I Saw ‘Back to the Future’ for the First Time; Here Are My Thoughts
Yes, I have never seen Back to the Future until just recently.
I’ve seen clips online, bits and pieces of the second, and I think I watched the third movie in its entirety, but I have never watched the first film before.
I have gone twenty-one years of my life without seeing it, and as a film lover, I thought it was time to change that.
There are a ton of what others would classify as “classics” I haven’t seen yet, so I am making it my mission to finally watch these movies to see what the hype is all about.
Given this unique time with COVID-19, it is a perfect opportunity to sit in and watch films I have never seen before (yes, historians, this is what people did with their time during quarantine).
It was perfect timing as well since all three Back to the Future movies are streaming on Netflix. I sat at my desk for two hours and finally watched this 1985 classic.
I gave a huge sigh of relief as I began to realize that the film still holds up to this day. There aren’t any outdated references or jokes or comments at the expense of a group of people. Well, except Libyans. I almost forgot about that. Oops.
But otherwise, it is a feel-good movie about time travel and family.
Of course, 80s aesthetics are all over this film, so that wasn’t a surprise. What was surprising was how cute I found the 80s in this film.
Marty is waving to everyone as he hangs onto passing cars on his skateboard on his way to school. The drivers don’t even care that he is hanging on. Marty’s relationship with his girlfriend is sweet and endearing, especially when she writes, “I love you” on the back of a note to him.
I thought about why I had such a strange reaction this especially since I’ve seen a ton of 80s films. I think it’s because I recently saw Blue Velvet, which came out a year later, and that film focuses on the seedy underbelly of American culture and lifestyle. A very different movie with a different tone and pessimistic outlook.
Anyway, right from the start, I was enjoying myself while watching this film.
I enjoyed how the film portrayed Marty McFly as a “cool-without-trying” guy. He’s getting from one place to another with his skateboard. He even makes a makeshift skateboard when he goes back to 1955. Let’s not forget, he’s in a band, and he plays loud rock music! So frickin’ cool!
I had always assumed that he was a nerd or a pushover, who eventually learned to stand up for himself, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, there is a character like this, but we’ll get to him later. The film does a great job of making Marty a likable protagonist, which is important when he finds himself in the unlikely situation of traveling back to the past.
This central conflict is where the story, the characters, and the entertainment value start to progress. I liked the foreshadowing of several story elements during the first act, such as Biff’s connection to the McFly’s, how Marty’s parents met, and the thunderstorm on the night of the school dance. These all lead to satisfying story arcs during the film’s climax.
Easy jokes also presented themselves during this part of the film. For example, Lorraine, Marty’s teenage mom, thinking his name was Calvin Klein because the name was on his underwear. Or, references to soon-to-be presidents like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Regan. Let’s not forget, Lorraine’s attraction toward Marty instead of George McFly, Marty’s father.
As you can imagine, cringe-y moments ensued, especially when Lorraine kisses Marty. However, I can forgive this as it sets up a later scene where George stands up for Lorainne.
This leads me to my next talking point; George McFly. I might catch some flak for this, but I ended up liking him more than Marty. It seems like this movie is about George’s character and his development rather than his son.
George starts the film as a meek and mild-mannered man. He gets pushed around by Biff, his boss, and he is indifferent toward his family’s life. When Marty travels back to 1955, he learns that his father was always like this, and it derived from Biff taking advantage of him in high school. Marty even learns of his father’s creative side as George spends time writing science-fiction stories in the cafeteria. Of course, there is no evidence of this in the 80s, as George’s fear of rejection and ridicule stopped him from sharing his work.
But, this already sets the stage for a significant character change later in the film. With Marty’s help, George finds the confidence to stand up to Biff and ask Lorraine to the dance. This pays off as a satisfying conclusion to George’s character arc as he is a confident and headstrong man who published his science-fiction novel and is more family-oriented when Marty returns to 1985.
This conflict with George perfectly ties in with the film’s main conflict of Marty returning to 1985. The writers of this film, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, did an excellent job of connecting these two story threads. The stakes are clear; If Marty does not get his parents together, he and his siblings will cease to exist. Because of this, Marty’s life depends on whether or not George makes his move.
Now, I do wish the film explored Marty more as he doesn’t undergo any significant character change. The case could be made that he learns to appreciates his parents more after his time-travel adventure, but other than that, he stays relatively the same throughout the film.
As you might’ve noticed, I haven’t mentioned good ole Doc Brown yet, and that’s because I didn’t find him interesting in this film. He also doesn’t have much screen time for me to care about him. He “dies” in the first scene he physically appears in, he works on getting Marty back to his time off-screen and doesn’t play a huge role until near the end of the film.
If anything, he feels more like a side character who the main character just happens to know while also acting as the wacky science man who knows “science-y” things that can help the main character with their goals. To be fair, Marty’s adventure wouldn’t have been possible without Doc Brown’s invention. So, I’ll give him that.
While I wish more was done to Marty and Doc Brown’s characters, I did enjoy the film enough to make me want to watch the sequel.
Tune in next week when I talk about Back to Future: Part II. This journey isn’t over yet, folks!
To be continued…