Chapter 7. “1955” (31:30 – 35:21)
Logline: A 1980s teenager in a time travelling DeLorean lands on a 1950s farm and is immediately mistaken for a space alien.
The Sequence. For the most part Back to the Future is rooted in Marty’s point of view, but this scene flips things around. It’s not about Marty being baffled by the 1950s, it’s about a 1950s family being baffled by the 1980s. Only when Marty is away from the farm are we back in his shoes, and that’s when we realize he’s gone back in time.
Actually the sequence isn’t really predicated on time travel. You’d probably be baffled and frightened by a weird car and a guy in a radiation suit appearing in your garage no matter the era. Maybe the scene is here to sustain the level of danger from the previous scene. It’d feel a little bumpy if Marty abruptly escaped the Libyans mid action sequence and then just arrived safe (though confused) in 1955. He has to get in trouble immediately for the sake of the rhythm of the film.
The Big Picture. This is a good example of a scene that’s both funny on its own merits while seeding things to come. First of all, it pays off what we’ve heard before. The Doc explained that the Twin Pines shopping mall was once farmlands belonging to a kooky tree breeder. We’ve been introduced to the weird alien like shape of the DeLorean and the radiation suit. Now, Marty is mistaken as an alien and has a harried encounter with the kook we heard about earlier, but that’s not the end of this runner. The next time Marty meets a credulous sci-fi geek (his Dad), he gets a bright idea because he has this experience to draw on.
It’s similar to something like the scene in Home Alone where Kevin watches the gangster movie. It’s naturally what he as a kid without rules would do; watch the violent movie that he wasn’t allowed to earlier, only to be scared by it. Totally funny scene if that was the end of it. Then it pays off later in the film when he uses this film we’ve already seen to scare away some intruders. There’s a feeling of scenes flowing organically, and it’s touches like that that might let a movie stand above the crowd even if we don’t consciously register why.
32:48 – I don’t think of Back to the Future as a film that’s deeply concerned with having a visual style, but maybe the story just doesn’t call for it. Because there’s some great stuff in the scene here with the backlight in the barn, the smoke and dust, the light shining through the bullet holes from the farmer’s shotgun…
34:46 – This is one of the only times I can remember in which a dashboard ISN’T brought back to life by someone pounding on it.
Behind the Scenes
-It’s Twin Pines mall in the future, Marty runs over one of the farmer’s pines, when it gets back it’s One Pine Mall. I have to assume everyone knew that but me.
Chapter 8. “Dad the Dork” (35:21 – 41:22)
Logline: Marty is sent back 30 years in the past and meets his father as a teenager.
The Sequence. I love the artifice of a somewhat obvious studio backlot, it invokes that kind of 1950s movie magic feel. Which is totally appropriate for the tone and style of the movie, of course. One of my favourite things about the trilogy as a whole is seeing the way the town centre changes in every era. There are a number of scenes where the Hill Valley town square is as dominant in a scene as any character, and this is the first instance of that. It’s an awful lot of fun looking around at all the 1950s details.
The Big Picture. This is where the people who don’t normally enjoy movies like Back to the Future start to enjoy Back to the Future. Me, I happen to be someone who likes time travel stories without a chaser, I’ll happily enjoy a movie that’s all plot moves and paradoxes (aka I like BttF 2 more than most). But this is the sequence in which the movie finds its heart. The idea of being a teenager and meeting your parents when they were teenagers is a universal idea. It’s emotionally engaging. Back to the Future stops being a time travel movie here, it becomes a movie in which time travel is the device that facilities something everyone can enjoy.
35:31 – The poster for the Ronald Reagan movie about a brilliant a touch as anything in the movie. What could be more perfect for a movie in which an 80s kid travels to the 50s?
36:09 – I do like how pop culture is primarily the touchstone. There isn’t THAT much distance between the 1950s and 1980s, so best way to convey the changing of the time is lots of posters of Nat King Cole.
36:34 – There’s a fresh Korean War monument, I’ll have to go back and see what it looks like in the 1985 scenes.
36:42 – You know to this day I don’t know what a Lion’s Club is (maybe I’m not cool enough to know). But it’s still on the sign in the 2015 Hill Valley and I still see them around today.
37:53 – Why is Doc Brown the one guy to get a second line for his address in the phone book?
37:59 – Why does Mr. Carruthers look at Marty suspiciously, and why does Marty look as though he’s been up to no good?
38:10 – Crispin Glover actually is visible in this whole scene, but only ever seen from behind, or out of focus.
38:35 – All references must age, Pepsi Free and Tab don’t exist anymore. It kind of becomes a reverse joke on the 80s by putting us in the bartender’s shoes, you could do the exact same joke if Marty had traveled to 2019 instead.
39:01 – I wrote these notes months ago so I don’t remember what this means, but I’ll keep it in anyway. “Biff’s lackey with the 3D glasses makes me think of Jughead’s hat.”
39:31 – Nice little character moment, George McFly laughs at Marty along with the bullies in a pretty ingratiating way.
39:47 – Every line in here is repeated from the earlier scene except Biff saying “I don’t wanna see you in here again.” It would have been kind of funny if he’d said that in the McFly house.
