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Back To The Future

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Back To The Future

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Rated: PG
RunTime: 116 Minutes
Release Date: July 1985
Genres: Action, Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Claudia Wells, James Tolkan, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jason Hervey, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

In 1985 director Robert Zemeckis, fresh from his first big hit with the delightful comedy ROMANCING THE STONE, turned his attention to time travel. The resulting movie, BACK TO THE FUTURE, with a script by Bob Gale and Zemeckis, is a fantasy film for young and old alike. With intelligent and funny dialog and a strong cast of then minor league actors, the film amazes one on subsequent viewings almost as much as on the first.

This is one of a continuing series of reviews in which I review classic family pictures when my son sees them for the first time. And as always on the films he sees, he'll stop in at the end to add his two cents. He is as proud to be a small part of this review as I am of producing the rest of it.

The film opens in the home of a nerdish inventor, Doctor Emmett Brown. His workshop full of Rube Goldberg-type devices seems the progenitor of Wayne Szalinski's in the HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS series four years later. Dr. Brown is played with wild eyes and frantic gestures by Christopher Lloyd. The beauty of Lloyd's hilarious performance is that he takes himself completely seriously as if he is the only one who does not understand that this is a comedy. He seems to believe all of the scientific quackery he spouts.

The Doc's friend and sometimes assistant is the story's protagonist, a teenager named Marty McFly. Marty, played with a sweet angst by Michael J. Fox, is the linchpin of the film's success. Fox's portrayal of a character with whom all ages can empathize is central to the film's timeless and magical allure.

Poor Marty is cursed with an awful family. His dad George, played with shameless overacting by Crispin Glover, is a wimp's wimp. The local bully from his dad's old high school, Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), still drops by regularly to harass him. Watching Biff's abuse of George is the visual equivalent of scraping fingers across a blackboard.

Marty's chubby faced mother Lorraine, played by Lea Thompson, is in her own ways as insufferable as his father. Thompson delivers two performances -- as an older woman with unrealistic layers of fat and as a sweet young thing back in high school. In the latter, she is charming and sometimes even shocking.

The Doc's latest invention, with the help of some stolen plutonium, is a time machine. Zemeckis's choice of the futuristic but failed DeLorean as the vehicle to rocket into time is as perfect as his choice of name for the Doc's shaggy dog, Einstein.

In a wonderful blend of science fiction and nostalgic comedy, Marty ends up being accidentally blasted back thirty years in time. There he meets his future mom, who falls in love with him when she should have fallen for his future dad. Now, there is something to upset the time-space equilibrium.

In this cornucopia of images from the past, my favorite is a vignette played out at a gas station. As Marty is in the foreground, a car in the background drives into a Texaco station. Four heavily uniformed men come running out like an Indy pit crew. They check the oil level, check the tire pressure, wash the windshield, and fuel the car at a breakneck pace so the customer can quickly and safely be on his way.

The test of a movie's brilliance is how well it develops the small details, and in this regard BACK TO THE FUTURE rarely disappoints. Even the label, Calvin Klein, on Marty's clothes becomes the heart of an ongoing joke. Lorraine figures quite logically that Marty's name must be Calvin since he has it embroidered on his clothes. Afterall, who would put someone else's name on his own clothes?

Zemeckis paces the story with increasing tension as time runs out for Marty to get his mother to start liking his dad rather than him and for Marty to make the important jump back to the future. Along the way, our journey is enlivened with some great old tunes including "Earth Angel" and "Johnny B. Goode."

After a predictable but completely satisfying ending getting back to the future, the show has a delicious little epilogue. Try to imagine how your life might be changed for the better by just a little judicious rejiggering of your past. Marty gets to experience an unexpectedly pleasant present because of some minor tweaks to his past.

With the chutzpah of utter confidence in the success of his material, Zemeckis ends BACK TO THE FUTURE boldly proclaiming, "To be continued ..." (My son can't wait to rent the next tape.)

BACK TO THE FUTURE runs 1:51. It is rated PG for some profanity. The show would be fine for kids of all ages. My son Jeffrey, age 8, really got into the story and said it was "awesome, radical." He also commented that he liked the way that there was no blood in it. I recommend the picture to you highly and give it *** 1/2.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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