Thirty-five years ago this summer, I wrote an unkind movie review for “Back to the Future,” the Michael J. Fox time-travel comedy.
I don’t remember a single word of the review, but generally I thought that while the movie had some clever moments — like when people in 1955 laughed at the idea of Ronald Reagan becoming president — it just didn’t work very well.
What I do remember is, after the review came out in the Sunday paper, I covered a McComb city board meeting, and afterward, Selectman Ronnie Wilkinson teased me about “Back to the Future.”
He said my review really missed the mark, because it was a good, fun movie. Wilkinson got it right, while I was way off the mark.
“Back to the Future” was Hollywood’s highest-grossing film of 1985 and spent 11 weeks that summer at the top of the box office. It won an Academy Award for sound effects editing and made Fox an even bigger star than he was from his TV show, “Family Ties.”
Only a couple of people know this, but one reason the film did not impress me was because I saw it on a date that was uncomfortable. Some mutual friends in New Orleans had introduced us, but there was simply no connection, and it’s not easy to sit together in a theater in those circumstances. (This was not a date with my future wife, just so you know.)
But the other reason I messed it up is because I was the wrong age in 1985 — almost 24 — to review a movie that was set in the 1950s.
Kids liked the DeLorean car and the skateboarding, while adults who were older than I was enjoyed all the ’50s stuff. I was too old for one thing and too young for another.
Today I get to correct my original review, thanks to recording “Back to the Future” a few months ago on Turner Classic Movies and finally getting around to watching it last weekend.
My oversights are obvious from the opening credits: Produced by Steven Spielberg, directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Spielberg needs no introduction. Zemeckis is best known as the director of “Forrest Gump,” one of my favorite movies.
But in 1985, he was coming off directing a hit the prior year that I really liked: “Romancing the Stone,” starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Douglas showed in that movie that he could carry a film. It set him up for his Oscar-winning performance three years later in “Wall Street.”
Anyway, like Wilkinson told me, “Back to the Future” really was consistently fun and entertaining. It has aged very well, although it’s funny to see some of the 1985 buildings all stained with graffiti like it was set in New York City instead of California.
The movie’s thorniest issue — Fox’s mother as a teenager has the hots for her son — probably would not be touched in today’s Hollywood.
The 1950s jokes worked for me this time, like when Fox takes a kid’s wooden box skateboard and latches onto the back of a moving vehicle to get away from some guys trying to beat him up. I also remember laughing in the theater when a band member called his cousin Chuck Berry so he could listen to Fox play “Johnny B. Goode,” and that is still funny today.
Like Douglas in “Romancing the Stone,” Fox proved in “Back to the Future” that he could carry a movie. He was a perfect fit as Marty McFly, appearing in virtually every scene and performing effortlessly. His skateboarding was good, too.
Christopher Lloyd, who played Doc, won wide praise as the zany scientist. But after watching the movie last week, the actor that really stood out was Crispin Glover, who played Marty’s nerdy father.
First as a belittled father, then as a bullied teenager and finally, after Fox returns to 1985 having changed his family’s history, as a confident author, Glover aced all three assignments.
Like most good summer movies, “Back to the Future” had a happy ending that tied up most of the loose ends. But not all of them: Surely in 1985 his parents would have recognized the kid who appeared for a week in 1955 and brought them together?
That’s being a little picky. If I’m ranking Zemeckis’ films, “Back to the Future” is still behind “Forrest Gump” and “Romancing the Stone.” But it’s a pleasure to give Fox’s movie a solid three-and-a-half stars.