For the 2015 installment of our Grill 1544 we showed (as always) two films selected by the voters (and by “the voters” I mean “people who emailed me back”). The second-place winner was one of those all-time greats that hasn’t ever been selected for presentation but is exactly the kind of film you expect to get voted in to accompany a barbecue – Back to the Future, directed by Robert Zemeckis.
We all know the film, but it’s worth running it down a bit, so here goes:
Our hero, Marty McFly, is a cooler-than-the-other-side-of-the-pillow teenager with a real loser of a family. His dad George is still being bullied by his high-school nemesis Biff, his mother Lorraine is fat, prudish, and complacent, and his siblings are decidedly unpromising. Outside of a keeper of a girlfriend, his only pal appears to be an old eccentric (some would say “crazy”) inventor, Doc Brown.
But the joke’s on everybody not named Marty, because this eccentric inventor has just built a real, working time machine. Out of a DeLorean, because if you’re going to build a time machine, it has to look cool. And of course, he invites Marty down to the Twin Pines Mall parking lot in the middle of the night to test it out. All you have to do is drive it up to 88 miles per hour and Bam! it goes to whatever point in time you specify.
It works. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the Libyan terrorists that Doc Brown stole the plutonium fuel from manage to find them. From the moonroof in their world’s-fastest VW bus, they plug Doc full of lead and come after Marty, who has little choice but to try to escape in the DeLorean. I bet you can guess what happens next!
If you said he accidentally goes back in time 30 years and negligently makes his saucy tart of a mother fall in love with him, you should be writing screenplays! Since the time machine is unfortunately out of commission, Marty looks up old Doc Brown. Hey, maybe he can fix it! I mean he’s going to invent it, after all.
By dropping some inside knowledge Marty is able to convince Doc Brown that he’s not crazy (and if Doc Brown thinks you’re crazy, watch out!) but a couple of problems crop up. The first is that Marty’s interference with his parents’ meeting is threatening his very existence. The second is that there’s really no power source in the 1950s sufficient to juice up the Delorean’s Flux Capacitor outside of a bolt of lightning, and you never know where or when lightning will strike. Except they do, because the city’s iconic clock is going to be hit by lightning and put out of commission only a few days hence. They even know the exact time (well, down to the minute, not the second, but we’ll let that pass).
So now all Marty has to do is set up his nerdy young father to stand up for his mother’s chastity – a plan to fool her into thinking he was her hero which turns into a real act of heroism when teenaged bully Biff forcibly takes the place of “sham” molester Marty – and get the DeLorean to hit a lightning-rod wire while traveling 88 miles per hour at exactly the time that the lightning strikes. Oh, and he’s got to play Johnny B. Goode at his parent’s high-school dance, because, let’s face it, Chuck Berry wasn’t coming up with that on his own.
Naturally, the “catching lightning” scenario doesn’t go quite as smoothly as planned, but it works, and Marty goes back to the future where Doc Brown, now pre-warned about the Libyans survives thanks to a bulletproof vest.
There are other benefits of Marty’s trip to the past. His parents aren’t schmucks anymore – his dad is even a published author – and they are bossing around Biff instead of the reverse. In fact everything is perfectly peachy keen (for about five minutes) until Doc Brown comes back from the future and sets up a sequel with some sob story about Marty’s kids going all wrong. The End.
No doubt, this is a great movie. The time-travel elements are a bit questionable from time to time – notably the “vanishing sibling” effect – but as it’s not a film that presents itself as a Serious Time Travel Movie it’s really not a big deal. But for as iffy as some of the time travel is, the rest of the screenplay is remarkably tight.
My absolute favorite is the fact that after Marty accidentally destroys one of the “Twin Pines” in the ’50s he returns to find that the mall’s name has changed. Subtle, but great. But the opening ten minutes or so of the film in the ’80s are zero-filler. Every single thing that happens becomes a plot point in one way or another. I’m not going to go through and enumerate it – just go and watch it again. It’s worth it.