WARNING!!: Spoilers ahead
Back to the Future, and to a lesser extent its two sequels, are a perfect example of what happens in the cinematic medium when all the creative stars align. Robert Zemeckis was an up-and-coming filmmaker who’d been taken under Steven Spielberg’s wing. Along with his friend, co-writer and producer Bob Gale, Zemeckis had written, produced and directed two movies for the big screen, and written another one for Spielberg. Even though Zemeckis proved time and again that he was a talented filmmaker, his two movies I Wanna Hold your Hand (1978), and Used Cars (1980), had flopped at the box office. The fact that the one movie he and Gale had written for Spielberg, 1941 (1979), had been Spielberg’s one financial failure, for a director who was usually a safe bet when it came to making money at the box office, didn’t help restore the Studios’ faith in Zemeckis’s ability to produce a money-maker, either. This is why when in the early 1980s Bob Gale came up with the concept for Back to the Future, they both had a hard time trying to sell the idea to the Studios. But, as fate would have it, things would turn around in ways neither Zemeckis nor Gale could’ve ever imagined.
One day on a visit to his parents home, Bob Gale found himself going through some old stuff in their garage, and came upon some very interesting information about his father. Apparently, in his high school years, Gale’s father had been elected president of his graduating class. This was something that Gale was completely unaware of, and prompted the question of whether Gale would have been friends with his own father, had they gone to High School together. This is how the idea of teenager Marty McFly going back in time, meeting his parents, and his mother accidentally falling in love with him, came about. Upon returning, Gale told Zemeckis about his idea and he loved it. They immediately started working on a first draft, and when they were done, they presented the idea to Spielberg, who also loved it and wanted to produce it. Zemeckis was concerned about his track record at the box office though, and didn’t want to embroil Spielberg in another one of his failed projects. Spielberg was quite understanding about it, and Zemeckis and Gale started doing the rounds through all the Studios, trying to sell the picture. Lots of doors got slammed on their faces, on the grounds that the script was too quaint and sweet, with Studios pushing for more outrageous and raunchy teenage comedies at the time like Porky’s (1981), until someone suggested to them they take the idea to Disney. Disney flat out rejected the concept for the opposite reason. They thought the idea of a teenager traveling back in time, and his future mother falling in love with him was too outrageous a concept for a Studio with family-friendly content in mind. Being unable to convince a Studio to back the script, Zemeckis decided to take Twentieth Century Fox’s offer to direct Romancing the Stone, with Michael Douglas’ backing as a producer and actor. The movie proved to be a huge success at the box office, and all of a sudden, every major Studio in Hollywood was interested in Back to the Future. It was then that Zemeckis and Gale, out of loyalty for Spielberg, went back to him and Universal Studios to produce the movie. Syd Sheinberg, the head of Universal at the time, was very interested in the movie, but didn’t like the title of the movie at all, on the grounds that it would be confusing to audiences as to what it meant. He even went as far as to suggest they change the title for Space Man from Pluto. Out of desperation, Gale and Zemeckis turned to Spielberg for help, who decided to send a note to Sheinberg, congratulating him on his wit, and that everybody had had a good laugh about it. Whether out of embarrassment, or pride, Sheinberg didn’t mention it ever again, the whole thing was forgotten, and the original title remained. With the movie finally given the go-ahead, everything was set to be smooth sailing, but one more obstacle remained that would put the movie in jeopardy.
The right man for the job
From the early stages of production, Zemeckis and Gale were dead set on getting Michael J. Fox for the role of Marty McFly. The actor, who had been increasingly gaining popularity as Alex Keaton in the popular TV show Family Ties, had the required comedic timing that the filmmakers were looking for, and that was precisely the rubb. The sitcom’s proverbial title proved to be rather significant in that due to Fox’s ever growing popularity, and that his role in the TV show had increased due to one of the main actresses being out of it because of maternity leave, Fox was contractually tied to the show for as long as the season would last; something that conflicted with Zemeckis’s shooting schedule. Zemeckis had been given the mandate by Universal to deliver the movie on a certain date, and pressed for time as the whole crew was, he decided to cast a wider net, and try to find an actor that would be a suitable replacement for Fox. All the while, Fox had his hands full, and was completely unaware that Zemeckis and Gale were interested in him for the role, as Gary David Goldberg, the writer and producer of the show, had hidden this fact from him. Spielberg and Zemeckis had approached Goldberg about their interest in Fox, and given him a copy of the script for him to read. As soon as Goldberg read the script, he knew that Fox would want to do it with his eyes closed, and Goldberg didn’t want to risk losing his star.
