Revisiting Back to the Future

I mentioned yesterday that the movie I chose to watch on the private big screen was Back to the Future. It took me a long time to come to that decision. Part of me wanted to watch something recent, so I could really see what the theater’s sound system could pull off. (I’m not making this up: it had 60 speakers. Two of them are the size of refrigerators and don’t actually make any audible sounds. They’re there just to shake the room.) But at the same time, I’ve seen most of those movies in the theater already.

So another part of me wanted to watch something that I’ve never had the chance to see in that environment. For a while I was going to go with The Legend of Drunken Master, Jackie Chan’s sequel to Drunken Master. It’s widely held as the best Jackie Chan movie, and I never saw it in theaters. On the flip side, it’s not available in 4k resolution (come on!), and I thought I’d really like to see something that looked sharp. After a lot more debating, I ended up at Back to the Future, since it’s recently been remastered in 4k, with corresponding Atmos sound. I thought that would give me a good way to compare the theater with other experiences I’ve had. Plus, who doesn’t like Michael J. Fox?

As I said yesterday, it was so much better than I had even hoped it would be. Why? For one thing, the audio was completely immersive. In the opening clock scene, it really felt like there were clocks all around me in the theater. I caught small details that I’d never picked out before: the fact that you could still hear Huey Lewis on Marty’s headphones when he took them off and was talking to his girlfriend, for example. Small things that (I felt) made the movie that much more real.

The picture quality was fantastic, sometimes admittedly to the detriment of the movie. It was much easier to see the makeup that had been put on Christopher Lloyd to age him. Nothing that really threw me out, but still noticeable. The colors really popped.

And it really helps that Back to the Future is, in my opinion a perfect movie. It works so well on so many different levels. It involves time travel and paradoxes in a way that everyone can easily understand. Its plot weaves layer upon layer of conflicts, until they all pay off in a tremendous climax. Things look like they’re all going to fall apart: Marty’s locked in a trunk, Biff is having his way with Lorraine, and the only person who can do anything about it is George, a guy who seems totally unequipped to handle it. But then George surprises us all and saves the day! Except the band isn’t able to play the song where George and Lorraine have their first kiss, so Marty’s still in trouble. But then Marty fills in, bringing his plot line of wanting to perform in front of a big crowd to a climax. The kiss happens, and Marty’s saved! Except he isn’t, because he still has to get back to the time machine and get back to the future. Which is going fine, until a branch knocks down the power cable. It keeps going like that, and I loved every second of it.

On top of all of that, you’ve got action, humor, pop culture references, and a sound track that can’t be beat. I’m trying to think of things that are wrong with the movie, and all I can come up with is the issue where Marty plays a Chuck Berry classic and then it’s implied that Chuck Berry got the inspiration from Marty. So you could say it was kind of culturally appropriating, but even that was more for humor than anything else, riffing on the time travel plot.

On the rewatch, I gave the movie a perfect 10/10. It does everything it sets out to do, and it does it all so well. Is it High Cinema? No. It’s pure fun, but in my book a piece of art doesn’t have to be deep to score a 10. It doesn’t have to have a theme or message. This movie wants to entertain, and it hits a grand slam.

Now if only I could watch the Lord of the Rings extended edition in that theater . . .


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