Wednesday 4 November 2015

Back In Time (2015) - Movie Review

Among the many sacred cows of the speculative fiction umbrella, the one that has probably gotten the most noise this year is the Back To The Future Trilogy. Yes, go on about how hyped people are for the upcoming Star Wars sequel, but there’s no way that you can say with a straight face that the constant quibbling about what Back To The Future Part II did/didn’t get right about its vision for the year 2015 wasn’t more prevalent than the hype for The Force Awakens. So, while other cinemas brought back the original film(s) to cinemas on the lauded day of October 21st, 2015, some even doing it at the exact minute that the main characters arrived in the film for extra geek cred, my local arthouse theatre had something else in mind: A fan-funded documentary about the phenomenon itself. With a one-night-only showing on the big screen, and about fifty Marty cosplayers in tow (and only one Mr. Strickland, funnily enough), what self-respecting SF geek could pass it up? But how did it actually hold up? This is Back In Time, and points to you if that didn’t immediately make you start humming the Huey Lewis song. Either of them.

The plot (such as it is): Through interviews with the cast, crew and fans of the film series as well as archive production footage and stills, director Jason Aron gives an overall view of the rabid fan base that the three films and associated media have spawned, as well as the resulting legacy that led to the series being so important to pop culture as a whole.

This is a crowd-funded documentary made by fans, for the fans and very much being about the fans. Sure, there’s plenty of info thrown around by the cast and crew about the production of the film and how some of the effects were done, but more than anything this is about how fans took to the film. Specifically, the fascination that grew surrounding the DeLorean and attempts by fanboys to make their own DMC time machines. This is where a rather hefty bulk of the film is dedicated, as it talks about the mystique created by its prominence in the series versus how many of those models were actually produced. Now, even with the car’s undeniable pop culture impact, there are times where how much this film engages will depend on how much of a gear-head you are, but this is helped by appearances from people who have used the lauded vehicle for more charitable purposes like the couple who toured all the U.S. states in one to raise awareness for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Beyond the DeLorean worship, we see tributes in the form of real-world recreations of Hill Valley for live re-enactments of the film, and interviews with the band ‘The Flux Capacitors’ who also perform a cover of Power Of Love.

In a kind of morbid way, one of the fun parts of the film is seeing how the cast has held up in the 30 years since the original film, which ranges from the surprising to the startling to the verging-on-depressing. Lea Thompson, somehow, looks better as an actual older woman than she was made up to be with make-up in the film, Michael J. Fox is still as lively as ever and James Tolkan… yeah, as soon as he came up on screen, there was a very audible mixture of laughter and gasping coming from the audience. While the majority of the cast and the main members of the crew return to be interviewed here, there’s a noted absence of two main stars: Thomas F. Wilson and Crispin Glover. Then again, the former probably doesn’t want to relive those memories too much considering the kind of outright bastard he portrayed in all three films, and the latter’s general disdain has long been on record and he’s probably too busy making disturbing art films about naked Nazi Shirley Temple to make an appearance anyway. Guess which one of those is more likely.

While there are a couple of editing gaffs here and there, namely a few stray frames that unfortunately just remind me of my own output back on YouTube, this is a pretty well edited film. First off, there’s a nice use of film clips juxtaposed with the events on screen; like a guy who proposes to his wife at a BTTF convention with the original Marvin Berry singing Earth Angel being juxtaposed with the first film’s prom scene or the “why not do it with some style” line used during the discussion of the DeLorean and why it was chosen as the time machine for the film. Also, there’s a nice bit of past/future comparison throughout as well, almost as a direct middle finger to everyone who has been bitching and moaning over the last 10 months about how we don’t have flying cars yet. Seriously, even for geek communities, the over-saturation of BTTF Part 2 jokes has been ridiculous.

They show how the hoverboard scenes were done, then we get modern attempts to make them a reality, same as with the flying cars. However, even though the sequencing is very good in places, it feels like there’s a general sense of disorder surrounding the majority of the film. Despite it supposedly being split up into two sections, the first dealing with the film itself and the second dealing with the fan base, there doesn’t seem to be a real flow from one subject to another. Basically, if you think that my work gets lost in tangents at times, you ain’t seen nothing yet when it comes to this film. It can make for a very disjointed watch at points, even if the tidbits themselves are very entertaining.

Easily the best part of the film are the anecdotes told by the cast and crew: A large number of the cast discussing the incestuous elements of the first film and how it helped/hindered their own experiences with working on it, Michael J. Fox discussing a rather awkward incident when he sat next to Princess Diana at the London premiere of the first film, Bob Gale telling a product placement exec that "Doc Brown doesn’t drive a fucking Mustang!"; this is an extremely funny watch for these tales alone. However, probably the best interviewee would be Dan Harmon, creator of both Community and Rick and Morty. Not only does he bring a real fanboy element to the film, what with him flat-out admitting that he thinks the second and third films suck, but he also makes for some of the most awkward moments of the film, not the least of which being when he talks about where he would go if he had a time machine and why; this isn’t helped by how it appears that some of his footage got corrupted along the way. He also represents a certain respect that the film has for fandom as a whole, not just for Back To The Future; with some of the interviewees, we see memorabilia in the background for series like Doctor Who and Portal. As someone who, admittedly, doesn’t hold as strong a connection to the series as others, little additions like that help to link it to the kind of geeky crap that I do obsess over.

All in all, both as a look into the Back To The Future phenomenon and geek fandom in general, this is a good head start. While it feels disjointed and lacking in proper structure in terms of the film as a whole, the overall fun nature of the film thanks to the anecdotes from the interviewees and the scope of which they show how the films have gone on to influence their devotees more than makes up for it. Even if you aren’t a massive fan of the original series, it certainly helps to paint a better picture when it comes to why people obsess over it like they do. Hell, you can check out the film right now on Vimeo.

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