Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Back to the Future (1985) * * *

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is a 17 year-old living in Hill Valley, California. Browbeaten by his principal at school, Marty also endures the acrimonious relationship between his nerdy father George (Crispin Glover) and his mother Lorraine Baines McFly (Lea Thompson). On the morning of Friday, October 25, 1985, his eccentric friend, scientist Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd), calls him, asking to meet at 1:15 am the following morning at Twin Pines Mall. When arriving home from school, Marty finds the family car wrecked in the driveway, ruining his plans to spend the weekend with his girlfriend Jennifer (Claudia Wells). Inside the house, he finds his father George being bullied by his supervisor Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), who had borrowed and wrecked the car. At dinner that night, his mother Lorraine recounts how she and George first met when her father hit George with his car as George was "bird-watching".

Biff Tannen: And uh, where's my reports?
George McFly: Uh, well, I haven't finished those up yet, but you know I... I figured since they weren't due till...
Biff Tannen: Hello? Hello? Anybody home? Huh? Think, McFly. Think! I gotta have time to get 'em retyped. Do you realize what would happen if I hand in my reports in your handwriting? I'll get fired. You wouldn't want that to happen, would ya? Would ya?
George McFly: Of course not, Biff. Nah, I wouldn't want that to happen. Now, look. I'll, uh, finish those reports on up tonight and I'll run 'em on over first thing tomorrow. All right?
Biff Tannen: Eh, not too early. I sleep in Saturdays. Oh, McFly, your shoe's untied. Don't be so gullible, McFly. Got the place fixed up nice-o, McFly.

That night, Marty meets Doc as planned in the parking lot of Twin Pines Mall. Doc presents a DeLorean DMC-12 which he has modified into a time machine. As Marty videotapes, Doc explains the car travels to a programmed date and time upon reaching 88 miles per hour using plutonium in a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of power it requires. Demonstrating how to program the machine, Doc enters in November 5, 1955 as the target date, explaining that it was the day he conceived the idea of the flux capacitor; the device which "makes time travel possible." Before Doc can depart for his planned trip into the future, a group of Libyan terrorists, from whom he stole the plutonium, arrive in a Volkswagen bus and murder him. Marty jumps into the DeLorean and is pursued by the Libyans until he accelerates to 88 miles per hour and is magically transported back in time to 1955.

Marty McFly: Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?
Dr. Emmett Brown: The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?

The car's starter fails shortly thereafter. Marty hides it, and makes his way into town on foot. He finds that the town square now reflects the popular culture of the 1950s, and that the clock tower which was destroyed sometime in his past is once again functioning. Marty runs into his own father, then a teenager, being tyrannized just as he was in 1985 by Biff, then the school bully. Marty follows his father George, who turns out to be a peeping tom, not a birdwatcher, as he is about to be hit by a car. Marty pushes George out of the way and takes the impact. The car turns out to be driven by Lorraine's father, resulting in Lorraine becoming infatuated with Marty instead of George. Marty is disturbed by her flirtations, which contrast sharply with the prudish mother he is familiar with. He flees from her home to track down Doc Brown.

Marty McFly: Do you mind if we... park... for a while?
Lorraine Baines: That's a great idea. I'd love to park.
Marty McFly: Huh?
Lorraine Baines: Marty, I'm almost 18 years old. It's not like I've never parked before.
Marty McFly: What?
Lorraine Baines: Marty, you seem so nervous. Is something wrong?
Marty McFly: No... No.
(Lorraine takes a sip from a liquor bottle)
Marty McFly: (grabbing the bottle from her) Lorraine, Lorraine, What are you doin'?
Lorraine Baines: (laughs) I swiped it from the old lady's liquor cabinet.
Marty McFly: Yeah, well, you shouldn't drink.
Lorraine Baines: Why not?
Marty McFly: Because you--you might regret it later in life.
Lorraine Baines: Marty, don't be such a square. Everybody who's anybody drinks.
(Marty takes a sip from Lorraine's bottle then notices Lorraine lighting a cigarette)
Marty McFly: Geez! You smoke too?
Lorraine Baines: Marty, you're beginning to sound just like my mother!
(Marty wakes up in Lorraine's bed)
Marty McFly: Mom... is that you?
Lorraine Baines: There, there now. Just relax. (pats a damp cloth on Marty's forehead) You've been asleep for almost nine hours now.
Marty McFly: I had a horrible nightmare. I dreamed that I went... back in time. It was terrible.
Lorraine Baines: Well... You're safe and sound now, back in good old 1955.
Marty McFly: 1955?