Many actors like John Cryer, Ben Stiller, C. Thomas Howell and Eric Stolz were screen tested for the role, but only Howell and Stolz ended up as runner ups. In the end, the role went to Eric Stolz, whom Sheinberg preferred due to his wider dramatic range, which he’d amply demonstrated on his starring role of Rocky, the adolescent who suffers from a congenitive facial deformity, in the yet-to-be-released, Peter Bogdanovich’s movie Mask (1985). Zemeckis wasn’t sure that Stolz was the right fit for the role, but given how pressed he was for time, and quite confident about his abilities as a filmmaker, he thought he could make it work. Sadly, that wasn’t to be the case.
Casting the ensemble
As for the rest of the cast, this proved to be less of a challenge. For the role of Marty’s parents, George and Lorraine McFly, the filmmakers chose actors Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson, for the role of Marty’s archnemesis Biff Tannen they went with actor Thomas F.Wilson, actors Marc McClure, who’d played the role of Jimmy Olsen in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978), and Wendie Jo Sperber to play the roles of Marty’s siblings, Dave and Linda McFly respectively. The two actors had been frequent players in Zemeckis’s two previous movies, having landed roles in both I wanna Hold your Hand (1978), and Used Cars (1980). New York stage actor James Tolkan was sought out by the filmmakers to play the role of Marty’s School Principal Strickland, and the best and trickiest bit of casting went to Christopher Lloyd as Professor “Doc” Emmett Brown, friend of Marty’s and inventor of the Delorean time machine.
The main challenge that Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson and Thomas Wilson had to face was to play older versions of themselves in 1985, having to endure countless hours of prosthetic makeup, and altering their body language and their voices to appear older. Funnily enough, Lea Thompson ended up being more comfortable in the skin of forty-something Lorraine McFly, with all the makeup on, than playing her younger self. She’s said to have had a real hard time identifying with a teenager from the 50s, but through immersing herself in the time period by reading magazine from the era, and surrounding herself with props and memorabilia from the 50s, she managed to pull it off. Crispin Glover and Thomas Wilson didn’t have such problems, easily sliding into their respective roles for both time periods. Glover proved to be something of a headache for Zemeckis on set coming up with weird ideas and acting methods to achieve George Mcfly’s unique mannerisms. Zemeckis would have to tell the actor to dial down some of his efforts for risk of coming off as too wacky, and off-kilter. Despite the numerous on-set shaenanigans, Crispin delivered what is probably one of the most memorable performances in the entire series. But one of the clear standouts of the movie was Christopher Lloyd’s turn as wacky inventor “Doc” Emmett Brown. The actor had been sent the script, but being immersed as he was in his stage work, the actor didn’t even get to read it until weeks later at his agent’s insistence. Once he did, he found the story to be really interesting and the script very well written. He agreed to come to Los Angeles to screen test for the role, and both Zemeckis and Gale were blown away by his performance. The character had been brilliantly written by the Bobs, as both Zemeckis and Gale were affectionately known on the set, but it was really Lloyd who brought it to life, coming out with the lightning-fast way of talking, and the character’s wacky outlook, a mixture of composer Leopold Stokowski and Albert Einstein. The character fit Lloyd like a glove, as if he’d been indeed born to play him.
