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Back in Time: A Look into “Back to the Future”

Words by Blythe Alspaugh

I have seen ‘Back to the Future’ approximately 88 times, and I have yet to tire of what is one of the most popular, recognized films of the 1980s.

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Photo courtesy of IMDB.

“Back to the Future” stars Michael J. Fox as rock star hopeful teen Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as eccentric scientist Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown. Doc and Marty run into trouble during a science experiment, in which Marty is sent back in time 30 years to Nov. 5, 1955.

While trying to track down Doc Brown of the past and find a way back to 1985, Marty accidentally interrupts his parent’s first meeting, causing his mother to fall in love with him instead of his father. In addition to having to wait a week before he and Doc can use a historic storm to power the DeLorean time machine and send him back to 1985, Marty must play matchmaker for his parents in order to ensure the existence of not only his siblings, but also himself.

What makes “Back to the Future” one of my favorite films of the ‘80s and of all time is how relatable the characters and at times, the storyline, are. Doc Brown is seen as a “dangerous nutcase” by the masses of Hill Valley, but has also gone to great lengths to see his scientific ambitions through. Marty has dreams of becoming a famous rock star, but has a strong fear of rejection and is constantly worrying he’s not good enough.

Later on in the movie it’s revealed George McFly, Marty’s father, has similar confidence issues when it comes to his writing. George is also very non-confrontational, both in 1985 and 1955, to the point where he’d rather bow to the will of a bully than stick up for himself and risk getting into a fight. Despite the extraordinary elements of time travel, it’s these qualities that make the central characters of “Back to the Future” inherently relatable to anyone.

Another essential element to the film is the music. Composed by Alan Silvestri, the score to “Back to the Future” matches the pace of the film impeccably. The theme alone is its own layered adventure told musically—there’s steady buildup that mirrors the action on screen and fully engages the audience, pulling them into the story. One of the most notable scenes in the film is the clock tower. Doc and Marty have a little under five minutes to time everything out perfectly and send Marty back to 1985. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen the movie— the way the musical score is paired with that scene always puts me at the edge of my seat and fills me with great anxiety until the lightning bolt’s energy from the storm is channeled into the flux capacitor, and both Marty and the DeLorean are sent back to the future.

In line with music, one of the most memorable scenes of the film takes place at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, right after Marty’s parents share a kiss and Marty’s future is fixed. Marty is invited to stay on stage and play a song with Marvin Berry and the Starlighters. And Marty, being the rock ‘n’ roll-savvy teen that he is, plays Johnny B. Goode and invents rock ‘n’ roll in the process. What is interesting about this scene is the fact that Robert Zemeckis, the director, almost cut it from the film because he felt it didn’t advance the plot. It was kept in for preview audiences, and because of the positive reaction, the scene made it to the final cut of the film.

Finally, the biggest miracle of this film is not the success, but the fact that it made it to theaters in the first place.

While Fox was the first choice for Marty McFly, his shooting schedule with network sitcom “Family Ties” conflicted with the film’s shooting schedule. Eric Stoltz was cast as Marty McFly and went through five weeks of shooting scenes before he and the producers came to the agreement that he wasn’t the right fit for the role. By that point, Fox had managed to work out a deal with “Family Ties” producer Gary David Goldberg concerning the film schedules between the sitcom and the film. Fox stated in his memoir “Lucky Man” that Marty McFly was the role he could play in his sleep—and for the most part, he did.

“Back to the Future” was such a success in theaters that it not only launched Fox’s film career, but it remains an essential part of popular culture today and has references in both film and television. Most recently, the relationship between Marty and Doc inspired Comedy Central’s cartoon “Rick and Morty.”

Because of its relevance and relatability, I’m giving “Back to the Future” a solid five out of five stars. If you haven’t had the chance to check it out yet, I heavily recommend you do.

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