“Doc, I’m from the future. I came here in a time machine that you invented. Now I need your help to get back to the year 1985.” – Marty McFly
It’s been thirty years since the world was introduced to Back to the Future, the greatest time travel film ever made. For anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, the film is about Marty McFly, your typical modern teenager who accidently time travels to 1955 and meets his then-teenage parents. This created a temporal paradox where Marty was threatened with non-existence so not only must Marty find a way back to his time period, but has to correct his parents’ timeline to ensure he’s eventually born. The instant classic wowed many audiences when it was released and was the biggest box office hit of 1985. Through the years since its initial release Back to the Future has generated many fans who look fondly at the film and for good reason.
Back to the Future, the brainchild of director Robert Zemeckis and writer/producer Bob Gale, is a humorous, smart take on time travel that starred Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as his best friend Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown. Both actors made tremendous contributions to the film’s success thanks to their comedic performances and a genuine chemistry between them. Both actors were so well suited for their roles, which made them so endearing to audiences.
Perfectly Timed Casting
It’s amazing this happened because it almost didn’t. As fans know, Michael J. Fox wasn’t the first person cast as Marty. It was Eric Stoltz, but as filming commenced Zemeckis realized that Stoltz wasn’t right for the role. To his credit, the director made the right decision to replace him with Fox, who was actually the first choice for the role but was initially unavailable. It all worked out in the end, Fox turned out to be perfect as the distressed but likeable teenagerwho finds himself in an extraordinary situation.
Thanks to his popularity at the time (his sitcom Family Ties was a hit TV show in 1985), Fox helped draw in ticket buyers who normally couldn’t be bothered with a sci-fi comedy about time travel. But Fox had a certain charm that made Marty so appealing to audiences. Through Marty’s eyes, we saw the trepidations of being a teenager and later in the film Marty was able to see that his teenage parents had similar gripes and issues. He witnessed teenagers in the 1950s with timeless problems such as peer pressure, bullying, social awkwardness and self doubt. Marty learned some profound lessons about his parents and himself. Underlying that are simple, yet poignant messages about self confidence and accomplishments. “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”
Fox isn’t the only reason that Back to the Future is so memorable. A large measure of that has to do with the supporting cast as well. Aside from Lloyd (who perfected the daffy, wild-eyed scientist), Lea Thompson as Lorraine Baines, and Thomas F. Wilson as the comical bully Biff Tannen, Crispin Glover nearly steals the film as George McFly, Marty’s nerdy father. While Glover has funny playing the goofy, out-of-touch older father in the 1980s scenes, he really shines in the 1950s scenes where he exemplifies the shy and nervous sci-fi geek. What sci-fi fan can’t identify with his dilemma where he has to choose between going out to a dance or staying home to watch Science Fiction Theater? It’s just unfortunate that Glover didn’t return for the sequels, thus diminishing his character in those films. But we did get to see more of Biff and his relatives later on, who were perfect villains throughout the three Back to the Future films.
Underlining the film’s appeal is the accurate representation of the 1950s and the culture shock that followed when Marty first experiences the time period. The film is littered funny and amusing nods to the past and present like Marty ordering a Pepsi Free at a diner and being told he has to pay for it, or Marty being mistaken for an alien creature by farm folks, and Marty disguising himself as Darth Vader. Other nifty touches sprinkled throughout the film include the well-groomed nature of that time period, the archaic but catchy music and how undeveloped but pristine Marty’s hometown of Hill Valley appeared.
Overall, Marty’s experiences and culture clash were some of the best and funniest fish-out-of-water scenarios done on film. Looking at the film now, a modern-day viewer can also experience a measure of culture shock at the then-contemporary 1980s scenes. The contrast between the clean, bright middle-class lifestyle of the 1950s and the rundown, but modern vista of the 1980s is startling. Instead of making the film dated, the fact that Back to the Future is bookended with the 1980s adds to the rewatchability factor.