Other bit characters in the movie were played by Billy Zane, J.J Cohen and Casey Siemaszko who play Match, Skinhead and 3-D respectively, all three members of Biff Tannen’s gang. Harry Waters Jr was to play the role of Marvin Berry, lead singer of the fictional musical band The Starlighters, who play on The Enchantment Under The Sea school dance, and fictional cousin to famous musician Chuck Berry, resulting in one of the funniest gags of the entire movie. Claudia Wells as Marty’s love interest, Jennifer Parker, who had been considered from the very beginning by the Bobs, but had to bow out due to been unavailable at the time, as she’d been picked to star in a pilot for a new TV show. When eventually the pilot was dropped by the network, and the Bobs were forced to change the actress who was chosen to play the role of Jennifer Parker, due to the height difference between her and Michael J. Fox, who was going to replace Stolz after all, she was called back again. And that takes us to our next chapter.
The casting of Eric Stolz wound up being a bad decision in the long run, as five weeks into Principal Photography, Zemeckis realized after checking the dailies, that they weren’t getting that comedic touch they needed for the movie. A decision had to be made, and a hard one at that. Zemeckis consulted on Spielberg to get a second opinion before they went to Sheinberg’s office. Spielberg agreed that it was the right call to withdraw Stolz from the picture, and that he would back him up in front of Sheinberg. As Sheinberg had previously agreed that the role of Marty could be recast if things didn’t work out with Stolz, Spielberg went once again to visit Gary David Goldberg and try to work out a deal so Michael J. Fox could be in the movie. Goldberg accepted to pass the script on the Fox on the condition that if the actor accepted to play the part, the TV show Family Ties had to take precedence. Spielberg and Zemeckis accepted Goldberg’s conditions, and Golderberg called Fox into his office to talk. Fox was somewhat apprehensive going in as he imagined Goldberg had asked him to come in for a different reason. He was pleasantly surprised when Goldberg presented to him Gale and Zemeckis’s script, and explained to him the conditions under which he’d be taking on the job. Without giving it a second thought, Fox accepted the role right away. Fox was already aware of the Steven Spielberg produced movie when he stumbled upon some crew members scouting for locations is Pasadena where he was shooting Teen Wolf, Rod Daniel (1985), during a production break of Family Ties, and thought it would be cool to participate in a movie like that. With everything right in the universe again, Zemeckis and Gale were left with the difficult and ackward task of having to tell their current lead man that his services would no longer be required. To say that the news didn’t sit well with Stolz would be an understatement. He actually took it pretty hard. It also didn’t help that Zemeckis and Gale hadn’t been the only ones who’d noticed that something wasn’t quite clicking with Stolz. Lea Thompson, who was very good friends with the actor, and had in fact worked with him previously, has come forward ever since declaring that even though Stolz was a very gifted actor, his sensibilities for the role, and lack of comedic timing, didn’t match Zemeckis’s requirements for this movie in particular. Lloyd also struggled to connect with the actor as did most of the crew. The actor would refuse to come out of his trailer during his downtime, didn’t interact with the rest of the cast and crew and pretty much kept to himself. He also refused to be called by his actual name while on-set, which was kind of irritating to his fellow actors and the crew. Nevertheless the actor, as previously agreed, received his full salary.
Zemeckis and Gale had kept hidden the behind-the-scenes mayhem from the cast and crew as much as they could, but the time had come to make a public announcement, and so Zemeckis got his cast and crew together before the day’s work started, and gave the news of Soltz leaving and Fox coming in. Even though the cast and crew was pretty much aware that something was afoot with regards to Stolz, the changeover wasn’t all that seamless at first with Lea Thompson expressing concern that a sitcom actor with little previous experience on the big screen could pull it off. She was rapidly convinced of the opposite though, and has since apologized for looking down on a genre, the sitcom, after having worked on it years later, as being extremely hard.