Doc at first believes that Marty is a lunatic. Marty convinces Doc by recounting the story of how Doc got the inspiration for the flux capacitor, and then by showing Doc the videotape of the 1985 experiment. However, when he hears his older self describe the power requirements for time travel, Doc is shocked. He tells Marty that aside from plutonium, the only possible source of that much power is a bolt of lightning, which cannot be predicted. Marty remembers that the lightning strike at the clock tower will occur the following Saturday (November 12, 1955) at 10:04 pm. As a result, Doc begins planning a way to harness the bolt's power. Doc also deduces that Marty, by saving his father from the car, has prevented his parents from meeting, and instructs him to set things right.

Doc: Then tell me, "Future Boy", who's President in the United States in 1985?
Marty McFly: Ronald Reagan.
Doc: Ronald Reagan? The actor? (chuckles in disbelief) Then who's Vice-President? Jerry Lewis? (rushing out and down a hill toward his laboratory) I suppose Jane Wyman is the First Lady!
Marty McFly: Whoa! Wait! Doc!
Doc: And Jack Benny is Secretary of the Treasury.
Marty McFly: (outside the lab door) Doc, you gotta listen to me.
Doc: (opens the door to the lab) I've had enough practical jokes for one evening. Good night, Future Boy! (closes the door leaving Marty outside)
Marty McFly: No, wait! Doc. Doc. The-the-the bruise--the bruise on your head. I know how that happened! You told me the whole story. You were standing on your toilet, and you were hanging a clock, and you fell, and you hit your head on the sink. And that's when you came up with the idea for the Flux Capacitor... Which... is what makes time travel possible.
(Doc is watching a video of the 1985 Doc)
Doc: What on Earth's this thing I'm wearing?
Marty McFly: Ah, this, this is a radiation suit.
Doc: Radiation suit? Of course, because of all the fallout from the atomic wars.

After several failed attempts at playing matchmaker, Marty eventually works out a plan to have George appear to rescue Lorraine from Marty's overt sexual advances on the night of a school dance, so he can leave to make his return to 1985. However, Biff shows up unexpectedly and orders his friends to lock Marty in a car trunk. Very drunk, Biff jumps into the car and attempts to force himself on the horrified Lorraine. George arrives as he and Marty have planned and is shocked to find Biff instead of Marty. Biff orders him to turn around and walk away, but George cannot bring himself to ignore Lorraine's pleas for help. When Biff pins his arm behind his back and laughs as he knocks away Lorraine who tries to defend him, George knocks out the bully with a single punch. A smitten Lorraine follows George to the dance floor, where they kiss for the first time, ensuring Marty's existence.

Doc: You've gotta get your father and mother to interact in some sort of social...
Marty McFly: Wh-what? You mean like a date?
Doc: Right.
Marty McFly: Well, what kind of date? I don't know. What do kids do in the '50s?
Doc: Well, they're your parents you must know them. What are their common interests? What do they like to do together?

Meanwhile Doc has used cables to connect the clock tower's antenna to two lampposts, which he plans to have Marty drive under in the DeLorean, now with a lightning rod, the moment the lightning strikes. Before Marty can leave, Doc finds a letter in his coat pocket that Marty has written, warning him about his future murder. Doc indignantly tears up the letter without reading it, describing the dangers of altering the future. Marty instead adjusts the time machine to take him back to 1985, the parallel year, ten minutes earlier than he left, giving him time to warn Doc. When he returns to the future, however, the car stalls and Marty arrives at the mall too late to save Doc. As Marty begins crying behind his friend's body, Doc wakes up and opens his radiation suit to reveal a bulletproof vest. He shows Marty the letter he had written, taped back together. When asked about his belief in not altering the future, Doc replies, "I figured, what the hell?"

