The Back to the Future Trilogy fused the old and the young, the popular and the nerd, the rough and the smooth, and the classic art with the modern imagination. Robert Zemeckis gave us a directorial work of art in the three part series, which he co-wrote with Bob Gale. With the clever edits and alluring props to give a glimpse of both the past and the future, Zemeckis and Gale take the audience on an expedition on the wheels of a visionary DeLorean. Though the trilogy is now a cult classic and die-hard fans would think it to be blasphemous to critique, I would like to personally focus on one aspect of the films that didn't meet expectations, in my opinion. I would like to focus on only part one of the series for several reasons. Many consider it to be the best in the trilogy and I am no exception, but I would like to focus on the first film simply because of its unexpected and successful arrival onto the pop culture scene.
Released on July 3, 1985 and made on a relatively small budget of $19 million dollars, Back to the Future (Part I) was somewhat of an oddity in terms of the company it shared. With Hollywood heavy weights and headliners such as Sylvester Stallone starring in Rocky IV, and Arnold Schwarzenegger headlining the action packed motion picture Commando; Back to the Future was truly an anomaly when it first arrived in theaters. Though the arrival was not expected by anyone at the time, it is today a household name. From those who were fortunate enough to enjoy this film in theaters on that summer’s day in July, to the generations that have crossed three decades this classic film marvel is a jewel. However, not every jewel has a perfect shine or the smoothest of edges. The flaw I bring attention to lays within the theme music.
The film revolves around a teenager named Marty McFly played by the talented Michael J. Fox and Dr. Emmitt “Doc” Brown played by the legendary Christopher Lloyd. Doc Brown has constructed a time machine made out of a DeLorean, which at upon reaching 88 miles per hour will transport him to any desirable destination in time. A series of unfortunate events involving Libyan outlaws derail their plans and Marty is forced to escape in the DeLorean, and as a result travels back in time to 1955. Upon arrival in 1955, Marty finds himself in an era where he is an unusual character to everyone he encounters. Unusual in terms of fashion, the way he speaks, and also his lack of knowledge on things surrounding his environment. Zemeckis immediately paints a portrait of the shift in era using music. At the beginning of the film we see Marty rushing to school while the classic 80’s ballad Power of Love echoes his happy-go-lucky demeanor. However, when we see Marty in 1955 Zemeckis injects a dose of 50’s ballads by mirroring Marty’s new environment with the song Mr. Sandman. With interjections of specific genres and eras of music Zemeckis paints a picture using sound on a film canvas. Once in 1955 Marty quickly realizes that he needs to go back home to 1985, and so he goes to looking for the only man who can help him, Doc Brown. Once he finds the mad scientist Marty explains the entire situation to and so begins the quest to send Marty back home to 1985.
This is where my first and only critique of the film arises. Zemeckis had made it abundantly clear that music will play an integral role in the direction of the movie. However, there is never much integration of music after these two distinct moments. Zemeckis’ use of music after enforcing the surroundings of the new timeline and its lifestyle does not return to the use of clever fitting music after that. Marty not only has his own theme, but he has two. But, Doc Brown who is as important as Marty to the embodiment of the film does not have his own theme. Great characters always seem to have a resonating piece of music that emulates and encapsulates the role they are portraying. Doc Brown in my humble opinion is robbed of this encapsulation. Music always plays an integral role in a film and its progression from establishing the conflict from the beginning to sustaining the drama in between, to resolving the conflict at the end. Music in big or small fashion carries the film, its plot, and at times the characters.
Anyone who has seen Back to the Future (Part I) immediately thinks of Marty McFly whenever they hear Power of Love. However, that jolt of impactful flash backs which can only be channeled through music are not present for Doc Brown. Though some may contend that the score written by Alan Silvestri is in fact Doc Brown’s theme. I personally believe that a character as large as Doc Brown played by a larger than life actor such as Christopher Lloyd, deserves his very own theme, and not a score that can be blended in with the rest of the film. Whatever the theme for Doc Brown may by it should be something that even thirty years later, fans of the film can listen to and immediately think specifically of the zany character. Just as when Power of Love surfs the sound waves we are immediately reminded of Marty McFly. Fans of the film should not have to reminisce about their beloved “Great Scot!” screaming mad scientist because of another character. He should be placed at the forefront of anyone’s memory and imagination simply on his own, and I believe that the appropriate theme for Doc Brown would have adequately done just that.
Though this is only a small aspect of the overall film, this is an aspect that I personally believe would have made it “The Perfect Film” for me. Music is constantly evolving and impacting the ever-changing world we live in. And I believe that this evolution should have been more evident in Back to the Future (Part I). Zemeckis paints a picture using props and intrinsic characters with the colors of music and gives the audience a very vivid and colorful film. It is because of this complimentary dynamic that Back to the Future is regarded as one of the greatest films of any generation. The use of clever editing, characters, set designs, and the insertion of cleverly chosen music ensures that without a doubt Back to the Future will be enjoyed by many generations to come, perfect or not.