Figuring out time travel
The Bobs knew they had a very good idea in their hands, but they also knew that it needed polishing. On one of their very first drafts, Gale and Zemeckis had envisioned their protagonist traveling back in time through the use of a time capsule that had to be transported to a nuclear test site in order to harness the energy resulting from a nuclear explosion for the time vehicle to go back in time. It was soon obvious to all those involved, especially the Studio, that this would be much too complicated, time-consuming, and expensive to achieve. Actually, the very first sequence of the movie, as written for Eric Stolz, involved Marty causing the sprinklers system in the whole building to go off, to escape detention and being able to attend his band audition for the school dance. The whole nuclear test site concept would be teased by having Marty and his fellow classmates watch a video about the dangers of nuclear power while serving detention. There was even an outrageous concept of sticking Marty into a fridge and through the power of a nuclear explosion, send him back in time. An idea that would not go to waste, and show up years later at the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s much derided fourth Indiana Jones installment, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Once Stolz was out of the picture, and since those scenes hadn’t been shot yet, the filmmakers were forced to come up with a whole new, and cheaper concept to send Marty back in time. They say that neccesity is the mother of creativity, and so that’s how the whole idea of making the time machine a moving vehicle came about. It was actually Zemeckis’s idea to make the time machine into a car, and what better car to meet the requirements of both filmmakers than a DeLorean. The ill-fated engineering brainchild of John DeLorean had been a financial blunder from day one. The poor manufacturing quality of the vehicle, plus a decrease in the sales of motorized vehicles in the last few years, had driven DeLorean to try and keep his floundering financial empire afloat by dubious means. Arrested for his involvement with drug trafficking, the motor tycoon would be later exonerated of all charges, but would never be able to make his unusual car model a success. The Bobs didn’t really care about any of this, and just thought that the car looked cool, with its futuristic design that resembled in many respects the design of the spaceships seen in comic books from the 50s. Cool it did look, but it would give the special effects crews who worked on it more than their fair amount of problems on-set, with it constantly breaking down, or not working properly, in addition to being an extremely uncomfortable car to work with and drive. But these little technical mishaps were still far off in the future, and the Bobs immediately hired the best concept artists to start working on the final design of the time vehicle. The first man to be hired by Production Designer Lawrence G. Paul was Ron Cobb. Larry Paul had ample experience designing futuristic vehicles, as he’d previously worked on Ridley Scott’s Sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner (1982). Cobb was a well known conceptual designer, best known for his work on Conan the Barbarian, John Millius (1982). Cobb came up with the first concept, with all the weird machine parts hapzardly cobbled together and hanging from the car’s main body. Would be later refined by the likes of Andrew Probert and Michael Scheffe, who further streamlined and polished the design, with Special Effects Supervisor Kevin Pike and his crew in charge of assembling the final design. Gale had a pretty concise idea of how he wanted time travel to be represented in the movie. He wanted it to be instantaneous, but also wanted the conceptual designers at ILM to come up with some flashy and visually interesting ways of showing it on-screen. That’s how Ken Ralston and Wes Takahashi from ILM came up with the idea of sparks and lighting coming out of the car as it traverses the space time-continuum. It was also Takahashi’s idea to make some of the elements on the body work glow. The resulting design; one of the most iconic vehicles in movie’s history. With the filmmakers locking on a design, the whole end sequence with Marty going back to 1985 using a nuclear test site was re-written into the now legendary clock tower sequence and the bolt of lightning that will send Marty back to his own time.
Pain is momentary, Glory is forever.
