A new video essay by Vimeo channel Must See Films recalls “Back to the Future” as “a fun-filled adventure, sci-fi masterpiece, and at the same time, a very intimate family drama.” The video’s premise is that Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 classic is a prime example of how to tell a story economically, conveying much with little. It asserts that, “one of the most overlooked achievements of the film is the film’s opening shot. It manages to convey an incredible amount of information to the audience in a very short amount of time, not to mention the technical execution of the shot itself.”
Now would be a good time to pause and ask you what “Back to the Future” could possibly have to do with the animated “101 Dalmatians.” If you answered the obvious “nothing,” you’d be wrong — at least according to Must See Films. A pointed, if unexpected comparison, the video asserts that, much as Cruella De Vil’s character is wholly introduced before she makes an appearance on screen, so too do we get a sense of Doc Brown (via the film’s opening shot, replete with ticking clocks) before we ever see Christopher Lloyd’s face.
Part detective work, part incredibly keen observation, the six-and-a-half minute video analyzes the entire opening shot from “Back to the Future,” pausing it at certain points to highlight key details, which shed light on Doc Brown’s character. For example, the very clocks themselves used in the shot recall other films, familiarity with which helps to hint at the movie’s climax. Also, memorabilia on Doc Brown’s wall tells way more about who he is than one might initially suspect. His influences, his heroes, even his family backstory are all there. Blink, and you might miss them, and you’ll be able to glean what you need to later, but Zemeckis does an excellent job setting Brown up (and Must See Films does an excellent job calling such tidbits out). The film sets up when and where it takes place, Brown’s absence, “crucial” devices that play into the story later, and even plants layered questions into the audiences’ collective mind. (There are also a few Easter Eggs included for film buffs.)
All told, the sequence lasts 2 minutes and 52 seconds, but it provides a wealth of information, all of which Zemeckis mines throughout the next two hours. You can watch and evaluate the opening shot for yourself below. At the end of the video, Must See Films puts out a call for suggestions for other opening sequences worth analyzing, so weigh in there (and here!) on any you think deserve attention.