Last night, Darth Vader came down from the Planet Vulcan and told me that if I didn’t watch Back to the Future that he’d melt my brain. So here we are.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson
Run time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
I could not find the movie on any of the streaming platforms for which I pay. How can you watch it? You can do as I did and rent it from Amazon Prime video for $3.99. Or you can look through your ancient DVD collection and find the movie there. I was unwilling to make that kind of effort.
Before I give a lengthy plot synopsis, I want to add a DustyReviews warning to this post. Despite the ludicrous PG rating, there is a surprisingly high amount of adult language throughout the movie. There is also some relatively adult plot points that might not be suitable for young children. If you decide to take my lead and watch the movie, you should not do so with your small kids.
The film begins with Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) walking into Dr. Emmett Brown’s home/lab. We see newspaper clippings about his burned down mansion. There is a robot arm – designed to feed a dog – dumping another uneaten can of dog food onto a very overfull bowl on the floor. We hear a TV in the background with a news person discussing that plutonium has been stolen. There are numerous clocks covering all of his wall space. The phone rings. Doc (Christopher Lloyd) confirms that he has been away for several days but that he has the dog, Einstein, with him. He asks Marty to meet him in the mall’s parking lot that night at 1 a.m. to see the results of his latest experiment.
Marty realizes he is late to school. He skateboards there, hitching a ride on cars by holding onto their bumpers. At school, we meet his girlfriend Jennifer Parker (Claudia Wells.) She is excited about their lake trip this coming weekend. She asks if Marty has told his parents and he says no. He tells her he made up a story about where he would be because his mom is too old-fashioned to be happy with the idea. At school, we also meet Principal Strickland. Strickland calls Marty a slacker for being tardy and says that he is just like his father when his father was in his school. Strickland also says that Marty should not bother entering the upcoming Battle of the Bands because “no McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley.”
Marty: Yeah, well, history is gonna change.
Marty’s band, The Pinheads, does not pass muster. Nevertheless, Jennifer encourages him to send a demo tape to a record label. Marty confides that he is not sure he can take that kind of rejection. He also expresses concern about ending up like his parents.
Back home that night we meet Marty’s family. His father George (Crispin Glover) is a nerd who is bullied by a co-worker, Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson.) In fact, Biff borrows and wrecks George’s car and blames George for the accident. Marty’s mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson) is less a desperate housewife and more a despondent one. Her lines are delivered in a very flat and unaffected way. We do hear in her flat voice, though, that she does not approve of Jennifer Parker. She believes Parker has pursued Marty and that girls should not be the aggressor in a relationship. She cites the way she met George as an example. Her father accidentally hit George with his car. They fell in love while Lorraine nursed George back to health. They kissed for the first time at The Enchantment Under the Sea dance soon after.
Marty meets Doc that night in the mall parking lot. Doc unveils his time machine – a modified DeLorean powered by plutonium which he stole from Libyan terrorists. Doc shows Marty the controls (Marty is filming the experiment) and sets the date on the controls to November 5, 1955, the day he conceived of the Flux Capacitor – the key to time travel. Suddenly the terrorists arrive, shoot Doc, and Marty flees inside the DeLorean. When he accelerates the car to 88 miles per hour, he inadvertently travels back in time to November 5, 1955.
Marty’s plutonium gauge is empty when he arrives in 1955. He cannot travel back to 1985. He decides to track down the younger version of Doc Brown in hope of finding a way back home. Before he finds Doc, though, he runs into both of his parents and accidentally interrupts the story of how they met.
He finally tracks down Doc Brown. He learns that the only available power source in 1955 powerful enough to send the car back to the future is a bolt of lightning. Doc points out that nobody knows in advance when or where a bolt of lightning will strike. Fortunately Marty knows that in exactly one week’s time the Hill Valley clock tower will be struck by lightning at precisely 10:04 p.m. Thirty years later in 1985, Marty had been handed a flier about restoring it. Doc devises a way to transfer the electrical jolt from the lightning into the flux capacitor.
Doc finds out that Marty ran into his parents when he arrived in 1955. Before Marty can go back to the future, he needs to get them together so that they can kiss at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. If he does not succeed in getting them together, he may be erased from existence.
Marty’s early attempts to introduce his parents fail. In fact, his mother Lorraine only grows more infatuated with him. Marty comes up with a plan to attend the Dance with his mom, at which point, he will, uhhh, sexually assault his own mom. He then plans to have that assault be interrupted by George. After rescuing Lorraine, per the plan, the two of them go inside to the dance, kiss, and restore the timeline. Unfortunately, on the night of the dance, Biff interrupts the plan. His gang throws Marty into the trunk of a car while Biff then begins to sexually assault Lorraine instead. George does not know about the plan going awry. When he opens the car door and finds Biff, he is initially taken aback and then made afraid by the change of bad guys. However, to the surprise of everyone, he becomes enraged, punches Biff, and knocks him out. George wins over Lorraine and accompanies her back inside to the dance.
The band frees Marty from the trunk of the car. However, in the process of fleeing Marty, their guitar player injures his hand. George has not kissed Lorraine, yet, so Marty has to play guitar with the band until he does so.