With this motto in mind is how Michael J. Fox got through one of the most gruelling shoots of his entire career. The actor knew that this was his one chance to make it big on the silver screen, and so he was commited to it one hundred percent from day one. His commitment at the time with Family Ties made it very tricky for the actor in terms of schedule, though. He was on the Family Ties set from the early hours of the morning till late afternoon, when someone from the Studio would pick him up, drive him to the Back to the Future set, he’d then shoot until 4 o’clock in the morning, be driven back to his house to get a few hours sleep, and be up at 8 o’clock the next morning to get back to the Family Ties set. All in all, the actor would grab four hours straight of sleep in between, an experience that would result in Fox declaring afterwards that he was so tired and confused at that time, that he thought he’d delivered a bad performance. On top of all that, Fox would have to go shoot during weekends at the Universal backlot, as it was the only time of the week where Zemeckis could get him the whole day to shoot daytime sequences. Fox wasn’t the only one to feel the rigors of an ever demanding shooting schedule. Having mostly wasted five weeks worth of shooting time with Eric Stolz, the crew was also asked to put in the extra work and reset and re-shoot most of the scenes that had been shot with Stolz. Marty’s recasting also had caused some unfortunate decisions to be made. As Claudia Wells had been unavailable at the time due to her TV commitments, the role had been given to actress Melora Hardin, who unfortunately never got to shoot a single scene. The actress was about the same size as Stolz, but a few inches taller than Fox. Many people on the crew thought that this would not look good on-screen to have the girlfriend of the leading man to be taller than him. It was taking to a vote, and it fell on Gale to inform the actress of their collective decision to recast the role. On the other hand, Welles series pilot fell through, and she was again available. Being roughly the same height as Fox it was a lucky coincidence that she was finally going to play the role she apparently was fated to play.
The role of Marty McFly also demanded that Fox display a set of skills that would also take extra time out of the actor’s schedule, like riding a skateboard, or playing the guitar. Coaches were brought in to teach Fox how to ride a skateboard and play the guitar. Fox would have to constantly practice both skills in what little spare time he had left, but proved to be up to the task on both fronts. Being as resourceful and eager to learn as he was, Fox quickly got quite good at using a skateboard, even though a double would be used for the most hairy stunts, and already knew his way around a guitar having played in bands when he was younger. Paul Hanson, his guitar instructor, was so impressed with Fox’s progress, that he declared that the actor could’ve made a good musician had he chosen to follow a different career path. Fox learned to finger-synch playing the guitar to a proficient level, and had also to learn to lip-synch to a dubbed recording of the song Johnny B. Goode by singer Mark Campbell. He also had to come up with a choreography on stage for when Marty plays the guitar on stage during the Enchantment under the Sea dance, and starts imitating the style of different artists from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Along with choreographer Brad Jeffries, they came up with a routine that was the result of much improvisation. The actor, in fact, was much into lip-adding to his dialogue due to his experience on TV. With Fox coming onboard for the movie, it also added to the performances of the rest of the cast who finally found in Fox that missing magical touch that was lacking with Stolz. With everyone in the cast gelling so well, things seems to be going smothly.
Coming up with the look
It was the Bobs original idea to shoot Back to the Future on location, and they had indeed already been scouting for a suitable location for the movie when it dawned on them that taking an existing location and having to change the whole outlook of a town, changing signage and facades of storefronts to accommodate a different time period, not to say anything about having to move heavy and costly shooting equipment hundreds of miles away, would be too cumbersome and expensive an endeavor for a movie with such a small budget. It was decided, in the interest of economizing as much as possible, and out of convinience, to use Universal’s back lot. The filmmakers decided to push the 1950s scenes forward in the schedule, as it would be then easier later on for the art directors to change the pristine looking 1955 fictional Californian town of Hill Valley into its derelict, modernized 1985 counterpart. Larry Paul did tons of research and was able to enlist the help of several companies which had been around from the 50s like Texaco, to provide him with vintage signage and props from that time period to give the fictional town a more realistic and lived-in look. That, along with the use of vintage cars, and the wardrobe provided by Costume Designer Deborah L. Scott, who was able to find the most exquisite designs from that time, gave the film such a picture-perfect look that many members of the audience who were born or had lived in that era, felt themselves being transported back to the 50s.
