Back to the Future Part II

Title: Back to the Future Part 2

Director/Stars: Michael J. Fox (Actor), Christopher Lloyd (Actor), Robert Zemeckis (Director)

Genre: Time Travel Comedy

Year: 1989

Watched: March 30, 2011

Summary: Lots of time travel, and fun!

 

Following up on such a gem of a movie as 1985’s Back to the Future (my review here) must have been a daunting task. And it occasioned part II and part III being filmed together, and released only 6 months apart. As far as I know this was the first time this kind of joint production was ever done.

In any case, I always liked part II, particularly since it has the most time travel of the three, and certainly the most complex examination of the basic principle of time manipulation. It starts with a literal repeat of the last 3 minutes of BTTF (although they must have reshot some of it because they inexplicably replace Claudia Wells with Elisabeth Shue as the girlfriend — not that this lame duck role matters. They then pop into 2015, where Hilldale Ca is both the same and very different. The technological inovations proposed are pretty amusing, and most of them still haven’t happened in 2011. Again, where’s my hoverboard? But they missed a few things — like the cel phone, or the death of the fax machine.

Anyway, while avoiding paradox, and just having run with the same cast of actors playing different ages, characters, (and genders), Biff manages to steal the time machine, bring it back to 1955, and give himself a sports almanac. Then he inexplicably brings the DeLorean back to the good guys. Go figure! When they travel back to 1985 they find Biff’s nefarious influence has trashed the entire town and made a blade runner-esque hell of the place. There are some good moments here again paralleling the now standard running jokes with each character. Marty waking up to versions of his mother. The principal as bad ass with an axe to grind, etc.

Once they figure out how all this mess got rolling, back to 1955 they go to sort it out. This involves a parallel track recreation of the first movie’s main events without disturbing these. This is great fun, revisiting the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance from a different perspective. As far as I know, this is the benchmark scene for a two-pass time travel-type scenario. The car chase at the end however, is a bit tedious. And why, may we ask, is it possible for Marty to call doc on a walkie-talkie from the back of Biff’s convertible, while Biff is about 2 feet away in the front seat? I don’t know about you, but when I’m alone in a car and someone has a conversation in the back seat, I generally notice.

The film ends with an awesome setup for the third part. I love the Western Union bit. But watching all three back to back as I did, I could have lived without ALL THREE movies replaying the footage of the Doc at the clock-tower.

These problems aside the movie is great fun. Other reviewers seem to find the time travel antics byzantine in this outing, but this is exactly what I loved about this film. At least it dares to create an alternate present, and then undo it. True there are a few moments where the cast has to answer audience questions in near straight exposition. For example, when Marty and Doc head from messed-up 1985 to 1955, but leave Jennifer (the useless Elisabeth Shue) behind, Marty has to ask why, and Doc launches into a whole explanation about how the time continuum will fix itself around them.

Again the technical transfer on the new blu-ray versions is awesome. This was always a slick film, with the future scenes in particular filled with fun effects. It holds up perfectly well. There is the occasional shot where the rotoscoping is obvious (compositing has gotten a lot better in the 22 years, Cliffhanger being, I think, the first film to use the new digital compositing). But these minor issues don’t date the film at all. Now if only they wrote a better part III.

Check out the Back to the Future Part I review here.

Or, coming soon, a review of part III.

For more 80s films, About Last NightBetter Off Dead, or The Sure Thing.

Back to the Future

Title: Back to the Future

Director/Stars: Michael J. Fox (Actor), Adrian Paul (Actor), Christopher Lloyd (Actor), Robert Zemeckis (Director)

Genre: Time Travel Comedy

Year: 1985

Watched: March 29, 2011

Summary: Still a jewel box of a script.

 

Because my second novel is about time travel, I’ve been trying to read and watch (or re-watch) as many time travel books and films as I can (not that I haven’t previously mined the genre). Although I’ve probably seen BTTF 15 times, it’s been a  few years, more than 10 for sure.

I bought the new blu-ray Anniversary Trilogy too. This is a NICE restoration. The film looks as good as it did when I saw it right after getting back from summer camp in 1985, maybe better. And this was a slick slick film at the time. Really, other than a bit of noticeable rotoscoping, it could be a 2011 film.

Except it’s a lot better. The script and the editing make sense!

Because this is a few years before Top Gun would precipitate the precipitous marketing-driven decline of filmmaking, BTTF is simultaneously incredibly commercial and incredibly good. This script, by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, is tight tight tight. I can only imagine how many passes it underwent because there is not one line out of place. You all know the story, but if you watch it again pay attention to how in the first 5 minutes everything you need to know is setup. Marty’s parents met in 1955 when Grandpa hit George McFly was his car (“We never did understand what he was doing on that road anyway.” Lorraine says). They go to the “Enchantment under the Sea Dance.” That same year Doc Brown got the idea for the time machine. Libyans have stolen some plutonium, it’s under Doc’s bed. In the next 5 minutes Doc teaches us everything we need to know about the time machine. Bang bang, all the ducks are lined up.

Then all this setup pays off over the next hour and a half. Every line. When we see that George McFly is in the road because he was a peeping tom and falls out of the tree, it’s oh so much funnier knowing that this is how he met his wife. And knowing that, when Marty screws up that meeting… changes are set in motion. Changes he has to fix. The parallelism between the present (1985) and past (1955) are contrived and slapstick but a joy to watch. We here about Uncle Joey in jail in the present, we get the “get used to that view” wisecrack about baby Joey behind the crib bars. We’re used to it now, we’ve seen it a lot of times, but this is a clever clever script.

And the casting couldn’t be better. For this kind of lovable goofball, Michael J. Fox is deservedly beloved. Christopher Lloyd steals the show with his over the top Doc (“Thank God I’ve still got my hair!”). Lea Thompson is a babe as Marty’s mom. Great writing great acting, what more could we want? And we have top notch production, music, and effects too. None of it looks dated on blu-ray.

Very interesting now, 25 years later, realizing that the 1985 of the story is almost as far back in time now as the 1955 was then. And 1955, that’s 56 years ago! Wow. So in a way, that adds an extra time travel jump to the whole thing. Which gets even more amusing when we pick up again with Back to the Future II and it’s 2015 setting!

LOL Where are the hoverboards?

For my review of part II, click here.

For more 80s reviews of mine, check out About Last Night, Better Off Dead, or The Sure Thing.