Back to the Future

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The task of tailoring the time-travel theme to the teenage market has led to, besides such concrete accessories as skateboards and electric guitars, an inordinate dwelling on anachronisms, with a contemporary teenager plunged (much like an addict of TV's Happy Days, only deeper) into the Fifties. It's as though the genealogical time-line has collapsed into itself like a retractable aerial, or better, has been bent back on itself in a U-shape, so that the generation gap may be measured as the distance between parallel lines and without any unflattering reference to age. The interest in anachronisms never, predictably enough, rises above the parlor-gamesterism into which the time-travel theme so frequently, and comfortably, settles. But at this frivolous, almost vaudeville level, with a very wide latitude for caricature, the movie is quite consistently amusing, and even when not, is too fast-moving ever to be really annoying. And the tremendous speed ought not to obscure how scrupulously director Robert Zemeckis has set up the time motif (starting with the Rube Goldberg array of alarm clocks during the credits), nor how thoroughly he has sketched in the small-town locale, soon to be jerked back through thirty years of undevelopment (or ought that to be de-development?). The plot that unfolds thereafter is a sort of juggling-act of hot potatoes, including such things as the hero playing Cupid to his own parents, playing hard-to-get to his own mother, and playing second-hand mentor to Chuck Berry. But the movie's brightest idea — its twice-baked potato as it were — does not come until the final fulfillment of the title. The weary time-traveller, having taken a hand in rewriting the future, now finds himself back in the present with a different past from everyone else. That idea, with its infinite possibilities for nostalgia and alienation, is passed over, of course, as rapidly and unreflectingly as every other idea in the movie, but coming as it does at the very end, or the virtual end, excepting one final frivolity, it tends to linger. Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson. (1985) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated PG | 1 hour, 51 minutes
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