April 16, 2012


amazing poster by the great Drew Struzan
As anyone who follows my twitter (@TheRocketRobot) knows, on Friday night I and a couple of mates attended a marathon viewing of the complete Back to the Future trilogy at the Embassy theatre here in Wellington. This was, to be absolutely literal, a dream come true.

If you've read this blog, or my twitter, or even just talked casually to me in person then you'll know that I am a passionate defender of the cinema. Despite the multifarious options available, the cinema is still the undisputed best place to see a movie. We can argue the merits of 35mm vs DCP, but that's beside this particular point. And that was proved with the screening of the first Back to the Future. It was a packed audience - some 500 or 600 people - and there were fans and first-timers alike. But everyone, everyone, loved it. And this is why the cinema experience trumps anything else. When you're in the middle of an appreciative audience, all wrapped up in the unfolding cinematic magic on screen... well, you just don't understand why people would download and watch on a tiny screen.

And that's the other thing - the cinema screen. These three films happened to be DCPs, as Universal is apparently releasing a number of their classic films to celebrate their anniversary. But for someone like me, who has only ever seen these films on DVD, it was like watching an entirely new film. I never noticed how wildly animated Christopher Lloyd's face is, or how truly beguiling and enchanting Lea Thompson is. Not to mention the pleasure of a larger-than-life Crispin Glover, who's George McFly is so wonderfully weird, with that slight whisper of a voice and his limbs flailing about. And that's not even mentioning the secret hero of the cast: Thomas F. Wilson. His various Tannen's (whether they be young Biff, middle-aged Biff, old Biff, Griff or Mad Dog) are sneer-worthy villains, all of them without redeeming characteristics and just this side of moustache twirling. He's a big lug and the audience can't help but cheer as he is covered in manure again and again and again.

The first Back to the Future is still my favourite and, to my mind, the best of the trilogy. The emotional story is so strong and the script is unquestionable perfection. It's simply a tight adventure script, with great characters and humour that Hollywood just doesn't seem able to do any more. Anchored by all-time great performances from character actors, new comers and a TV star the first Back to the Future is the big-budget studio system at it's very best. And this showing of it was the greatest viewing I've ever had of it. I had the greatest time and loved the enthusiasm from the crowd: the DeLorean got a cheer on it's first appearance.

Part II is still a good film but it doesn't have the same emotional connection as the first one. To me, it works more on an intellectual level than the emotional as we unwind the tangle of time that Doc Brown's DeLorean has created. To some extent the second film is just further set-up for the third and you can all but see Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis attempting to live up to the promise of the end of the first film. It's still strange to me that Jennifer is picked up by the Doc to be taken to the future, only to be dumped for most of the rest of the film. Which is not to rag on the film entirely. The way Gale and Zemeckis tie Part II into the first film, going back into it and having Marty desperately run around trying to ensure everything happens as it did but also running into even more obstacles is a lot of great fun. And the extent of the set-ups for Part III are staggering. It just lacks that sweetness that was so inherent to the first. But hey, it did also give us a flying DeLorean, hoverboards and automatically lacing shoes.

Part III would be my second favourite of the trilogy and is just a whole lotta fun. I read a quote from Gale or Zemeckis somewhere that they set Part III in the Old West simply because they'd always wanted to make a Western. So they did. It's a blast of pure, unbridled fun to wrap up the trilogy as Doc and Marty play at cowboys in Hill Valley, 1885. Along the way Marty invents the frisbee, runs into his great-great-grandparents and the Doc falls in love. And there's that emotional story that helps tie in the film together and lets the audience in. If Part III is anyone's film, it's the Docs; he truly takes centre-stage as the sweet but badass blacksmith/inventor. To top everything off Part III was doing steampunk before steampunk was even a thing. So, I guess that's one "future" thing the trilogy was bang on the money with. Watching all three films on that big screen, back-to-back-to-Back you really pick up how tight all of the scripts are, how they have numerous set-ups and pay-offs (sometimes taking an entire film or more to pay-off) and how they have numerous echoes throughout each one. They hardly ever call attention to themselves but allow neat little moments for people paying attention.

Honestly, I never, ever thought I would get to see the first Back to the Future in a cinema, let alone a marathon of the entire trilogy. Absolutely a life dream fulfilled on Friday night and now I can only look forward to whatever comes next. The Indiana Jones trilogy? A Hitchcock marathon? Predator? RoboCop? Cinemas: you play 'em and I'll be there with a giant grin on my face and as many friends as I can get together in tow. 

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