Donnerstag, 29. Oktober 2015

BACK TO THE FUTURE - A Celebration

 Hello there puny humans,
it is October 22nd, 01:59 a.m. in Germany at the moment, which means that it's 04:59 p.m., October 21st in California. Half an hour ago Marty McFly arrived in the futuristic Hill Valley and is probably on his way to "Cafe 80's" right now. Needless to say, I have just finished a Back To The Future-marathon (a shout-out to my Middle earth marathon buddies for reuniting for this event). It had been a long time since I had last seen this trilogy and while rewatching it tonight I couldn't help but noticing what a great kind of filmmaking it is. So here is a quick laudatio to these three adventure films, and an attempt to explain why they've managed to stay so popular:

1. The Cast
In our heads Michael J. Fox will forever be Marty McFly and it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role. However, the role originally went to upcoming actor Eric Stoltz, because Fox couldn't get out of his schedule for Family Ties. Stoltz, who was known for his method acting, had already been shooting for 4 weeks, when the filmmakers decided that he just couldn't get the humor across and decided to replace him. Michael J. Fox (still involved in shooting the TV Show) was approached once more, and the actor decided to film Back To The Future and Family Ties at the same time, resulting in him being at a movie set for almost 18 hours a day. It ended up being the right decision. Michael J. Fox showed great comedic timing and yet managed to be the everyday guy we could all relate to. The commitment he put into the production translates to the screen 100%, and there are only few actors who can do whitty and charming as good as he does.
And then of course there is Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown.This oldschool stage actor really shows off his experience. He knows exactly when to overact, when to play it down, and when to let Fox take the lead. His body language and facial expressions are priceless, and yet he totally pulls the emotional parts of this film off as well. The chemistry between those two is incredible, and the fact that they (and the rest of the cast) reprised their roles quite often after finishing the trilogy just shows how much they loved the material. The skills of Thomas F. Wilson need to be mentioned at this point too, because he improvised most of Biffs most populare catchphrases.

2. The Crew
One thing people should know however, is that the films creators, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, are just as much the stars of the movie as its leading actors. This film really was a passion project for them and firing Eric Stoltz (which ultimately cost them about 3.000.000 dollars) wasn't the only tough task they had to fullfill. When Zemeckis and Gale pitched the movie to major studios, they were rejected about 40 times. Columbia said the movie was to quirky and childish. Disney called them insane for thinking that they'd produce a movie featuring a somewhat incestuous relationship. After Zemeckis had gained more respect in the industry for making Romancing the Stone and his friend Stephen Spielberg got involved in the project, Universal Studios finally picked up the script. But still, the filmmakers had to face some obstacles every now and then. One of the producer told them to change the name of the film since he believed no kid would want to see a film with "future" in the title. The team basically ignored it and later when another executive told Zemeckis that they would get an extra 75.000 dollars if they changed the DeLorean into a Mustang, Zemeckis supposedly just said: "Doc Brown doesn't drive a f**king Mustang!" ... Now that is a great answer.

3. The Characters
But how exactly do we know that Doc Brown doesn't drive a Mustang? Well, probably because he is such a fleshed out character that it feels easy to guess what his opinion on such a car would be. And that is exactly the point. Doctor Emmet Brown and Marty McFly are such well written characters that it is easy to relate to them. Marty is just a boy who would love to be successful in his hobby and who wished his family was a little cooler. The complete and utter regulare kid. Doc Brown seems a little crazier and over-the-top, but is ulitmately just someone who is overly enthusiastic and passionate about a particular subject (in his case science). He represents the nerd in all of us. Both characters however aren't perfect. They are flawed individuals. Marty has selfish intentions every now and then (remember the "Sports Almanac" scam was his idea) and doesn't even have a real character arc in the first film. Doc Brown on the other hand is in a constant conflict between his morals and his love for exploration and innovation. At multiple points he says that the time machine must be destroyed, and yet he keeps building new ones. There are points in this movie where both of these guys are at the height of their power (e.g. Marty on a skate-/hoverboard), but also sequences where they are completly down on their luck. It is something that late 80s films did very well (just watch the first Die Hard or the third Indiana Jones for further examples) and it makes the characters incredibly genuine and relatable.

