Why Back to the Future is the perfect movie
Is Back to the Future the perfect film? Oli Hancock thinks so, and here is why…
Back to the Future and I are the same age. We were both released into the world in 1985 (myself in March, BTTF in the US in July and the UK in December), meaning that we both turned 35 this year. However, one of us has aged much better than the other. One of us has had to shave his head to hide how much his hair was thinning, and is ready for bed at 9pm, whereas the other could have been made last year.
So, what is it about the film’s longevity that makes it so special? And what makes a perfect film? Let’s explore that!
As with any film, you can start with the concept. And what a concept it is. A teenager goes back in time 30 years and has to make sure his parents get together so he doesn’t disappear from existence. I’m already hooked! Bizarrely, writers Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis struggled to get any studio to make it, and were rejected 40 times, before their friend Steven Spielberg took a chance on it with his newly formed company Amblin.
The script that Gale and Zemeckis wrote is impeccable. Almost flawless. The pace, the characterisations, the many, many, many callbacks to things you have seen earlier, when Marty was in 1985 (callforwards?), are all masterful. The world built in the first act draws you in immediately, and by the third act, the multiple climax moments, which in another film might have been annoying, are all the more rewarding. Who doesn’t feel the need to cheer when George punches Biff? Who doesn’t have a huge grin on their face as Marty’s picture is fixed and he starts playing Johnny B. Goode? Who isn’t dancing with glee along with Doc as Marty is sent back to the future? The balance of compelling plot and well-constructed characters is a frustratingly rare combination in film, but when it’s pulled off, the effect is glorious.
So, we’ve done concept and script. Next is casting. Michael J. Fox was famously the first choice for Marty, but was tied up filming sitcom Family Ties, so Eric Stoltz was cast instead. However, after a few weeks of filming, it was clear Stoltz wasn’t right for the part, and Fox was brought in to replace him, filming this and Family Ties simultaneously. He would often not get home from BTTF until 7am, having started filming Family Ties at 10am the previous day. It’s hard to imagine the iconic role with anybody else now, and it’s clear it would have been a very different film without Fox’s youthful exuberance. And the rest of the cast are just as fitting for their roles. Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown set the template for eccentric scientists for years to follow, Thomas F. Wilson’s Biff Tannen is the quintessential bully, and Crispin Glover’s George McFly is, like every character Glover has ever played, weird.
Robert Zemeckis has had an eclectic career, with some stone cold classics and some missteps, but his visual flair is always present. For a director who is so well-known for effects, BTTF is actually quite light on VFX shots for a science fiction film, and those that are there caused issues with effects house ILM, especially with the tight schedule they had. Some of the effects now look a bit dated, but when you’re engrossed in the film (and it’s impossible not to be), it’s easy to look past them.
It’s impossible to talk about Back to the Future without mentioning music. From Alan Silvestri’s orchestral score, to Huey Lewis & the News’ two songs, the music is just as iconic as the rest of the film (if not more so).
Even the supposed flaws in the film can be explained away, e.g. why do George and Lorraine not recognise their son as looking exactly like the boy they knew when they were younger? I think that’s a pretty easy one, they knew Marty for about 2 days. How many people would you recognise if you saw them 30 years later after only knowing them for such a short time?
It’s fitting that a movie about time is so timeless. I am confident that if it were released today, it would do just as well at the box office (it was the biggest film of 1985 in the US). It’s very hard to find anything wrong with it, a more perfect film you will not find, and I compel you to try to change my mind!
You can shop the official Back to the Future collection at Fanattik here. With free shipping in the UK, we have some great gifts for Back to the Future fans this Christmas, including the highly collectible silver-plated Enchantment Under the Sea ticket and the 35th anniversary pin badge.