40:28 – Important line I never really noted, “If you let them walk over you now, they’ll be walking over you the rest of your life.”
40:52 – Goldie seems to get the idea of being mayor from Marty, which speaks more to a pre-destination style of time travel (i.e. he wouldn’t have become mayor had Marty not gone back in time to give him the idea). That doesn’t fit with the rules of the rest of the trilogy, but I guess if it wasn’t Marty, it would have been someone else who’d planted the seed.
41:05 – Look at this background actress who seems really interested in what’s happening but doesn’t get a line.
Chapter 9. “Calvin and Lorraine” (41:22 – 47:53)
Logline: Marty runs into his mother at age 17, who develops an unwanted attraction to him.
The Sequence. We’ve all just kind of accepted the idea that Back to the Future is a mainstream family friendly comedy with a major subplot about near mother/son incest. This time, I noticed how good a job they did making the idea seem palatable. For starters, they hire Lea Thompson. If you’re in a scene and the whole time Lea Thompson is looking at you like she wants to jump your bones, it’s an appealing idea. The 1980s was a great time for Lea Thompson confusing us sexually. Sometimes she wanted to have sex with her son. Sometimes she wanted to have sex with a duck. Either way, we didn’t want to NOT see it happen…
More importantly, the concept is played mainly for laughs. Marty’s discomfort in Lorraine’s room, and at the dinner table with his family (though they don’t know it), is funny on the face of it. You don’t know that this is going to become a driving plot point for a little while. By the time this storyline returns, we’re used to the idea.
The Big Picture. The sequence has the payoff for the Uncle Joey gag earlier. This actually doesn’t play into the main story in any way, it’s just a nice joke that rewards you for paying attention. It’s important for the filmmakers to have these freestanding jokes that make use of time travel without connecting to the larger story. If it’s all plot plot plot you restrict the amount of fun you can have.
42:13 – George is just awful here, peeping on Lorraine and then just flat out dashing off and leaving Marty unconscious in the street.
42:16 – In the original timeline, how did George explain away that he was outside Lorraine’s house with a pair of binoculars? My kingdom for a glimpse at how that scene would have gone.
42:40 – Lea Thompson is playing the scene with a bit of gravel in her throat. Bit of a cheat to make the reveal of young Lorraine more impactful.
43:10 – First we had George McFly as a peeping tom, now we have Lorraine as someone who takes the pants off an unconscious guy for no reason other than she wants to see a guy in his underwear. Maybe these two deserve each other. Really though, it’s a huge credit to these two actors that they come off as more innocent and curious than leering.
44:34 – Great shot of Lorraine looking in the mirror.
44:41 – Marty falling over without making a sound makes it a lot funnier.
47:52 – “He’s an idiot. Parents are probably idiots too. Lorraine if you ever have a kid that acts that way I’ll disown you.” I don’t love how laboured a road it is to that punchline, why would you say that unless you knew you were in a time travelling movie and you were thinking “It’d be really ironic if I said this.”
Behind the Scenes
-When the team scouted the street where George gets run over, Michael J. Fox was down the road filming Teen Wolf at the same time.
Chapter 10. “Future Boy and Doc” (47:53 – 55:53)
Logline: Marty enlists the past version of Doc Brown to help him time travel home.
The Sequence. A sequence that’s heavy on plot yet very entertaining, once again thanks to Christopher Lloyd. There’s information, but the overriding feeling in the scene is one of emotional relief. It’s great to see Doc Brown alive, and it’s great that he believes Marty’s story so quickly. We share his joy in his knowledge that he’ll make something of himself by someday inventing time travel, and it’s sweet that he almost immediately comes to like Marty as much as he does in the earlier (later?) scene in 1985. It feels less like Doc is here to move the story along, and more like he’s got answers for Marty after several sequences of confusion.
The Big Picture. The film is so well plotted, and so many details pay off in this scene, it’s hard to even think about how contrived the overall story is. I’ve literally never noticed until now that in the space of this one week in 1955, the week Marty just so happens to travel to:
a) Doc Brown came up with the idea for the flux capacitor.
b) George and Lorraine fell in love.
c) The clock tower was struck by lightning.
Yet all three events are set up independent of each other early in the film, and the movie doesn’t even need to point it out because you’re not likely to notice it. Compare Back to the Future Part 2, in which Old Biff time travels back to this exact time in 1955 too, a contrivance so noticeable that the movie really just has to make a joke about how unlikely it all is and move on.
48:36 – Hah, Doc had originally been planning to read his dog’s mind before Marty presented himself.
50:08 – There’s not much made of the disappearing head in the photo.
51:20 – I love how flimsily hidden the DeLorean is.
51:36 – “After I felt off my toilet, I drew this.”
52:45 – Doc does just accept the idea that here’s going to be a nuclear war but carries on with his life. We should take inspiration from that.
54:30 – Again, nothing for praise for the information on the pamphlet.
54:50 – The music is great, it so conveys the idea of someone having an epiphany.
55:17 – A lot was done to deemphasize Michael J Fox’s height. Notice how Doc spends some of the scene hunched over, then when he stands Marty moves closer to the foreground. When you notice it looks like the Sit-Stand-Bend game on Whose Line.