusts Trump to keep his family safe)

she'll always be Vinnie Terranova's mother from Wiseguy. (If you watched that show you'll never forget the despairing way she would wail, "Oh, Vincenzo"...)

And if you know what's become of Ken Wahl since then (Brett Butler's Disease), you'd probably agree that her concern was well-placed.
posted by rhizome at 1:41 PM on November 6, 2020

I finally watched this movie for the first time just a couple of weeks ago. Excited to take in this icon of popular culture, I found it really enjoyable until "the Libyans" showed up. What in the racist fuck?! The depiction shouldn't have been a big surprise (I had the misfortune of seeing True Lies in the theater in 1994), but it was pretty jarring. So much for films "finely crafted to appeal to everyone."
posted by exogenous at 2:07 PM on November 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

that scene is watched with a much different perspective as George saves Lorraine from continued sexual assault. That added seriousness definitely puts a different spin that adds to the movie.

For sure. As is the realization that George and Lorraine's original "meet cute" is when he is a Peeping Tom watching her undress, falls out of the tree, nearly gets hit by dad's car.
posted by basalganglia at 4:39 PM on November 6, 2020

Yeah i think there are some super dated moments in this film. Also on rewatch recently i found crispin Glovers performance choices honestly took me out of the film. He plays george like a cartoon character, and given that hes meant to be the romantic hero in the end it just doesnt work for me. Hes honestly acting like hes in a completely different film
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:55 AM on November 8, 2020

Michael J Fox has a cameo in the trailer for the new Lil Nas X holiday song!

His advice, one time traveler to another:
"Nas! DON'T GO TO 2020!"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:33 PM on November 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

The thing is, it wasn't that Marty invented rock, it was that rock and roll bootstrapped itself into existence.
posted by disconnect at 4:48 AM on November 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Release the Eric Stoltz version!
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 9:53 AM on November 11, 2020

Release the Eric Stoltz version!

I saw a good documentary recently called Back In Time, and IIRC they mention that Eric Stoltz declined to participate in it. Even if I'm remembering wrong, a few pages worth of a Google search doesn't raise any attempts for his comment over the years, ever, so maybe it's an open secret not to even ask.
posted by rhizome at 12:37 PM on November 12, 2020

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