Once past a shaky opening overloaded with frenetic exposition, this time-travel odyssey accelerates with wit, ideas and infectious, wide-eyed wonder. Following nationwide, jumbo opening July 3, grosses are sure to brighten the Summer of Universal Studios and such key filmmakers as director Robert Zemeckis and coexec producer Steven Spielberg.
The central winning elements in the scenario by Bob Oale and Zcmeckis are twofold: hurtling the audience back to a very accessible year, 1955, which allows for lots of comparative, pop culture humor, and delivering a 1985 teenager (Michael J. Fox) at the doorstep of his future parents when they were 17- year-old kids. That encounter is a delicious premise, especially when the young hero’s mother-to-be develops the hots for her future son and his future father is a bumbling wimp.
Film is also sharply anchored by zestful byplay between Fox’ Arthurian knight figure and Christopher Lloyd’s Merlin-like, crazed scientist. The latter has mounted a nuclear-powered time machine in a spaced-out Delorean, which spirits the bedazed Fox 30 years back in time to the same little town in which he grew up.
The film’s opening 20 minutes or so, in present time, are intended to set up almost all one needs to know about the characters and the madcap vision of the scientist.
Indeed, the first image on the screen, of countless timepieces ticktocking away, is an effective symbolic touch. But the filmmakers scramble too furiously here and the film doesn’t find its control and its feet, and what a relief it is, until the hero is dropped into the same town in 1955 to the becalming background melody of the Four Aces singing “Mr. Sandman.” Then the fun begins.
Fox’ wonderful goal, it eventually develops, is nothing less than making a man out of his father, who as a teenager is taunted by high school bullies and who is a peeping torn (of his future wife) to boot.
In the film’s opening sequences, the father (wonderfully played by Crispin Glover) is an unctuous nit wit, and the mother (Lea Thompson) a plump, boozy, turtle-necked frau. It is the rearranging of time and events by our stalwart heroes, the wondrous youth and his magician scientist, that sets up the surprise ending when the young lad goes “back to the future” to happily discover his family, including a brother and sister, living a life that would qualify as a trendy Southern California magazine cover.
If the filmmakers’ pre-’60s Be- Bop-a-Lula look occasionally suggests the ’40s more than the ’50s, the screen is constantly full of delightful comparisons: the old village-square movie house in ’55 with a marquee showing Ronald Reagan in “Cattle Queen Of Montana” has become a porno house in ’85. The Studebaker lot is now peddling Toyotas.
The quaint shops on the square in ’55 are now squeezed into the metallic greyness of an outlying shopping mall. The malt shop has become an aerobics gym.
None of these points are underscored but merely floating in the background as signposts of change. The most rousing and audience-grabbing scene of culture shock comes when Fox mounts the stage of a ’55 high school band, says he’s going to play an oldie, and digs into Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode ” at the dawn of rock ‘n roll.
You can see the end of doo wop, syrupy ballads and, for that matter, the fade-out of strapless prom dresses and baggy-cuffed slacks. But the mellow image of the fab ’50s is the movie’s nice, lingering image.
Performances by the erstwhile Fox, the lunatic Lloyd, the deceptively passionate Lea Thompson, and, particularly, the bumbling to confident Glover, who runs away with the movie, merrily keep the ship sailing. Thomas F. Wilson as the bully (what a change he comes to) and Claudia Wells as a gorgeous contemporary girlfriend of Fox contribute good support.
Film’s time travel theme is sufficiently imaginative to remind filmgoers of James Stewart’s fantasy travels in Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
A Steven Spielberg presentation of a Robert Zemeckis Film, released by Universal Studios Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Produced by Bob Gale and Neil Canton. Executive producers,Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy; screenplay, Zemeckis, Bob Gale; camera (Technicolor), Dean Cundey; production designer, Lawrence G Paull; editors, Arthur Schmidt, Harry Keramidas; music, Alan Silveslri; sound, William B Kaplan; costume designer, Deborah L Scott; art director, Todd Hallowell; set designers. Joseph E. Hubbard, Marjone Stone McShirley, Cameron Birnie; special effects, Steve Suits, Kimberley Pike, Sam Adams, Richard Chronister, William Klinger; assistant director, David McGiffert; makeup, Ken Chase; casting, Mike Fenton, Jane Feinberg, Judy Taylor; visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic. Reviewed at Sam Goldwyn Theater, June 20, 1985. MPAA rating PG. Running time: 116 min.
Marty McFly….Michael J Fox
Dr. Emmett Brown….Christopher Lloyd
George McFly…. Crispin Glover
Lorraine Barnes…. Lea Thompson
Jennifer Parker…. Claudia Wells
Biff Tannen….Thomas F. Wilson
Mr Strickland….James Tolkan