Music proved to be a very important part of what’s made Back to the Future such a memorable movie. In this day and age in which people seem to have found a new appreciation for the 80s, it’s iconography, and especially its music, it’s no surprise that the music from the film has resiliently stood the test of time. Zemeckis and Gale were massive fans of the group Huey Lewis and the News, and wanted the group the compose a couple songs for the movie, to not only better help market the movie and appeal to younger audiences, but to compose songs that would be thematically and emotionally linked to the movie’s plot. Lewis was somewhat hesitant to take on the job, as he thought he wouldn’t be the right fit to compose music for a movie. Once the Bobs pitched him the concept however, he was sufficiently intrigued to want to give it a try. Zemeckis even wanted to take it one step further, trying to convince Lewis to make a cameo on the movie. Ironically enough, Lewis plays the role of the juror who rejects Marty’s band during the Battle of the Band’s audition for being too loud!!. His choice of wardrobe and hairstyle was the complete opposite of Lewis’s public persona. The band ended up composing two songs for the movie; The Power of Love and Back in Time, which have been become part of the film’s music iconography, and one of the few examples of an artist or group composing songs for a movie that become instantly recognizable and immediately associated with the movie they’re attached too. There’s another one clear example in Queen and the songs they composed for the movie Highlander, Russell Mulcahy (1986) . One important element that helps bring to life Back to the Future’s story is Alan Silvestri’s score. Silvestri had previously worked with Zemeckis on Romancing the Stone, a score which, funnily enough, Spielberg didn’t like at all. Zemeckis knew he didn’t have a big budget to work with, or great vistas to show off on the big screen. By anyone’s standards, Back to the Future was a low key, quirky Sci-fi comedy. Not the kind of material that lends itself to great, epic, sweeping orchestral scores. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what Zemeckis wanted for his time travel romp, and his one mandate to Silvestri was to make it sound big. On that directive, Silvestri started working on the score, for which he brought in a large orchestra. Silvestri had already some temp music ready to cut the action scenes, and as fate would have it, Spielberg happen to walk into the Studio one day while Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas were editing to Silvestri’s music, and said to Zemeckis that that’s the kind of composer Zemeckis needed for his picture. To Spielberg’s surprise, Zemeckis told him that that was Silvestri’s music that he’d composed especially for the film. Another element that was completely made up for the film was the fictional band The Starlighters and its vocalist, Marvin Berry played by Harry Waters Jr. The fictional cousin of Rock ‘n’ Roll icon Chuck Berry, is one of the highlights of the movie, and his unfortunate running into Biff’s gang causes Marty McFly to get on stage, and give 1950s teenagers a taste of Rock ‘n’ Roll, a few years ahead of its time. The actor was a trained singer who’d already been performing for a few years in musicals when he was cast in the role. Unlike Michael J. Fox, whom many people at the time thought was really singing, he does all his singing for real, proving his talent singing Earth Angel.
Racing against the clock
With Principal Photography already wrapped, and ILM still working on the intricate visual effects, an assembly cut of the movie had already been finalized. For the purposes of having a rough cut of the movie available as soon as possible, and to keep ahead of the schedule, trying to make up for the time lost with Stolz, the filmmakers decided to hire two editors to work on the movie; Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas. There were two major action set pieces that required a great deal more attention than any other sequence in the movie. These were the sequence that takes place in the Twin Pine Mall parking lot in which the time machine is unveiled, and Marty travels back in time for the first time, and the second one is the clock tower sequence in which Marty attempts to go back to 1985 making use of a lightning bolt that’s gonna strike the clock tower at midnight. Schmidt worked on the first sequence, while Keramidas concentrated his efforts on the second one. The rest of the footage was divided between the two of them to be worked on at different times, while mainly trying to focus on the visual effects-heavy sequences. This assembly cut was the one that the Studio rolled out and decided to do a preview screening with in a Theater in San José, California. With unfinished visual effects, several trimms still surely to be made, and an audience totally unaware of what they were in for, the movie was screened, with several members of the crew in amongst the audience. The large chunks of exposition at the beginning of the movie, and the scene in which ”Doc” Brown’s dog, Einstein, disappears with the time vehicle, put the audience slightly off, but once Marty traveled back in time and the audience realized where it was that the filmmakers were going with this, they were having the time of their lives, and when the now flying time machine came hurtling towards the screen at the end of the picture, the audience erupted in applause. The filmmakers, but above all the producers, could see that the movie was going to be a smash hit. Zemeckis and Gale were still slightly cautious, as their two first movies, Used Cars and I wanna hold your Hand, had too had successful screen tests before failing miserably at the box office. The movie was supposed to come out in August, but seeing the potential to make a larger profit during the height of Summer, Sheinberg wanted to push for a fourth of July weekend release date. Zemeckis explained to Sheinberg that in order to accommodate such a rushed release date, they would have to hire more special effects people to get the movie out in time. Sheinberg agreed to this, and immediately started writing cheques. The already exhausted post-production crew ended up working seven days a week, but warts and all, managed to get the movie out.