Doc: (reads the "Save the Clock Tower" flyer and reacts with hope) This is it! This is the answer. It says here... that a bolt of lightning is going to strike the clock tower at precisely 10:04 pm, next Saturday night! If... If we could somehow... harness this lightning... channel it... into the flux capacitor... it just might work. Next Saturday night, we're sending you back to the future!

The next morning, Marty finds his family has been changed for the better. Lorraine is physically fit and is no longer prudish, and George has become a self-confident novelist who confronts a servile Biff. Then Doc arrives, insisting frantically that he has visited the future and that they must go back with him to work out a problem concerning their future children. The three take off into the sky in a newly upgraded DeLorean that can fly, and disappear into the future.

BACK TO THE FUTURE is a 1985 comedic science fiction adventure film directed by Robert Zemeckis, co-written by Bob Gale and produced by Steven Spielberg. Beyond its dazzling special effects, the best element of the movie is the performance of Michael J. Fox, who finds himself in the quagmire of surviving the conservative 1950s with a hip 1980s mindset. When released, it became the most successful film of the year, grossing more than $380 million worldwide and receiving critical acclaim. It won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film, and also earned Academy Award, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations. It marked the beginning of a franchise, with Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III released back-to-back in 1989 and 1990, as well as an animated series and theme park rides.

The story is set in 1955 because mathematically, a 17-year old traveling to meet his parents at the same age meant traveling to that decade. The era also marked the birth of rock n' roll and suburb expansion, which would flavor the story. Filming wrapped after a hundred days on April 20, 1985, and the film was delayed from May to August. But the release date was moved to July 3 after a highly positive test screening. "I'd never seen a preview like that," said Frank Marshall, "the audience went up to the ceiling." It opened on July 3, 1985 on 1,200 screens in North America, and spent 11 weeks at number one. The film went on to gross $210.61 million in North America and $170.5 million in foreign countries, accumulating a worldwide total of $381.11 million. BACK TO THE FUTURE had the fourth-highest opening weekend of 1985 and was the top grossing film of the year. Adjusted for inflation, the film is the 58th highest-grossing film in North America, as of October 2008.

The cast also includes: Claudia Wells (Jennifer Parker), Marc McClure (Dave McFly), Wendie Jo Sperber (Linda McFly), George DiCenzo (Sam Baines) Frances Lee McCain (Stella Baines), James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland), J.J. Cohen (Skinhead), Casey Siemaszko (3-D), Billy Zane (Match), Harry Waters Jr. (Marvin Berry), Donald Fullilove (Goldie Wilson), Lisa Freeman (Babs), Cristen Kauffman (Betty), Elsa Raven (Clocktower Woman), Will Hare (Pa Peabody), Ivy Bethune (Ma Peabody), Jason Marin (Sherman Peabody), Katherine Britton (Daughter Peabody), Jason Hervey (Milton Baines), Maia Brewton (Sally Baines), (Courtney Gains), (Mark Dixon), Richard L. Duran (Libyan Terrorist), Jeff O'Haco (Libyan Van Driver), Johnny Green (Scooter Kid # 1), Jamie Abbott Scooter Kid # 2), Norman Alden (Lou Caruthers), Read Morgan (Hill Valley Cop), Sachi Parker (Bystander # 1), Robert Krantz (Bystander # 2), Gary Riley (Guy # 1), Karen Petrasek (Girl # 1), George "Buck" Flower (Red Thomas), Tommy Thomas (Starlighter), Granville "Danny" Young (Starlighter), David Harold Brown (Starlighter), Lloyd L. Tolbert (Starlighter), Paul Hanson (Pinhead - Guitarist), Lee Brownfield (Pinhead), Robert DeLapp (Pinhead), Christopher Cundey (Lorraine's Classmate), Charles L. Campbell (1955 Radio Announcer), Deborah Harmon (TV Newscaster), Huey Lewis (High School Band Audition Judge), Tom Tangen (Student), and Mary Ellen Trainor (TV News Anchor). Alan Silvestri composed the original music. The screenplay was written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, who also directed.

