Chapter 11. “Marty’s Problem” (55:53 – 1:02:52)
Logline: Marty must convince his father to ask out his mother in order to ensure his own future existence.
The Sequence. I never quite realized how plotty the first half of Back to the Future is. It’s a lot of fun to be sure, but every scene is trying to slip you some information. Sometimes you notice, sometimes you don’t.
This is the first sequence in the whole movie where it feels like all the pieces are in place, and we can just sit back and really enjoy what’s happening on just the one level. What if you had to talk your Dad into asking out your Mom? What if literally your life depended on it? And what if your job was all the more complicated because your mother wants to fuck y- GAAAAH. Keep forgetting that’s part of the movie.
Anyway it was a lot of work to get to this point, but Back to the Future starts fully running with its premise here. All the characters and relationships are fully established, and Marty spends the whole scene bouncing off of Doc, his Mom, his Dad, and Biff in really entertaining ways. And the final piece of the sequence, Marty’s sci-fi inspired idea, is another culmination of several elements and hilarious enough to justify all the legwork it took to get us there.
The Big Picture. At nearly the exact midpoint Marty makes an enemy out of Biff Tannen, which brings us to this curious, circular structure of Back to the Future. You ever notice this? The first half of Back to the Future piles on problems that increase in danger and urgency. From this point on, Marty solves these problems, in reverse order from when he encounters them. Check it out. Here are the problems, and here are the stakes.
A. The McFly car is totalled. Marty won’t be able to get away for the weekend with his girlfriend.
B. George and Lorraine are losers. Marty’s home life isn’t great.
C. Doc Brown is killed by terrorists. Marty loses his best friend.
D. The DeLorean goes back to 1955. Marty risks being stranded thirty years in the past.
E. Lorraine fails to notice George and develops a crush on Marty. Marty’s existence is threatened.
F. Marty antagonizes Biff. Biff is very probably going to outright kill him.
Things are looking pretty dire. But then from here on out…
F. Marty avoids being run over by Biff, and George puts a stop to him entirely not long after.
E. George and Lorraine fall for each other, saving Marty’s life.
D. Doc’s plan to get Marty back home works.
C. The letter Marty gives Doc saves his life in 1985.
B. Marty gets home to find out his parents are much happier.
A. The car was never totalled!
I’ve not seen anything where the writers talk about this being deliberate (maybe I’m not Googling properly), but it has to be, right? And if so, is there any point to it? I’m not sure, but time travel stories by their nature have to be thought out. They have to be structured…
56:08 – The scene opens on a long shot of Doc’s back, we never see his lips move so the writers and editors take the opportunity to bring in Christopher Lloyd after the fact and have him just breathlessly recap what Marty’s done and what Marty needs to do next. It’s blatant almost to the point of self parody, but it’s all saved with the celebrated “This is heavy” “Weight has nothing to do with it” tag.
56:14 – Love Doc going undercover in the school by wearing a hat. He could just pretend to be Marty’s dad, it’d be fine, but it comes more across like he’s trying to blend in with the students.
56:19 – A sign that says “Ron Woodward for Senior Class President.” I googled expecting this to be a bit character who turns up later, but nope, just the movie’s key grip.
56:27 – “Maybe you were adopted.” Always a line I liked even if it’s at George’s expense, it seems as though Doc already thinks well of Marty despite only having just met him.
57:25 – Lorraine’s friend in the green sweater smiles broadly when she sees “Calvin,” as though she’s been told everything about him already. Even day players like this invent backstories for their characters.
57:49 – I’ve been waiting to see if Christopher Lloyd blinks in this whole scene and I don’t think it’s going to happen.
58:12 – I know it’s a joke, but Doc asks about the Earth’s gravitational pull despite not wanting to know anything about the future. It’s never really explained why he tears up Marty’s letter then decides “What the hell,” but might simply be that despite all his warnings he can’t resist asking.
58:24 – Never mind, Doc is blinking plenty now.
59:34 – I wonder if George still writes sci-fi stories (in the pre-altered timeline). If not, when did he give it up?
59:45 – Marty understanding why George doesn’t want to show his stories to anyone for fear of them being mocked I think is the first moment where they’ve connected as humans, in either time period. And it’s not because Marty recognizes something cool about his father that’s also in himself, it’s because he recognizes a shared bit of insecurity. It’s one of these little bits of texture and depth that helps Back to the Future endure.
1:00:18 – Biff has pulled up a chair from another table to more easily harass Lorraine, what a creep.
