Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nostalgia Nugget – Thinking Fourth Dimensionally

Revisiting nostalgic films is something of a summer ritual around these parts. It brings back memories of watching these flicks as a kid, hanging out with friends and injuring yourself reenacting your favorite scenes from these movies. One of the biggest nostalgic trilogies form my past are the Back to the Future films. Checking these movies out again I let my mind wander… what would happen if Hollywood remade these flicks today?

I can already see the jaded youth that Marty McFly would be transformed into. He’d be bitter, resentful and angry at his parents and family. He’d trash talk at Biff and we’d probably get a Doc Brown who was either a smokin’ hot babe or a man closer in age to Marty, who was also angry and bitter that his inventions were so misunderstood. The DeLorean may still act as the time machine (to throw a bone to us old timers). But instead of going into the ‘50s, Marty would go back to the ‘80s! How crazy is that!?! The whole time he’d be bitter and angry about how stupid everything was in the ‘80s. Sure we can keep the basic plot points of running into the family and maybe even the clock tower finale, but Biff would be even more evil and heartless than he was in the future…

Oh screw it, this is depressing me. Just a note to Hollywood – DON’T REMAKE BACK TO THE FUTURE. It’s just fine the way it is. Watching the trilogy again it became even more obvious just how grim and annoying Hollywood Blockbusters have become. There is so much fun crammed into this trilogy, so many clever ideas, great dialogue and a real thrill of adventure – that the cynic in me can’t see it being recaptured by a remake in the least.

I’m not saying Back to the Future is the perfect film. It has its flaws, but most of them are easy to ignore because of the amount of things it does right. Sure it looks a little dated these days (the effects would look a little slicker if made now), but the effects weren’t the heart of the movie. It was about following the hapless Marty and watching him get in and out of trouble.

Watching all three of the films back to back, I still feel that Back to the Future is the best of them. The story is well executed, the characters are engaging, the thrills and comedy are perfectly balanced. The threat to Marty’s existence is handled well, and the ticking clock (the photograph) is not over played. Watching the film I realized how much I missed seeing this type of movie in the theaters. I was also reminded how rarely you actually see time travel stories done with this much skill and fun.

Back to the Future Part 2 is the weakest of the trilogy. Surprisingly it doesn’t suffer from middle movie syndrome. It works well as a stand-alone story, having a definite beginning middle and end. Only the finale creates set up for the third movie. But we never get the feeling that the whole movie is a lot of running around and setting up stuff for the third. I really enjoy the journey to the future, with its over the top colors and fashions. It feels like an extension of the ‘80s and is a nice change of pace from something like Blade Runner’s dark and dreary version. (If Hollywood ever did remake this trilogy you know they would go dark here).

Unfortunately I find the movie loses some steam once Doc and Marty go back to the alternate 1985. Part of this is because there has been a real change to the characters of Biff and Marty. Biff is now not just a bully but a borderline psycho. He has no problems trying to kill Marty in the ‘80s or in the ‘50s. Before, Biff was just a bullying jerk who just needed to be taught a lesson. In this movie he should be locked away somewhere. I understand the need to create an antagonist and threat for Marty, but it always bugged me that Biff was so sociopathic in this film.

The whole “Marty can’t stand being called chicken” plot point comes out of nowhere. To this day and watching both Part 2 and Part 3 feels slightly off. I can’t see the Marty of Back to the Future having a problem with someone calling him chicken. He’d just laugh it off or make a smart-ass remark. Sure it moves the story along and throws a wrench or two into place, but it really feels like a plot convention.

Part 2 does some fun stuff with messing with time travel. I do like how Marty and the Doc have to travel back to the ‘50s to stop the alternate future from happening. It’s clever and fun to see elements for the first film replay from different points of view. At the same time, it feels like you just saw most of the movie (especially when watching them back to back). It makes the film feel a little longer than it actually is. I still love the last couple minutes when ‘50s Doc is confronted with Marty right after he sent the kid back to the future. Classic moment.

Back to the Future Part 3 is one of the few trilogy end episodes that wraps up the story just about perfectly. Setting the adventures in the old west was a stroke of genius, and allows for all kinds of interesting and fun sequences. It also allows the character of “Mad Dog” Tannen to make a more realistic villain. This guy isn’t Biff, but a distant relative. So Mad Dog being a sociopathic jerk works just fine, and adds an element of very real danger to the film.

I also like the introduction of Clara as Doc’s love interest and injecting a new obstacle into the movie that doesn’t revolve around the perils of time travel. It also gives us a bit more insight into Docs character.

The finale on the train is nearly as much fun as the finale of the original film. It builds plenty of tension and keeps us wondering if Doc is really going to go back to the ‘80s with Clara. Alan Silvestri’s score goes into overdrive in these scenes and it turns it into a real blast. The clever last minute rescue was icing on the cake that caused people to cheer in the theaters. Part 3 is a definite improvement over its predecessor, even if it isn’t quite as good as the original.

If you haven’t revisted Marty and Doc in a while, do it. I think you’ll be surprised at how well these movies have held up and how much fun they can provide over a lazy weekend. Just try to ignore the extremely disturbing idea of a remake these movies. If Hollywood has to return to this world, give us a sequel involving Marty’s kids or something. Leave the classics alone.


  1. Definitely good pleasant fun. You left out the scene in the remake when Biff and Marty square off and both show astonishing martial arts skills.

  2. Wow, now that is a horrifying thought and yet I can easily visualize it. [shudder]