MY FAVOURITE FILM
Why I love… Back to the Future
By 1990, John Steward was convinced that the complete Back to the Future trilogy is the best ever to grace our screens. He still is. Here are seven reasons why…
I was eight when I first saw Back to the Future. It was 1987 and I was at my friend William’s house. We’d just watched a video tape of Ghostbusters. We’d been scared by the woman in the library, laughed at the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and concluded Pete Venkman was the coolest man, y’know, ever. He had a particle accelerator on his back, for goodness’ sake.
Then we watched Back to the Future and were all Bla-DOW! Thoughts of daft sirens, supernatural beings and that one woman who looked like Yazz were gone forever. Don’t get me wrong, Ghostbusters rocks. But by 1990 I was convinced that the complete Back to the Future trilogy is the best ever to grace our screens. I still am. Why? Here are seven reasons.
1 Guitar shredding
Eight-year-old me was brought up on a diet of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Dick Dale. I knew what a guitar solo sounded like. And then Marty McFly started wailing in his high-school talent contest. (Bonus fact: the judge who tells them they’re too loud? That’s Huey Lewis, who wrote the song they’re playing.) Then he puts a Van Halen tape in his Walkman and blasts his future dad’s ears out with other-worldly axe sounds. Whoa. And then at the end he goes into full-out shred mode; Will and I just about lost our marbles.
Who knew you could do that on a guitar? But the moment that made me actually want to play was right at the start. The glinting guitar pick. That was it. That was the moment I became a guitarist.
There are three things on everyone’s Ultimate Gadgets list, and only three. Jet packs, walkie-talkie watches (“KITT? I need ya, pal.”) and hoverboards. A whole industry is trying to make them all happen, but we know which one will be the coolest.
3 It’s got a DeLorean in it
“The way I see it, if you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”, says Doc Emmett Brown. He’s right. And we’re glad, because in an early draft of the script the time machine was a fridge which, ironically, would not have been cool. No, real DeLoreans don’t sound like that (they dubbed a V8 engine sound for the movies), and they don’t actually travel through time (probably). But I’ve still resolved to make a DMC-12 the first thing I buy when I win the lottery. I’ll turn up to work in it and do donuts in the car park to signal my resignation. And I’ll still brace myself when I get to 88mph. Y’know, just in case.
4 All the films are good
The problem with great trilogies is that there’s always at least one disappointment. The Godfather went brilliant, even better, Sofia Coppola. Star Wars? Great; amazing; Ewoks. The Matrix? Everything after the first one. But every single one of the BttF films is a winner. All the plots tie in. There’s consistency, they’re funny, the scripts are great and even the sets and props look the business. Parts two and three were filmed simultaneously to ensure continuity, and it works gloriously. Each film has an edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger that, even now, makes you wonder if Marty and The Doc will manage it.
5 Time travel works (and it’s cool)
Ignoring the obvious questions (“Why don’t Marty’s parents recognise him in the future?” “Why doesn’t the DeLorean vanish when it goes back beyond the point at which it was invented?” “Why doesn’t Marty immediately run away, screaming and convulsing, when his mum jumps him in the car?”), the plot works. In fact, it works so well that while you’re watching Back to the Future Part II, the events of the first film are taking place simultaneously. And when you watch the first film, Part III has already happened. I think that’s excellent. The best bit of all is the flux capacitor – the thing that makes time travel possible. You don’t need to know how it works. You don’t even care how it works. It doesn’t matter. But you want one in your car, don’t you?
6 It’s charming
There’s nothing nasty about the Back to the Future universe. Nothing seedy. Even the alternate 1985, where Biff Tannen rules Hill Valley as a crime-ridden gambling ghetto, still has laugh-out-loud moments. The characters are brilliant. Throughout history, from 1885 to 2015, the McFlys are decent, hardworking and trustworthy people. The Wilsons are a mayoral dynasty. And the Tannens are all, to a man, total A-holes. The details are fantastic, from Marty banging his head whenever he gets in or out of the DeLorean, to the move-for-move recreation of the Enchantment Under the Sea dance in Part II. It’s all lovingly and painstakingly realised.
7 And it won’t give you a numb bum
Yep, you can watch the whole lot in under six hours. Excellent.
John Steward is assistant production editor of What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision