One of the most definitive and funniest movies about time travel turned 30 this year. On July 3, 1985, Robert Zemeckis’ classic “Back to the Future” opened in the United States, launching a trilogy and setting a new standard for science fiction films. Sine then, cinephiles across the world have studied the film and its screenplay, both notable examples, not just of genre storytelling, but of filmmaking at large. Of the many enthusiasts and students to have analyzed the film is the prolific and very thorough reviewer, Oliver Harper.
Harper’s latest film retrospective is a nearly 30-minute study of Zemeckis’ masterwork, and as example of his own prowess as a storyteller and someone who thoroughly understands the film medium, it begins with a two and a half minute summary of the film, edited together entirely from scenes in the movie. Following the well-crafted synopsis, Harper shifts his breakdown into drive by detailing briefly the genesis of the film, in particular Zemeckis’ collaboration with his co-writer, Bob Gale. Harper quickly segues into the decision to set the film partly in 1955, explaining that, in addition to being the right time for Marty McFly’s parents to be in high school, “The era also marked the rise of teenagers as an important cultural element, the birth of rock and roll, TV, and science fiction films.” All of these elements factor heavily into the film — and its cultural success — which Harper emphasizes throughout his video.
About four and a half minutes into the retrospective, Harper sheds light on why Zemeckis and Gale ultimately settled on a DeLorean as the time travel vehicle of choice (did you know the first iteration of Doc Brown’s invention looked more like a refrigerator?). The vehicle lent itself perfectly to the needs of the film. In particular, “the time machine parts needed to look like they had been retrofitted in a garage, having loads of the components visible to make it look like a working device.” (Harper’s editorial asides about wanting a DeLorean, despite his father’s assurances that it was “a piece of crap” are a funny interlude and prime example of his personable and jovial approach to film study.)
Interestingly, Harper also discusses how Gale and Zemeckis met with four years of rejections before Universal finally picked up their film. The early 1980s saw the rise of raunchy, more adult-geared comedies (Harper cites “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Porky’s” — both 1982 — as notable examples), and studios thought “Back to the Future” would prove too family friendly for what was then trending. Disney was into the project, but disagreed with the notion of Marty’s mother being in love with him. Zemeckis turned to prior collaborator, Steven Spielberg, who had executive produced his last film, “Used Cars.” It wasn’t until after Zemeckis directed the box office hit “Romancing the Stone” in 1984 that Spielberg fully committed, and all the other pieces fell into place. The duo set up a deal with Universal Pictures, and “Back to the Future” became the first Amblin Entertainment production that Spielberg himself did not direct.
Harper engagingly crams all of this — and more — information into the first 6 and a quarter minutes of his retrospective. To find out more about the film, including the actor was first cast as Marty McFly, the origin of the DeLorean’s fire trail when time-traveling, and the score, watch the full video below.