4. The Humor
When I was sitting in the theatre, it was not only packed but people were laughing. A lot. So the question is: How can a 30 year old movie still get a hundreds of people to crack up? What kind of humor can do that? The answer is simple: Not a single kind, but multiple kinds. The thing about Back to the Future is that its funny in multiple ways:
There is situational comedy when Marty meets his parents in 1955 and encounters a lot of awkward moments. Raunchy humor, when Marty's mom explains that she has "parked before". Great physical comedy simply provided by Christopher Lloyds face, or by Michael J. Fox and Crispin Glover (George McFly) who also know how to get laughs out of their body language. There are tons of pop culture references including Marty disguising as "Darth Vader" from planet "Vulcan" or citations of films like Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy. Inside jokes that only work if you've seen all the films (like Doc and Marty switching catchphrases in Back to the Future Part III). Random humor is scattered throughout the movie too ("You got a back door in this place?" - "Yeah, it's in the back."), and of course the mandatory poop jokes make an appearance as well ("I hate manure!"). It's uber-awesome. Everybody gets someting to laugh about!

5. The Story
As multidimensional as Back to the Future's humor is though, so is it's story. Just putting it in a specific genre seems difficult enough as most movie encyclopaedias refer to it as a "adventure science-fiction comedy", and the third installment even throws "western" in the mix as well. Over all, it is a great rollercoaster ride. The first film is a classic straightforward story: It is about the hopes, dreams and wishes one has, and about the realization that your parents had them just the same. It is a light-hearted, personal film. The second one goes bigger, and introduces a more complex story. The dystopian 1985 and Marty's unsatisfying future teach you about responsibility and that there are always consequences to your action. With the murder of George McFly, it is much darker than its predecessor. Then the third installment comes along and turns everything on his head with its wild west setting. This story is more about Doc Brown, the legacy he wants to leave and of course his new found love, but it also carrys over the themes from part II.
As a whole, this trilogy hits the perfect balance between introducing new elements to the story and throw-backs to the previous films. The sequels are not exact copies from the original like Hangover Part II was, but are also not completely ignoring the tone and feeling of it (like Die Hard 5). And when they do copy themselves it it is so ridiculously obvious that you are actually waiting for it.
Furthermore, the whole thing is elaborately interconnected, and it is an incredible achievement to have a film in which its characters travel from 1985 to 1955 back to a better 1985, from there to 2015 and back again to a bad version of 1985, then to the very same 1955 as before, accidentally to 1885 and finally to the good 1985. And it all still makes sense (the only big flaw in the timeline is actually resolved in a deleted scene from Back to the Future Part II)! It just shows how much better it works if you film and script sequels together rather than working on one at a time. If all that wasn't enough, Zemeckis and Gale hid plenty of jokes within the films which you might only notice after repeated watching (for example 1985s "Twin Pine Mall" becoming "Lone Pine Mall" after Marty drives over one of the the pines in 1955). Back to the Future has an immensly cleverly constructed script, that has yet to find its equal. To me, it is a cinematic milestone. A masterpiece.

Now, where I have finished the article, the marathon is one week in the past. And it seems only appropriate that I start and end it at two different points in time. If you haven't rewatched Back to the Future last week (or if you have never seen it at all), you should do so, because I was blown away all over again. Also, if you are planning to have kids someday I urge you to show it to them too, because there is much they can learn from it: That some things are worth taking a risk for, that every choice you make has an impact on the world, and (most importantly) that your future hasn't been written yet. No one's has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one!

Your Cinemartian!

PS.: For all BTTF geeks: the documentary about the trilogy, "Back In Time", is now available on Netflix!

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