1:00:28 – Oh hey where’d Billy Zane go? He’s in all other Biff scenes.
1:00:44 – We’ll keep seeing this in the next sequence, but all the extras gawk any time Biff is bullying someone.
1:01:00 – Biff’s two lackies start looking around casually when Strickland shows up.
1:01:02 – Speaking of, Strickland gives the McFlys a hard time but doesn’t say a word to Biff even though he’s bullying people. And he won’t, not until Back to the Future Part II, at a time in which it’s inconvenient for Marty. It’s like he’s here just to be a pain in the ass to the McFly family even when he doesn’t know it.
1:01:30 – Strickland chasing the airplane just to get him out of the scene is maybe the funniest moment in the movie to me.
1:02:22 – Far as I’m concerned, Crispin Glover was put on this Earth so he could be in a scene where he’s terrorized by rock music and a man in a radiation suit. It’s so funny.
Behind the Scenes
-Asked and answered, Gale says the scene was shot on a Saturday (I think in a real school cafeteria) and Billy Zane had to work somewhere else. Even going through the film as closely as I am, I doubt I would have noticed that bully’s absence if he had not been played by Zane (and Gale wouldn’t have bothered addressing where he went either).
-In a deleted scene, George overslept because Marty (unnecessarily) chloroformed his Dad.
Chapter 12. “The Matchmaker” (1:02:52 – 1:08:10)
Logline: Trying to protect his teenage parents, Marty instead further gets on the bad side of the school bully.
The Sequence. Sharing the previous sequence’s goal, Marty is still trying to get his parents together. What makes this one different is that George is now being forced to take action. He’s not doing it out of some inner bravery, it’s because he fears having his brain melted by aliens. If he had managed to woo Lorraine here, they might have been destined for the same mediocre status quo they share in the present.
Of course, they don’t get together just yet, because Biff turns up to ruin things. And in trying to protect his Dad from the bully, Marty only manages to make more of an enemy of Biff and deepen Lorraine’s attraction to him. It’s an engaging bit of storytelling because of the push-and-pull the development creates in the viewer. Marty punching and escaping Biff it’s a short term positive act that has negative long term consequences.
This leads to the skateboard chase, the centrepiece of Back to the Future. It’s the distillation of the movie in general, an action/comedy scene in which a time traveler is able to use skills he has from the 80s in order to survive in a 50s setting. We even get the full Back to the Future music, this is positioned as a Moment. No surprise it’s the scene that’s most obviously repeated in the next two films.
The Big Picture. Biff is straight up an evil dude, he’s really trying to kill Marty here. I always used to think that in broad strokes his appearance as an evil super villain in Back to the Future II was a crazy bit of escalation. But that’s because there’s a tendency in movies to portray bullying as a phase that people go through before they straighten themselves out or become lousy but ultimately harmless adults. Not so in Back to the Future, this guy is on a nasty path and Marty has gotten in his way.
1:04:20 – I think I misremembered George’s awkward dancing by himself as being in this movie, but he really did it in Friday the 13th, another series that’s kind of nebulously set in both the 50s and the 80s simultaneously.
1:04:28 – Never noticed Marty being in the background behind George, watching incredulously as George places his order for chocolate milk.
1:05:15 – “Hey McFly!” I like how even the music cuts out. Biff is a big deal everywhere he goes.
1:06:29 – So do skateboards conduct sparks?
1:07:19 – The bullies are having a great time, but Biff is serious and focused. Reminds me of the bullies from IT.
1:08:08 – In general it’s hard for me to look at anyone other than Lea Thompson, but I for the first time noticed a dejected George (notepad in hand) walking away in the background.
Behind the Scenes
-Gale: “It’s too bad he has such strange ideas and attitudes about how an actor should behave,” on Crispin Glover.
Chapter 13. “Skateboard Hero (1)” (1:08:10 – 1:12:41)
Logline: Marty and Doc work out a plan to get Marty back to 1985.
The Sequence. This has the same kind of joy as a Q scene in a Bond movie. We get a preview of what’s going to happen on a small scale, which builds our anticipation and keeps us watching. We get some laughs in too to justify the amount of information. And the race car bursting into flames creates a bit of low level tension; if the Doc has some bugs to work out in this demonstration, is he going to be ready for the real experiment?
Lorraine follows Marty back to Doc Brown’s place and shows up later in the scene to get in Marty’s space some more. It’s all very confusing. I’m not into Marty/Lorraine, but I think I might be into Michael J. Fox/Lea Thompson. There’s a spark here, even if it’s almost entirely unidirectional.
