In the midst of all the recent Back To The Future hoopla I had an opportunity to publish a review about the franchise, and to have my old friend Ron “The Chron” point out one of the most fascinating conspiracy theories I’ve discovered in some time. First, here’s a review that originally appeared in The Contributor…
“The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” This is how Dr. Emmett Brown explains his decision to use a stainless steel DeLorean with its iconic gull-wing doors in the construction of the world’s first time machine. The same thing might be said of the Back to the Future franchise: from Marty McFly’s red down vest to Doc Brown’s shock of white hair, to that silver car with its “OUTATIME” license plate, the Future films exist in a universe – a dimension? – of their own making. And it’s one that audiences have been happy to return to for three decades.
In the original, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is a high school student and wannabe guitar hero living in Hill Valley, California circa 1985. His dad, George (Crispin Glover), is a clerk who’s bullied by his supervisor, Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Marty’s mom, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), is an overweight alcoholic. Marty has a brother and a sister. He’s also friends with Doc Brown – a local eccentric who actually manages to build a time machine out of a DeLorean. In a tragic-seeming turn of events, Marty’s transported back to 1955 where he encounters his parents and Biff as high school students. George is a hapless geek and Lorraine is smitten by Marty whom she doesn’t realize is her future son. Will Marty be able to get his parents to fall in love and ensure his existence now that his presence in the past has disrupted the chain of events that lead to his birth? Will Doc be able to use a fateful lightning strike at a downtown clock tower to power the DeLorean back to 1985? Will this film be successful enough to ensure two sequels?
Thinking about time travel movies, I’m immediately reminded of George Pal’s classic 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. That film’s Oscar-winning visual effects scared the hell out of me when I saw it on television in the 1970′s, but Pal’s film misses at the title of first cinematic time machine by a long shot. In fact, the first three time machine movies ignored Wells’ book, adapting Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in a 1921 silent film, a 1931 talkie, and even a musical version in 1949. Wells’ tale attempts to underline its time-jumping with science, but Twain’s Yankee comes-to in Camelot after getting bonked on the head with a wrench. Twain cared more about what would happen to a time traveler upon their arrival in a different dimension, but wasn’t very interested in how they’d get there. That makes these earliest time travel sagas the real antecedents of the Back to the Future franchise. While the DeLorean wins Doc Brown some style points, he sums-up the science of time travel with only two words: Flux Capacitor. These movies are about people and families – related by blood or friendship – and how they struggle together to affect fate and chance, and realize better lives for themselves and one another.
In a movie about people and relationships, casting is crucial, and the cast is great here. For a second Eric Stoltz played Marty McFly, but when the role was recast with Fox he made the character iconic with his red vest, his trusty skateboard, his knack for physical comedy, his ability to actually shred an electric guitar, and exactly the right underdog charm for a slacker-trying-to-make-good like Marty McFly. Of course, Lloyd’s Doc Brown is one of cinema’s great mad scientists, but even the supporting cast shines here: Thompson’s randy take on the teenage Lorraine is liberated and hilarious, and Wilson’s Biff is a beautiful brute. The really inspired choice here is the casting of Crispin Glover as George McFly. Glover’s cranked-up intensity finds George ranging from measly milquetoast to conquering hero in a scene-stealing arc that he plays over-the-top while also remaining riveting and believable. The contradiction is summed-up in George’s unforgettable declaration to Lorraine: “You are my density. I mean, my destiny.”
OK, now here’s that conspiracy…