Back to Back to the Future

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So, last night I went for the Back to the Future Triple Bill marathon at TGV Cinemas in Suria KLCC. Not only did TGV not promote the event much, they also slated it at a time when most people cannot make it, which was 5pm till midnight.

Still there was a sizeable crowd in the hall, slightly more than half full, which was quite a surprise. One wonders if it would have been a full house had TGV promoted the event more.

I hadn’t seen the trilogy on the big screen in so many years (but I’ve seen them over and over on DVD and Blu-ray), and it was fun to see them again in a larger-than-life format. The crowd was very responsive, laughing and making loud comments, although one wished there was more real audience participation, like at The Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings. Unfortunately, not only were Malaysians shy, there were also quite a few people who were seeing the films for the first time, judging from the overheard comments.

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The first movie got the most laughs. This is the thing about seeing all three films in one sitting; you begin to notice things that you never did when seeing them separately. For instance, in the opening sequence of the first film, with all the clocks in Doc Brown’s house, there is one which has a man hanging from its hands, which is a precursor to Doc Brown hanging off the the clock tower at the end of the film. Then, there’s Marty watching Clint Eastwood on TV, getting shot and then revealing he was wearing a metal plate on his chest all along, which foreshadows the final gunfight in Part III. There are many other rhyming and foreshadowing instances, and it’s fun to spot them on the big screen.

But there’s also a big problem with seeing the films on a big screen again. The Back to the Future series is well known for its inherent racism, and unfortunately that comes across very strongly on the big screen, because everything becomes larger and painted with broader strokes. Each and every scene plays out with less subtlety than on a smaller TV screen. The idea of a white guy teaching Chuck Berry to play rock-and-roll is underhanded, especially so when it’s a white guy who learned how to play from Chuck Berry and then regurgitates it back to Chuck to teach him how to play. And it takes a white guy to teach a black guy how to stand tall for himself and inspire him to run for mayor. Granted, these are really the signs of those times in the 80s, and not so much the product of insidious ideology like in the Rocky films or The Deer Hunter. It was “when people didn’t know better,” which makes it easier to forgive.

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Also on the big screen, as I’ve pointed out how broad the strokes are, the acting becomes more noticeably TV sitcom-like, with big gestures and overblown theatrics. Hell, the two leads were, in fact, TV actors. Michael J. Fox came to fame in the sitcom Family Ties and Christopher Lloyd also found fame in a sitcom, the very entertaining Taxi. Blown up on the big screen, the acting in the Back to the Future films seem by-the-numbers more than ever.

These are things difficult to overlook on the big screen, and they can be grating even. But Robert Zemeckis imbues the films with so much energy and zest that you get easily carried away with the silliness and the dramatic jigsaw puzzles. By the third film, it’s noticeable that the energy dissipates quite a bit, and the story just chugs along at less than 88 miles per hour.

Seeing the trilogy on the big screen once again has its ups and downs. Like a friend of mine said: “It’s usually not a good idea to revisit things that we liked when we were young and impressionable, isn’t it?”

How true.

 

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