Financial and Critical success.
As predicted by Sheinberg, the movie was a massive financial success, with its box office intake growing week by week, with every weekend proving to be more successful than the weekend before. The film was universally praised for its tight script, endearing characters, and very clever mix of comedy and science fiction. Unlike the rest of his fellow cast members, Michael J. Fox was unable to do any promotional tours for the movie, as he was shooting a made-for-TV Family Ties movie in London. It was actually Fox’s agent who called him up to inform a disbelieving Fox of the worldwide success Back to the Future was turning out to be. The movie grossed an estimated $388.8 million on a budget of $19 million. It was nominated for four Academy Awards for Best Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Screenplay, and Best Sound Editing, for which it won.
Back to the Future is a truly iconic film. A brilliant piece of screenwriting, the kind of screenwriting people in the business talk about when it comes to learning how to write a good, concise script. It’s also a masterpiece in editing and pacing. Everything that can be expected from top notch cinematic entertainment. It’s a movie that from the very beginning, without you knowing it, feeds you lots of information and sets lots of plot points up that will be paid off later on. The first sequence of the movie is a brilliant example of, a) setting up what the movie is gonna be about ( the ticking clocks), b) gives you information about the person who lives in this house we’re seeing, through paper clips on the wall, portraits of famous scientists, his working mechanical inventions, c) there’s one image that shows a small figure of a man hanging from a clock, which clearly foreshadows something that’s gonna happen later on in the movie, d) the TV news broadcast informs you about the stolen plutonium that’s gonna play a crucial role later on in the movie, and e) we know that the owner of the house has stolen the plutonium when the tracking shot ends on the case of plutonium hidden under the table, and we also know that this person has been away from some time when we see the way the dog foot has been accumulating for days on the food tray. And this is just one of several brilliant uses of visual storytelling that Zemeckis uses to deliver information to his audience. He also doesn’t take his audience for granted. He calls attention to certain elements in the scene, but not in an obvious way. It gives the right amount of information so that you can work out the details of the plot without giving it away. The acting is brilliant and spot on, and I’m so glad that Zemeckis stuck to his guns and kept on pushing for Fox to play Marty. When you see the movie there’s no one else who could have played the role as well as he does. He’s brilliant at reacting at things, and his comedic timing is spot on, afforded by his years of experience working on TV, where actors really have to think on their feet, and improvise a lot. He proved to be the perfect complement for Christopher Lloyd, who delivers what is probably his most recognizable role as the wacky scientist ”Doc” Emmet Brown, who really has to deliver, not just one, but two takes on the same character in two totally different time periods. He delivers in spades on both fronts, ensuring his place for posterity as one of the most universally recognized characters in movie history. It really is a pity that he didn’t get at least nominated for an Oscar for his performance on this movie. His scenes with Crispin Glover and Lêa Thompson are comedy gold. The three of them really bring the best out of each other. Especially brilliant is Crispin Glover. His on-set antics and strange acting methods might’ve driven Zemeckis over the hill, but he really does come through with the goods. It’s a pity things couldn’t be worked out for him to appear on the sequels. Thomas Wilson really does a superb job as the school bully Biff Tannen, and he’d get the chance to stretch his acting muscles for the sequels even more. As for the rest, Alan Silvestri is his usual energetic, imaginative self, the Production Design with the 50s setting, and the design of the iconic DMC-12 DeLorean time machine are things that are forever etched in the imagination of cinema goers. One of the few truly rare cases in which a group of talented artists manage to catch lightning in a bottle. Pure cinematic entertainment at its best.
Thanks for reading.