This past weekend, I took my daughter to the movies. That, in and of itself, isn’t particularly special – she’ll go to the movies with me no fewer than three times this week. No, what makes it special is that we sat there and watched all three “Back to the Future” movies in a row.
“Back to the Future” is one of those film series that I can watch over and over and over again. There are, unquestionably, bits of the plot that don’t work (1885 Doc shouldn’t reprimand Marty or be surprised that he showed up, they had that conversation in 1955), but the films are able to overcome those problems through sheer exuberance. These are films where there is always something happening. Always.
For years, I’ve said that the second one is my favorite entry in the series, and that remains true to this day. I love the way the film is able to intricately thread itself into the goings-on in the original, to make you think that maybe all of this stuff happened last time too.
Oddly, prior to this weekend, I don’t think that I ever sat down and watched all three in a row. I’ve done triple features before—most notably the extended editions of the “Lord of the Rings” movies (that was a long, but great, day)—but never “Back to the Future.”
I was very impressed at how well they all work together. I’ve always thought of number three as something of an outlier, and I’ve never been a huge fan of the Clara Clayton story, but all of the sudden, when you watch them together, you can see the ways that they’re playing with and against each other. Doc falling for Clara is a complete inversion of Marty trying to get out of the love story in the first movie. It also offers Doc challenges we’ve never seen before.
If you think about it, we feel like we know Doc Brown, he’s a recluse, loner (crazy) scientist, but that’s because that’s all the first two films ever show us. He’s able to talk about the perils and pitfalls of time travel and what the rules have to be because he’s never had to face them before. As soon as he does, things change. Is it that because love changes him or has he always been a “for thee, but not for me” kind of guy? I wonder.
Looking at the larger experience for a moment, some folks were surprised when I said I was going to do a triple feature, and do it with my daughter – “Can you really sit there for that long?” The short answer is yes, but the long one I think, is that sitting there that long for these three films taught me that I can, in fact, sit there for a whole lot longer. Despite finishing after midnight, I left the theater feeling energized (my daughter was wide awake as well).
I can’t say whether everyone else who was there—and the place was sold out—felt the same way. There was less cheering during the third movie, but there was still cheering.
As I have regularly said, I’ve never been a big fan of movies as a communal experience, but this one showed me that some certainly are better that way. Only one person at the show admitted to never having seen a “Back to the Future” before, and if that’s true it means that hundreds of folks sat there, knowing what was going to happen, and they still cheered and applauded when it went down. Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg, Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and everyone else who worked on those films deserves such incredible accolades.
We are more than 30 years on from the first film in the series and it works just as well as it ever did. It being a period piece certainly has something to do with it, but it’s also a style of filmmaking that is timeless. These are great scripts and memorable characters. I have seen all three movies countless times and, I’ll tell you this, if the trilogy is ever playing back-to-back-to-back near me again, I’m undoubtedly doing everything I can to go. I’ll even try to get the whole family there, because there is something indefinably wonderful about seeing great movies on a big screen.
photo credit: Universal Pictures