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote BACK TO THE FUTURE had similar themes to the films of Frank Capra, especially IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Ebert commented producer "Steven Spielberg is emulating the great authentic past of Classical Hollywood cinema, who specialized in matching the right director (Robert Zemeckis) with the right project." Janet Maslin of The New York Times believed the film had a balanced storyline. "It's a cinematic inventing of humor and whimsical tall tales for a long time to come." Christopher Null, who first saw the film as a teenager, called it "a quintessential 1980s flick that combines science fiction, action, comedy, and romance all into a perfect little package that kids and adults will both devour." Dave Kehr of Chicago Reader felt Gale and Zemeckis wrote a script that perfectly balanced science fiction, seriousness and humor. Variety applauded the performances, arguing Fox and Lloyd imbued Marty and Doc Brown's friendship with a quality reminiscent of King Arthur and Merlin. The BBC applauded the intricacies of the "outstandingly executed" script, remarking that "nobody says anything that doesn't become important to the plot later."

BACK TO THE FUTURE won the Academy Award for Sound Editing, while "The Power of Love", the sound designers, and Zemeckis and Gale (Original Screenplay), were nominated. The film won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film. Michael J. Fox and the visual effects designers won categories at the Saturn Awards. Zemeckis, composer Alan Silvestri, the costume design and supporting actors Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson were also nominated. The film was successful at the 39th British Academy Film Awards, where it was nominated for Best Film, original screenplay, visual effects, production design and editing. At the 43rd Golden Globe Awards, BACK TO THE FUTURE was nominated for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), original song ("The Power of Love"), Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Fox) and Best Screenplay for Zemeckis and Gale.

This movie ranked number 28 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies. In 2006, BACK TO THE FUTURE was voted the 20th greatest film ever made by readers of Empire. In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed the AFI's 10 Top 10--the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres--after polling more than 1,500 people from the creative community. BACK TO THE FUTURE was acknowledged as the 10th best film in the science fiction genre. It is among Channel 4's 50 Films to See Before You Die, being ranked 10th. On December 27, 2007, BACK TO THE FUTURE was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

BACK TO THE FUTURE became an international phenomenon, leading to two sequels which were filmed back-to-back and released in 1989 and 1990. The trilogy is noted for its irreverent comedy, eccentric characters and ability to incorporate complex theories of time-travel without confusing the audience. The two sequels did not do quite as well at the box office, but the trilogy remains immensely popular and has yielded such spin-offs as an animated television series and a motion-simulation ride at the Universal Studios Theme Parks in Universal City, California (now closed), Orlando, Florida (now closed), and Osaka, Japan.


Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) travels with Marty (Michael J. Fox) to the year 2015 where he discovers Marty's family is in ruins. Marty buys a sports almanac containing the outcomes of 50 years of sporting events (1950–2000). However, Doc catches him and throws the almanac in the trash, where the aged Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) finds it. While Marty and Doc are at Marty's future house, Biff steals the DeLorean time machine and gives the book to himself just before he goes to the dance at the end of the first movie. When Doc and Marty return to 1985, they find that Biff has used the almanac's knowledge for financial gain, which allows him to turn Courthouse Square into a 27 story casino, "own" Hill Valley, get away with the murder of Marty's father, and later marry Marty's mother. Marty learns that Biff was given the book by an old man in 1955, so he and Doc go back to that date in order to steal the almanac from Biff before he can use it to destroy their lives. They accomplish this in a complex fashion, often crossing their own past-selves' paths. When the duo are about to travel back to 1985, a lightning bolt strikes the DeLorean and scrambles the time circuits, sending Doc back to 1885 and leaving Marty stranded in 1955. In other words, the film ends as a cliffhanger.