The Big Picture. Back to the Future did a few things that Titanic got credit for later. Not only was this the movie that foisted Billy Zane upon a grateful planet, it also used miniatures to illustrate an elaborate sequence well in advance of what actually happens. This is the first instance of what will be my recurring obsession; geography. The importance of seeing the layout of a location in calm circumstances, so that when characters are racing from Point A to Point B in a chaotic action sequence, we don’t have to stop and remember where they’re going and why.
Is it worth bringing up that knowing the minute the bolt strikes the tower is useless if they can’t also predict the exact second? It is not. The prospect of the impending clock tower scene is so well thought out and, more important, sounds like it’s going to be so much fun, that it’s hard to care.
1:08:30 – Despite his own code, Doc can’t resist peaking at his own future when he thinks Marty isn’t around.
1:09:09 – There’s a saxophone in Doc’s garage. There’s this whole side of him I want to know more about.
1:09:13 – Love that a watch represents the clock face and Doc has gone to the trouble of setting to 10:04.
1:10:41 – The way the Doc moves off to get the car is really funny.
Behind the Scenes
-The commentary points out that this is the one time in the trilogy Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson have a scene together, and it’s a hasty “Hi.” I might have liked more. Though come to think of it, how often does the Doc directly talk to anyone other than Marty and later Clara? He’s really in his own movie.
Chapter 13.1 “Skateboard Hero (2)” (1:12:41 – 1:14:28)
Logline: Marty plans to “get fresh” with his mother, allowing George a chance to swoop in and play the hero.
The Sequence. Just like in the previous scene, this one is setting up a plan for the audiences to anticipate. Only this time, it sounds like a disaster in the making. I want to be careful about how I phrase this, but considering how into Marty Lorraine has been, it seems like there’s VERY little he could do that she wouldn’t take as mutual interest. BUT… we in the audience mostly know her from these 1955 scenes. Marty has known her his whole life as someone who claimed to have “never parked” with a boy.
The Big Picture. Is there a part of Marty that needs to prove that his parents are soulmates? It’s an idea that a lot of kids have, that their parents were meant to be together, and Marty’s plan seems based on the idea that Lorraine only needs to truly notice George to fall in love with him. It sounds kind of naive writing it out, but the trilogy (mainly BttF 3) does explore the idea that certain people are fated to be together. Maybe George is Lorraine’s density after all.
1:13:14 – This is all happening at 9:00 P.M.? That’s the exact hour Marty is going to start to fade away? And he has to get to the clock tower by 10:04 P.M.? Jack Bauer has never had an hour that busy.
1:13:37 – “You’re going to touch her on her…” as George holds a bra.
Chapter 13.2 “Skateboard Hero (3)” (1:14:28 – 1:16:40)
Logline: Marty sneakily tries to ensure that Doc Brown will have enough information to prevent his death 30 years in the future.
The Sequence. Sorry, it’s really confusing that this is still “Skateboard Hero” even though that happened quite some time ago. DVD/Blu Ray chapter breaks are generally a good guide when it comes to breaking up sequences, but this one has been going on and on and I’m in too deep to turn back.
The experiment is being set up and Marty is set to go to the dance, but not before he sneaks a warning into Doc Brown’s jacket. This is the relationship you remember most from Back to the Future, in part because it dominates the sequels so much, but it’s a little surprising to realize that I’m not talking about the Doc all that often. When he’s in a scene, he’s REALLY in a scene, but this is only the fifth time he’s shown up in the movie, and he’ll be almost completely absent from Part 4 tomorrow.
When you describe Back to the Future it’s really the story of Marty meeting and learning to understand his father, but maybe unexpectedly, Marty and Doc Brown winds up being the heart of the film. Maybe because there is no familial bond between them, there’s very little on the surface that they have in common, but as we’ll see the two of them go to huge lengths to save each other’s lives when they really don’t need to.
The Big Picture. It’s a chance to see the town square, and the clock tower in calm circumstances before the fast paced, intricate action scene later on can start up.
…And that’s all I got. What a limp note for today’s article to go out on. Oh well, tomorrow there’s a mother/son kiss and sexual assault right up front. Whatever else it may be, it won’t be boring.
1:16:16 – The Doc has a run in with a cop which, again, makes me really want to see Doc Brown interact with more characters outside of Marty. What does Hill Valley think of having this guy around?