Let's Do the Timewarp Again
Ah, summer. You remember Warm, sleepy days blended into magically extended evenings; weekends were spent at the beach and at barbeques. Spontaneity was the key and idle recreation the goal. But now, as the first nipping chill of winter creeps into the air, and mid-terms rear their ugly heads, those sweet memories become obscured, made dim and vague by the pressing realities of fall term.
Do not despair. One small remem brance of that sunny season that has yet to succumb. Steven Spielberg's summer hit Back to the Future is still playing at the Sack Charles, and we need it now more than ever.
Back to the Future is based on the rather improbable events which ensue when an eccentric scientist (Christopher Lloyd) accidently sends a young man named Marty (Michael J. Fox) 30 years into the past. Once enmeshed in this dilemma, Marty's job is not only to get from 1955 to 1985, but to make sure that his parents meet and fall in love so that he has an existence to return to.
The simple, yet intriguing plot line is richly embellished with everything from irate terrorists to a put-upon canine named Einstein. As usual, the Spielberg humor is fast-paced and upbeat, whirling us into the crazy fantasy world with little effort and certainly no resistance.
For the most part, Back to the Future is characteristically a summer movie with its emphasis on light-hearted fun. Marty's parents George (Crispin Glover) and Lorraine (Lea Thompson) are the quintessential kids of the '50s. To Lorraine's ingenuous facade, Thompson brings dashes of practiced sophistication that catch you off guard.
Glover, as George, also plays at this bi-level portrayal of his character. At first glance George is embarrassingly and pathetically a dork. He sort of lopes along, peering timidly at girls and unconsciously pushing back his recalcitrant, oily locks. But Glover rescues George from unredeemable wimpiness by infusing his soul with a little bit of the poet, and a little bit of the knight in shining armor. He convinces us that George, for all his bumbling, might win Lorraine in the end.
However diverting all the 1950s teenage nostalgia might be, Christopher Lloyd, as the crazy scientist, is in disputably the movie's comedic highpoint. Lloyd plays this gentle madman as a potentially brilliant inventor whose complicated schemes skirl the edges of insanity. His long, white hair flying and his glazed eyes wide open with wild intensity, Lloyd enters into the spirit of his role with a full and considered seriousness that makes Doc truly and artistically humorous.
Even though Back to the Future takes full advantage of its ability to make us laugh, it has its darker side as well. The film opens with a shot of Doc's house in which every nook and cranny is filled with clocks--clocks that tick the future into the present. Time, in fact, enters into every aspect of the movie, becoming so pressing an issue that the small clocks in Doc's house are transformed into a huge clock tower from which he precariously hangs in his attempt to send Marty back to 1985. Back to the Future explores the ethics of rewriting the past and of manipulating the future, so that what begins as purely an airy farce has its philosophical moments as well.
Just as Doc is the center of the absurdity of the movie, he is also the center of the more serious drama. Marty's involvement with his parents both in 1985 and 1955 is rather detached. They are objects that he passes judgment on, whereas Doc is the person he respects and truly cares for. Marty meddles with the past to ensure the correct future for his parents, but he also considers tampering with the past to change the future for Doc--in fact, to save his life.
Fox plays Marty as a likeable, normal kid with only a slight propensity for things exciting and unusual. Unfortunately, it is just this normality that too often makes Marty bland. Caught between the film's comedic and dramatic worlds, Fox is forced to play Marty as a kind of straight man--a constant foil for all the other characters, whether they evoke our ridicule or our compassion. Considering this amorphous, all-inclusive role, Fox manages to emerge with a remarkably substantive character. But mere substance is not adequate in a role that forms the foundation of the entire movie.
Despite this slight damper, Back to the Future is an excellent escape. So put down your books, forget your problem sets and go experience or even reexperience one of the last vestiges of summer.