I can’t tell you the last time I sat down and watched any of the Back To The Future films in their entirety, let alone the full trilogy. But I did just that this weekend past. After the break you can find my thoughts on this 30 year old franchise. Does it hold up? Is this anything more than quota making for my posts so that I don’t have to wash Watson’s car? Probably not, but if you are still interested, read on.
Back To The Future
I was 10 years old when Back To The Future was originally released in 1985. I loved the movie then, but that is definitely a timeframe that can be scary to revisit. Unlike Tom Kelly, I don’t hate nostalgia, but I have come to know over the years that my tastes as a 10 year old are quite different from my tastes today. For example, 10 year old Jimmy loved the Dukes of Hazzard. I hadn’t seen it in forever, and when I caught it a few years back in syndication I couldn’t get past a few minutes of it without thinking it was the worst thing I had ever seen. Movies do tend to hold up better than TV shows of that era, but definitely cause for concern.
But those concerns are unwarranted. Back To The Future holds up incredibly well. I was pleasantly surprised. Though it had some very 80’s music, clothing and hairstyles it never really feels dated. That most of the movie takes place in 1955 helps with this as it plays more as a set piece than a piece of 80’s nostalgia.
The pacing is perfect. All the parts you love and remember still pack the same punch and deliver the same enjoyment level. There are a couple of weakish effects shots, but they are simply a victim of the film being made in the mid eighties and the technology available to them at the time.
My one complaint was the actress who played Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer. I just thought she was terrible, especially with so many quality actors taking up the rest of the screen time. I was glad to see that she was replaced by Elizabeth Shue going forward (unfortunately because her mother was ill when shooting for Parts II and III came about), but it’s not like Jennifer had a very big role to play in any of the films.
It doesn’t get much better than this.
Back To The Future II
Released in 1989, a 14 year old Jimmy probably had tastes closer to my “get off my lawn” tastes of today. I remember being disappointed with the second film (as we usually are with most sequels), but not that it was bad or anything. And it definitely had it’s highlights.
A lot has been written already about what the version of 2015 in the movie got right and wrong compared to the world we live in today. So I won’t get into that. You already know if we have hoverboards or flying cars. (If the Cubs win the World Series this year, it will be an amazing prediction though. Of course, in BTTF2015 the World Series is already over by October 21st. Today, we are barely halfway through the LCS.) I will note though that in BTTF2015 all lawyers have been abolished. Something I’m sure Watson and Ryan are glad has not occurred.
As for the movie itself, 14 year old Jimmy’s opinion still holds up. The sequel is definitely a disappointment and suffers from the largest case of sequelitis of perhaps any film. A lot of this is by design. For example, the parallels between the fight in the cafe and Marty’s escape on this “skateboard” in the first film and the similar “hoverboard” scene in the second.
The biggest culprit though is that the final act of the movie literally involves re-showing footage from the first movie. I know they were trying to be smart and they do a good job of integrating 1985 Marty 2.0 into the happenings of the original film, but it gave me too much of a feeling of “been there, done that”.
One of the great things about the original film is that the use of time travel is very subtle. It is easy to accept it as part of the plot and follow along with the rules it sets up for its universe with the picture of Marty’s family for example. But this second film seems to clobber you over the head with the time travel. And when I’m thinking more about how old Biff was able to return to the unaltered 2015 after stealing the Delorean and going back to 1955…and why he would bring the Delorean back to the exact spot and time that he stole it from…then I am about the actual goings on in the movie, something is wrong.
The film is also very much darker than the original with the voyage to the altered 1985 and the extended focus on Biff in the original 1955 timeline. Because of that it loses a lot of the fun and whimsy of the first film.
Back To The Future III
1990. 15 year old Jimmy is in high school. I don’t remember him hating BTTFIII. I wish I could go back and ask him what he did think on that May or June day when he caught it in the theatres…because 40 year old Jimmy surprisingly couldn’t stand it.
I’m as shocked as anyone. Maybe it just caught me on a bad day, but I couldn’t wait for it to be over. It just felt so tired and forced. The exquisite pacing of the first film long gone as this seemed to drag on forever. I think I remember Watson saying this was his favorite western of all time, so I’m sure he’ll disagree with me. I have a feeling many will.
Some things that bugged me:
- I never bought the love at first site angle between Doc and Clara. I guess in 1885 life expectancy is shorter and you have to hurry things along, but after a couple of days they are confessing their love to each other?
- How can Marty’s great, great grandmother look like his mother from 1985? And not kinda like her…exactly like her. Similarly…
- How could no one, especially Seamus not notice that Marty looked exactly like Seamus? Sure, the hair was different and the mustache, but you’re telling me that Seamus wouldn’t look at him and think he was looking into a mirror of himself at 17? At least Mad Dog Tannen says Marty looks like Seamus, but that is more because of his hat. And speaking of Tannen…
- Why did it take so long for Marty to recognize who he was? I know he doesn’t look exactly like Biff with the facial hair, cowboy hat, etc., but he still looks like Biff and didn’t Marty even see a picture of him earlier in the film? (I could be remembering that wrong.) I’m sure these last three points are the kinds of thing Tom Kelly would tell me not to think about, and they are cute movie tricks to play with casting and such, but I thought it was too much.
- Good thing Marty knows how to ride a horse. Something I’m sure he picked up in Hill Valley in 1985 in between hitching rides on the back of trucks while on his skateboard.
- After Doc tells Clara the truth and they “break up”, why does Clara immediately leave town? Didn’t she just come to town to take a job as a teacher? And the whole overhearing how distraught Doc was while she was sitting on the train out of town? Ugh.
- And back in 1985…how can Jennifer still be on the same porch, asleep, while time completely changes around from the Tannen-ized 1985 back to the BTTF-ized 1985?
Feel free to tell me I’m crazy. I don’t mind. I’m even surprised at myself.
But I’m very glad the first film maintained it’s status as a classic.
Happy Back To The Future Day!