Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Back to the Future

Sequels, deservedly, have a bad reputation. Although you can cite second and even third films that were as good as (or, rarely, better than) the original "first" movie, in general they stink. Many sequels are an obvious money-grubbing attempt to ride the coattails of a decent movie and rake in as much money as possible before people tire or burn out on a franchise. One such was our Sunday evening family movie.

We started the weekend on Saturday with the original "Back to the Future", in which (I'm sure you all know) Marty McFly accidentally travels back in time to 1955, where he inadvertently interferes with his parents' meeting and falling in love. It was a creative take on the sci-fi time-travel story, with peppy 80's music, solid acting and even decent special effects (for the time). The script is peppered with wit and humor, the situations aren't too dire or "heavy" (to use Marty's word). It's fun, funny and good family sci-fi entertainment. (Well, except for a handful of cusses-- the 80s was the era of the s-word.) This movie stands up very well and we all really enjoyed it.

The second film in the trilogy is so different from the first; it's hard to believe any of the same people had anything to do with it. The story is similar-ish: Marty embarks on time-travel "adventures" to try and fix things that didn't really need to be fixed, thereby making things worse and then being forced to time travel some more and hijinks ensue as he tries to set things right.

From the opening scene, we realized that they had actually re-shot the final scene from the original movie, shot-for-shot, with a different actress (Elisabeth Shue) in the role of Jennifer, Marty's girlfriend (originally played by the seldom-seen Claudia Wells); Shue even apes Wells' body movements, and her hair is a wig-stiff re-creation of the boofy 80's do sported by Wells. We laughed out loud when Shue walked onscreen. Granted, if you saw the movies in the theater, because they were released 4 years apart (1985 and 1989, respectively), you might not have noticed such a glaringly cheesy re-creation. But one night apart? It was hilarious!

They also replaced the actor who played the original George Mcfly, the decidedly odd, but perfectly cast Crispin Glover, with the relatively unknown Jeffrey Weissman. (To be honest, I didn't notice during the movie, though, as Weissman spent much of his time upside down in really bad old-people makeup, but they may have reshot old scenes with him, too-- I just didn't notice. Weird.)

Not to mention that everyone from star Michael J. Fox to Lea Thompson (also sporting really bad old-age makeup this time), returning as Marty's mother, and especially Thomas F. Wilson, returning as Biff, and Christopher Lloyd back as Doc Brown, seem to have actually time-traveled back to their junior high school acting class skills. Everyone is campy, over-the-top, scenery-chewing-ly bad. Awful! Do you blame the writing? The directing? Or is it, in fact, the actors' faults? It's hard to believe that these actors are the same people! My son speculated that the reason Wells didn't return for this sequel is that she read the script and said "No way do I want to be associated with that!"

They all seem to be doing bad parodies of themselves. It's actually embarrassing!

The tone shifts from scary and depressing (in a run-down, wicked alternate Hill Valley, McFly and the school's principal are shot at by kids in a passing vehicle-- with some kind of big guns that shoot a lot-- I won't even pretend to have any idea what kind they were) to lighter, supposed-comedy, back to rather serious and ugly (violent domestic abuse, infidelity, alcoholism=NOT FUNNY).

The story flits back and forth to the future, the "present" and the past-- back again to 1955, using footage from the first movie, combined with new stuff, and the time-travel conundrum sets in. How many flying Deloreans can there be in 1955 at the same time? (Commence "Twilight Zone" theme...)
Replaying multiple scenes from the first film garnered two different reactions from my family. In my case, it made me think I would prefer to just watch that movie again. But my husband said it ruined the first movie for him.

They really should have just left well enough alone.
Nowadays, sequels are not just common, they are expected. We're a spoiled society, we first worlders. We want our books to come in series (or at least trilogies!) and our movies, too. One "Avengers" really wasn't enough, though, so I'm not complaining. (Though, to be fair, making all 3 "Twilight" books into really, really bad movies was going too far, filmmakers. Don't do that again.)
We will be watching "Back... III" shortly. Probably on Friday night. My husband seems to remember it being "really good". We'll see, Mr. M. We'll see. It's set in the old west, and I seem to recall having seen it before, though I can't remember what I thought of it at the time. I can't imagine it being worse than II, though.

In the meantime, "Back to the Future II" is really a movie that seems to have been made to be Rifftrax fodder. It's not, but it really, really ought to be.


Steph @ Crafting in the Rain said...

So one time at BYU they showed all 3 movies in a row, so my roommates and I watched them all...just to say we had! And even then we didn't notice the actor changes! We were probably too busy scoping out boys who were there too :)

Chris said...

Hey, Film Critic's Daughter (or should that be former film critic's daughter?): I went back and looked at my Deseret News reviews from the films' original release dates. Raved about the first one, of course. Didn't like "Part II" much but gave some pluses to the first quarter or so with its inside jokes and clever futuristic vision. But I did like "Part III," which brings back the original's warmth and is essentially a western spoof (filmed in So. Utah, by the way). I labeled it "Back to the Blazing Saddles." Not my best analogy. But I thought "Part III" was funny and fun. Maybe it's time for us to watch them again. Looking forward to your write-up.