Marty hurries to meet Doc Brown. He tries to warn him about what happens in 1985 and leaves him a note. Doc tears up the note. Marty then decides to arrive back to 1985 ten minutes earlier than planned so that he can warn Doc that way. Doc Brown from 1955’s plan works. Marty returns to 1985 with the lightning strike. Unfortunately, after he arrives, the car will not start. Despite arriving ten minutes early, he does not have time to prevent the Libyans from shooting Doc. Marty sees himself get into the time machine and disappear.
When he runs to check on Doc, he finds out that Doc Brown had been wearing a bullet proof vest. He read Marty’s note after all.
The following morning Marty wakes up in his bedroom and walks out to find the same members of his family are now very different. Lorraine is thin and happy. George is a successful sci fi author. His siblings are well dressed and successful-seeming. Biff is outside waxing George’s car. One person who seems unchanged is Jennifer. Marty even finds out that they still have plans to go to the lake.
Just then, Doc Brown arrives in the time machine and tells both Marty and Jennifer that they need to accompany him thirty years into the future because something needs to be done about their kids.
Marty is concerned about driving the car 88 mph in his neighborhood. He then learns that the DeLorean can now fly.
Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.
My first reaction upon watching this movie for the first time in many years is surprise at how much profanity is said throughout the movie. That does not even cover how adult-themed the plot is. I need to do a blog post at some point regarding the completely insane application of movie ratings in the 1980s.
I mean seriously… PG?!
This movie still has a relatively prominent place within pop culture. It is well remembered… generally. However, I am not certain that people remember it as well as they think they do. Case in point:
- I brought up the PG rating. The movie lives in the “family entertainment” compartment of my brain. How does that happen? Did I watch this as a kid and assume through the passage of time that the movie is kid-friendly?
- Do people remember that Lorraine had the hots for Marty? Definitely. HOWEVER, do people remember that Marty had a plan to assault his own mom? Uh, no, largely because he does not go through with it. BUT THAT WAS HIS PLAN! Even passive George was like… “uh, I am uncomfortable with this idea.” And HOW was that Marty’s plan? HOW?! YOU COULDN’T COME UP WITH ANYTHING ELSE, MARTY?!
- Do people tend to forget that Biff is an attempted rapist? I think so. He should be in jail, not meekly waxing George McFly’s car.
- Do people tend to forget that Doc committed enough felonies to go to prison forever? Yep. Absolutely. There’s zero chance he did not eventually move up the “most wanted man on earth” list to at or near the very top.
- Do people tend to forget that the van full of machine gun wielding Libyan terrorists merely crashed? Yeah… and that includes Doc and Marty. It didn’t explode. Those guys are fine. Marty and Doc are just going to casually have a conversation about the bullet proof vest with a van load of terrorists a couple hundred yards away? What happened to those terrorists, by the way? Do we ever learn?
As I was watching the movie, knowing how creepy that Crispin Glover grew up to be, I re-wrote my head cannon for the story following the events of the movie. At some point between the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, and the version of 1985 to which Marty returns, the relationship between Biff and George completely changes. Was one punch enough to change the dynamic between the two men? Or did that punch lead to other dynamics changing events between the two of them? Did Crispin Glover’s George subsequently terrorize Biff into some kind of false meek subservience?
The friendship between Marty and Doc is also well worn discussion ground. My re-watch indicated to me that their relationship was perhaps not a friendship at all, necessarily. Marty seemingly just works for Doc Brown. An adult hiring a teenager to do work, take care of his dog, etc., is not that abnormal. Nevertheless, this extremely NOT SAFE FOR WORK stand up comedy bit touches on that topic and the sales pitch that occurred when making the movie:
There is one “time travel theory” issue from the movie that has always bothered me. When Marty goes back to the future (1985), he sees a version of himself get into the DeLorean and disappear. We subsequently find out that this version of himself is a different Marty entirely. He grew up in a timeline where his family is successful and happy. So…
What happened to the Marty from the good timeline?! WHERE DID HE GO? Did he also go back to 1955? Did he go to some other time? Does he ever come back? Did he die? Marty from the bad timeline just kind of… took his place. The other Marty is never mentioned again.
One other thing that is strange to consider: Doc Brown knows that a version of Marty, from an alternate timeline, visited him in 1955. He knows from the moment that the bad timeline Marty left, in 1955. Does he start keeping tabs on the McFlys at this point? Did he realize that the events from 1955 created a positive timeline for Marty? Did he seek out good timeline Marty to be his assistant? Did the good timeline Marty plan to go to the past? Was he recruited for that purpose? Where did he go? WHY DOESN’T ANYONE CARE?! (Did I mention this bothers me?)
The movie also brought to my mind another mystery. Why was Michael J. Fox a movie star? Is he unusually handsome? Was he “the boy next door” in the 1980s? Did he somehow embody for TV and movie-goers some sense of plucky American underdog status (despite being Canadian)? I just do not understand it. I do not begrudge him the stardom. I enjoyed Family Ties and this franchise. He is doing great things with his platform and Parkinson’s awareness. I just… do not know how he became a star. Someone explain how charisma works.
One final thought: YEARS ago, I saw a YouTube video which wrote lyrics for the iconic John Williams Back to the Future theme. I learned last night that I cannot watch the movie without hearing GoldenTusks’s lyrics in my head. I am happy to know that they are still online. For your enjoyment, I will include a link to the BTTF lyrics down below.