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Back to the Future

Back to the Future

What He said:

He

This is one of those movies that practically everyone has seen. It’s quite old at this point and is far enough removed from its release that isn’t really much of a pop culture reference anymore either.

It’s a classic though and a recent sick day allowed me to revisit it along with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I was in the mood for something I knew I’d enjoy, so I began searching through my home video collection. I came across these two films and knowing I hadn’t seen them in a while and thought it was a good opportunity to revisit these favorites. I highly recommend reacquainting yourself with both of them.

Back to the Future is pretty much the perfect adventure movie imo. It has all the elements a good adventure movie should: action, laughs, and a little bit of romance. All of this is made possible due to perfect casting. 

First you’ve got Mr. Marty McFly himself, Michael J. Fox. Marty’s life is pretty normal. He’s got a girl, a band, a principal who hassles him, and parents who just don’t understand. He also hangs out with crazy Doc Brown (Christopher Llyod), but hey.

He’s a pretty relatable guy in more ways than one.

Plus, you’ve got to admire a little guy who’s not afraid to stand toe-to-toe against anyone. Marty isn’t a troublemaker, but he’s definitely not afraid to defend himself. He’s just a good guy willing to do the right thing, regardless of the odds.

Fox’s performance as Marty is really the key to the movie. There are a lot of great performances, but he’s “the” performance of this movie. Thank God they didn’t go with the original choice of Eric Stoltz

Then you’ve got Biff. He is the quintessential bully. Thomas F. Wilson brings this all-too-familiar type of character to life.  If you didn’t at least know of a guy like this growing up, chances are you grew up in Pleasantville, or were actually a bully yourself. Biff was the epitome of a bully. He did mean things because he enjoyed it.

The really important thing about this character is he plays a key role in the David vs. Goliath aspect of the story. Without him, that part of the plot simply would not have worked. Wilson is 6’3 and Michael J. Fox is virtually a foot shorter at 5’4. Biff is bigger, stronger, and meaner than anyone around and he knows it. So when this firecracker of a new guy shows up in town, the two immediately butt heads. Nobody tells him what he can or can’t do, let alone some shrimp.

The final important piece to the character is the fact that he’s an idiot and Wilson totally nails this. Nobody delivers more unintentional humor than this bonehead. This beauty is just one example of the wit of Biff Tannen.

Wilson was so good in this role, you really have to wonder why more opportunities playing a similar types didn’t pop up. Was that his doing because he feared being type cast? When I think of famous 80s movie jerks, Biff is right up there with Johnny from The Karate Kid. William Zabka (Johnny) was able to take his success in The Karate Kid and have it carry his career through the next several years. His face is easily one of the most recognizable in terms of 80s movie jerks, having played similar parts in European Vacation, Back to School, and Just One of the Guys. I have to believe Wilson could have had similar success if he wanted.

I’ve only really touched on two so far, but the movie is literally filled with great casting from top-to-bottom.

The eccentric – if not creepy – Crispin Glover is fantastic as Marty’s loser father George. It’s not that George is a bad guy, he’s just so totally helpless. He’s never once stood up for himself in his entire life. He let Biff bully him growing up and that nasty little trend followed him into adulthood. This is a key reason why Marty can’t help but intervene with he goes back to 1955. It may change the course of history, but what’s that in the face of family pride?

Speaking of Crispin Glover, did you know that he didn’t return to play George in parts 2 and 3? The role of George was played by this guy in both sequels. How have I never noticed this? Am I the only one who didn’t?

Leah Thompson plays his mother Lorraine. Marty knows his mother as something of an uptight stickler, but growing up she was the exact opposite. His mother is unrecognizable to him both physically and personality wise. It’s got to be tough playing a character at two different stages in life, especially when their personality has changed so much over time.

Doc Brown

Of course, I can’t forget about Christopher Llyod’s Doc Brown! What can you really say about it? Iconic is one word that comes to mind. Career defining are some others. Michael J. Fox is fantastic as Marty. He’s simply awesome. And Thomas F. Wilson really helps drive the believability of the Marty/Biff rivalry. Crispin Glover and Leah Thompson bring his family to life. But without the Doc, none of it would be possible. Fox’s performance needed a zainy partner to make it all work. Without the chemistry between these two, this movie simply would not have worked as well as it did.

Here's some of the Doc's very best for your viewing pleasure!

There’s one more performance that I’d like to highlight and it’s that of James Tolkan. This guy was the ultimate hard-ass, pain in the butt, thorn in your side character back in the day. He wasn’t physically intimidating, but could still manage to make the hairs on the back of your neck rise simply be looking at you. He was so good in this and other similar roles. He created fear simply by looking in your general direction.

All of these great performances were made possible by the great casting and direction decisions by Robert Zemeckis. This movie was his baby (and you can read more about that in this interview). He’s made several memorable movies over the years, but this is the one that defines his career. In this movie, he created one of the most entertaining and memorable movies of all time.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on October 8, 2011.

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