“Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me you built a time machine…out of a DeLorean?” That line sums up the essence of the time travel movie Back to the Future. Of all the themes in sci-fi, time travel has a had a special connect for me. Maybe because it is intrinsically linked with nostalgia and the golden past syndrome. What would one not give to debate Stoicism with Marcus Aurelius or discuss jump cuts with Godard? On a personal level, how cool would it be to play cupid to your parents when they were younger? Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future (BTTF) takes the latter concept and creates a franchise that stands the test of time, pun intended.
Starring Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd (Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown) as unlikely companions on this crazy adventure, the movie has gained a cult status and defines many time travel tropes that subsequent movies have followed. Time is that paradox of things, the present becomes the past as we are living it and the future turns to the present as we are still making plans for it. So, a chink in the space-time fabric is one of our oldest fantasies – to relive or change the past and to be able to take a peep into the future.
With a juxtaposition right from the title, BTTF and its sequels take us on a roller coaster ride where the present is laid out in contrast with the past and the future. Notice how the Hill Valley, the fictional town where the movie is set, is clean, bright and quaint in the past (1955), while the future (2015) is dark, its raining and the town is crowded both on ground and on air. Sci-fi without emotions is just a lot of technical babble. BTTF works because of the neatly tied-in familial strands within the plot. The writing is filled with pop culture references from the different time periods and is innocuously funny, so much so that a seemingly incestuous sub-plot does not make you squirm.
Time travel movies can be clearly divided into before BTTF and after BTTF; it is the pebble whose ripples spread out across subsequent movies in the same genre. It has become a major pop culture reference point in itself with dialogues consistently paid homage to and parodied. From Rick and Morty and Hot Tub Time Machine to many other movies and TV shows of the same genre, one is bound to find a hat-tip to the Zemeckis and Gale creation. Closer home, we had the misfortune of witnessing its remake in Action Replayy, a case of an almost perfect original screenplay meeting a reckless, all-over-the-place adaptation. That remake did make one wish for a DeLorean to go back in time and land outside Vipul Shah’s production office.
Recurring gags throughout the 3 parts of BTTF (like the antagonists landing in manure or Mary waking up to his mom across time periods) are hilariously played. Each of the main characters also gets a quirky phrase, like Marty’s ‘This is heavy’ or the Doc’s ‘Great Scott’, that has stayed fresh in public memory 35 years since the first part was released. A BTTF quote-off stands to make a nice game in itself. Back to the Future is a perfect representation of the sci-fi genre as it ticks all the boxes: the speculation of advancements in technology, the changing human nature as we adapt to the technology and a longing sense of nostalgia It also gives a fictional outlet to our fantasies. Every true fan of this franchise has taken a mental trip in this refashioned DeLorean and let it hit 88 miles per hour to imagine their own serious time travel!
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.