Back to the Future gives the impression of being very economical in terms of its narrative… but it really isn’t. Zemeckis just does such a great job immediately establishing the fifties setting, even though there’s less than fifty minutes before the third act, the film feels more immediate.
It takes a half hour to get to the past (until that point, of course, the title doesn’t make much sense) and Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale establish the characters. Well, not the characters, but the cast. No one in Future has much of a character, just a distinct, likable persona. Even Thomas F. Wilson’s menacing thug.
Without the establishing front matter, Michael J. Fox’s trip to the past wouldn’t work, at least not with his parents, Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson. Actually, it might work with Glover, since he’s fantastic. Thompson is not; Zemeckis has problems with female actors–both Thompson and Claudia Wells are weak. Wendie Jo Sperber is good in her cameo though.
While Fox holds the film together, his performance concentrates more on likability than actual dramatic heft. Christopher Lloyd is much stronger; he gives a physical comedy performance some of the time, but also acts as the viewer’s entry into the extraordinary situation. He does quite well.
Of particular note are Dean Cundey’s photography and Alan Silvestri’s score. Silvestri’s score isn’t subtle, but it’s effective. And Cundey does great work, even though Zemeckis’s composition is pedestrian.
Though sometimes painfully shallow, Future is a lot of fun.