Every generation has movies that define their childhoods. Typically, these are ones you ‘just had to be there’ to truly experience an unwavering, visceral nostalgia for. I was born in the 80’s, so if I had to make a master list of my own, just off the top of my head it’d probably include Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, The Lion King, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. But there are many 80’s and early 90’s staples that I managed to miss completely—no, I didn’t grow up under a rock, but movies like The Princess Bride, Clueless, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Home Alone (okay, most everything by John Hughes) and Back to the Future are all ones I somehow managed to miss entirely.
But now, thanks to a friend who literally set up a private screening in a college lecture auditorium for me because he was so upset I hadn’t seen it, I have finally watched Back To The Future for the first time at the age of 27. And boy do I have questions.
Let me preface this by saying that I did genuinely enjoy this movie. What’s to dislike really? I mean, it’s fun to watch—it’s shot like they knew it would make a good Disney ride. In fact, it’s what I might call an ‘enjoyable romp.’ I enjoyed the little references and things, the 50’s time jump was believably done, as were the sets in general. No complaints per se, but at my current age in this current time, many aspects of this movie were just so weird to me.
First, Michael J. Fox is such a weird casting choice. Marty McFly is presented as this rebellious cool kid in school, who has just enough insecurity and self-awareness that he’s down to earth, and has a super hot girlfriend, skateboards hanging off cars, and plays rock guitar. So what is up with that casting? I get that Marty is not meant to be The Cool Kid, but to us, the viewer, it’s obvious that he is the coolest guy in the school. But Michael J. Fox is, well, not cool. And he’s like five feet tall, and looks like he’s probably only going to get shorter as he gets older. And he just looks too old and strange to be in High School. I almost feel like we missed out in not having Eric Stoltz.
Why, by the way, is a 16-year-old hanging out with a 70-year-old man who for some reason hasn’t aged since the 50’s? I understand that there’s a time loop in which Doc met Marty when Marty was back in time, which is why they now hang out later in life, and I can buy that, but the two of them hanging out like it’s no big deal is so strange. Why is that just socially acceptable in this world? Like, even his principal knew he hung out with this weird old guy. How would they even cross paths? Maybe Doc sought him out, knowing who he would grow up to be and all, but wouldn’t Marty be creeped out by his interest in him? You’d think he’d be suspicious that Doc’s just some weirdo building massive guitar amps for the sole purpose of inviting young boys to his lab.
Speaking of the time loop, why don’t his parents remember him or suspect that maybe time travel occurred? Is it just that memory fades over time and they can’t remember what 1950’s Marty looked like? And why did it take them three children to finally name one of them after Marty? The older brother should have been named Calvin, that would have been clever. Speaking of Calvin, why didn’t they ever think, “Whoa, Calvin Klein, Darth Vader, Vulcan—all of these things came true.” Or maybe they did and they’re in therapy now, I don’t know.
Why Libyan terrorists, by the way? I get that we were dealing with Qaddafi back in the 80’s, but it seems like a really left field choice for wacky for the bad guys to be Libyan terrorists driving an outdated Volkswagen van through a mall in a kids movie about time travel. I don’t care about poor children’s sensibilities or something, it just seems like a really weird plot choice! Why couldn’t it have just been the FBI? Or even like, I don’t know, the mob or something? Or, they could have left that whole part out and just had some piece of equipment explode in front of Doc instead of him being gunned down in a mall parking lot. Then, Marty could have warned him by saying “Beware of shrapnel!” or something, and Doc could still wear a bulletproof vest or whatever. It just felt like unnecessary drama that didn’t fit into the rest of the movie or have anything to do with the plot.
Lastly, this is probably why I don’t understand 80’s movies in general, but I don’t understand these pro-Suburbia films that revolve around characters that conform so strongly to social conventions. It seems to me that Marty is meant to be a bit of a rebel and a black sheep, but when he rebels, it’s just so that he can marry his sweetheart from high school and move into the suburbs and raise a family and have kids. What exactly is he rebelling against then? ‘Dad, I’m going to play loud music and skateboard on cars so I can eventually become just like you! Suck it!’ I mean, I guess this is just how most people live their lives anyhow, but it’s certainly a very Reagan-era theme that always goes over my head.
So again, I didn’t dislike this movie! It’s fun! It’s enjoyable! But it kind of makes me feel like an alien observing planet Earth—it’s just such a strange cartoony dramedy, with an ultra-wholesome message about how your domestic life in the future is more important than maybe trying to go back and stop some Libyan terrorists from building a bomb within the United States or something. Anyway, I’m invested now, so I’ll watch the next two and report back.
3 out of 5 stars.