Critics and audiences were not too pleased with BACK TO THE FUTURE Part II, the inventive and clever sequel. Director Zemeckis and cast bent over backwards to add layers of time-travel complication, and while it exercises the brain it isn't necessarily funny in the same way that its predecessor was. However it's well worth watching just to appreciate the imagination that went into it, particularly in a finale that has Marty watching his own actions from the first film. Ending it as a cliffhanger was a cheap mistake.


After finding out that Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is trapped in 1885, Marty (Michael J. Fox) sets out to find Doc in 1955 to help him fix the DeLorean, which has been waiting for him in a mineshaft for 70 years, and restore it to working order. Learning that Doc gets shot in 1885, Marty travels back in time to save Doc, who is a blacksmith, and bring him back to the future. Unfortunately, Marty rips a hole in the fuel line, rendering the DeLorean immobile. Furthermore, Doc falls in love with schoolteacher Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen), and considers staying in 1885. Marty must convince Doc to come back with him and find a way to get back to his time before it's too late. After several dramatic action scenes involving a speeding locomotive, Marty returns to 1985 in the restored DeLorean. It appears on a train track as planned, and Marty jumps out just in time to see the DeLorean time machine destroyed by a modern train. He worries that Doc has been lost in the past forever, when suddenly Doc Brown appears in a new time machine, modeled after a locomotive. He introduces Marty to Clara, to whom he is now married, and his two sons, Jules (Todd Cameron Brown) and Verne (Dannel Evans). When Marty asks if Doc and his family are going to the future, Doc replies that he's already been to the future. The locomotive flies across the sky and disappears, and the trilogy ends.

Shot back-to-back with the second chapter in the trilogy, BACK TO THE FUTURE Part III is less hectic than that film and has the same spirit of the first, but in a new setting. This time, Marty ends up in the Old West of 1885, trying to prevent the death of mad scientist Christopher Lloyd at the hands of gunman Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Director Zemeckis successfully blends exciting special effects with the traditions of a Western and comes up with something original and fun.

The trilogy has been released on DVD by Universal Studios. Disc 1 is fine. The second DVD does have the obvious "V2" (for version 2) on the face near the bottom, after all rights reserved. The third DVD does not have "V2" on the bottom. A computer check of the contents proves these are updated versions of the widescreen DVDs. The sound and video are excellent, with the viewing screen filled perfectly. The 5.1 re-master sounds great and is utilized very well. One of the best sound effects is within the last 15 minutes of disc 1, where a helicopter sounds like it is circling the room from the right to rear to left. Unfortunately Universal, when creating the transfers for the 2nd and 3rd movies, managed to improperly matte the films. This means that the image area you are seeing is not the theatrical release. These problems have existed since the R2 versions were released, but Universal decided they didn't want a new transfer process to interfere with their profits and think most people won't notice the problem or won't care if they do. This is a relatively poor product by a studio which once produced quality DVDs.

Each of the three discs supposedly contains the movie and its own supplemental material. The length on some of these extras will leave you wanting more. Only the first disc contains an audio commentary and animated anecdotes, but nearly all of the other types of extras are to be found on all three discs. On disc 1 are the original 1985 and current retrospective featurettes, an interesting makeup test film archive, outtakes, production archives containing various photographs, storyboards to final feature comparisons, and a theatrical teaser trailer. Disc 2 contains the original 1989 and current retrospective featurettes, a hoverboard test on location clip, outtakes, production archives, storyboards to final feature comparisons, and the theatrical trailer. Disc 3 has no original "making-of" but has a retrospective featurette, outtakes, production archives, storyboards to final feature comparisons, the theatrical trailer, and a music video from ZZ Top for the rock song "Double Back". There is also an added promotional trailer for the DVD release of E.T.: THE 20th ANNIVERSARY.

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