I was just a boy when Back to the Future came out. There’s no doubt that I was the demographic that Robert Zemeckis was aiming for when he brought this instant classic to life. It had everything a good movie should have. It had action. It had adventure. It had “awesome” special effects. It had Good vs. Bad. It had great dialogue. It even had one good love story, and one really creepy, twisted one thrown in at the last minute.
More importantly, it had heart. Lots of it.
Back to the Future managed to take America on a journey into the past. Into a simpler time when right was right, and wrong was wrong. It took our parents back to their youth and gave their kids a glimpse into the Hollywood version of the world they’d grown up in. Of course, that was on the surface. Beneath the surface, Zemeckis and crew threw in so much psychology that it would take Freud, BF Skinner, and Dr. Phil months to explain it all.
After all, who hasn’t watched Back to the Future and wondered with a little bit of wistful thinking, “What if I could go back and change just this one moment in my life?” “What if I asked that cute girl out to the dance,” or “What if I punched that bully in the face that one day?” We’ve all had those moments, and fortunately, Zemeckis and crew rolled out Back to the Future II before all of our 80’s parents grounded us all for not traveling back in time to save them from some horrible fate. The sequel made it clear you could change the future by taking action in the present.
Of course, Back to the Future had three of the most valuable assets in the history of movie making. First, a great cast. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd played off each other with such grace and finesse that it didn’t seem like acting at all. Second, it was an 80’s flick, and 80’s flicks are just wrapped in a magical envelope of charm. Like the 50’s, the 80’s are still viewed as a carefree, hard driving, good decade where things were the way they should be. The Soviets were bad, terrorists were evil, family was good, and mom baked apple pies when she wasn’t making out with dad in the back of a Buick.
The 80’s are still viewed as that decade when America was great, the streets were safe, and you could turn the radio on and know whatever song that came over the airwaves was going to be a hit. Naturally, with the passage of time we’ve come to see the 80’s for what they really were; a troubled time with lots of positive, but not quite as golden as we remember them to be.
That’s the foundation for the Back to the Future genre. That’s the psychology of it. It challenges us to look at the past, apply it to the present, and look to the future….all in the same scene. It’s absolutely brilliantly pieced together and Zemeckis and crew have received their just reward; they’ve created a timeless movie. That’s hard to do. While movies may be box office hits this year, many are forgotten within a few years. However, the few lucky flicks that maintain a perfect balance between storyline, acting, and enough psychology to pack into a Psych 201 semester, they become timeless. They become Casablanca. They become The Lion King. They become Back to the Future…and that’s why Back to the Future will never run outta time. It’s quite literally a movie whose title and message announce that it will always be timeless, and it’s done just that.