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Back to the Future – a movie list challenge

I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.

Back to the Future

Rank: 29
List Appearances: 6/10
Average Rank: 33
Highest Rank: 11, on Empire‘s 100 Greatest Movies
Total Final Score: 5310

In 1985, Robert Zemeckis and the folks over at Universal and Amblin Entertainment released a little movie called Back to the Future. It was the first in the trilogy to come and would create a culture zeitgeist. The script, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and story should never have worked – the idea of a teenager returning to the past to meet his mom who would instantly fall in love with him – but somehow, it worked, and it became an instant classic, in it’s own right. While the sequels are weak by comparison, this first outing in the Time-Machine DeLorean has the right mixture of charm, suspense, and heart. And it holds up even today, 34 years later!

I’ve seen the movie so much over my life. I used to love it as a child, and that love has never diminished. While my interest has shifted over the years (what’s important in a child’s lens is far different than that of an adult), I cannot specifically fault the movie. Of course, some logical questions come to mind now: like why Marty’s parents didn’t get a nicer house at the end of the movie, how Emmett managed to connect the cable to send the lightning into the car at the exact right moment when there are 60 seconds in the minute window given, and how would Marty cope with not knowing a past life he never led. I get in trouble a lot with my husband for overthinking in movies, but I can’t switch off that way. Still, all of this seems secondary. The power of the movie far outweighs these logic flaws.

Back to the Future opens with a camera pan around the mechanisms in Dr Emmett Brown’s home/lab. The burnt toast and piles of disgusting dog food indicate a man who has not been home for days. Through TV broadcasts, a conversation on the phone with Marty, and a yellow canister of plutonium, we get the first clues to Emmett’s state-of-mind, and his dogged focus to see his dream become a reality.

We follow Marty through his day. His band plays and is too loud for a group of tight-mouthed judges. His girlfriend encourages him to release a demo tape of his band, which he is reluctant to do, quoting what we later discover is the same line his father uses. We hear about the clocktower, and how it was struck by lightning 30 years before. We meet the remaining McFlys and the bully, Biff. Little nuggets of information about the past make their way into these events, painting a picture about the way things were, laying the groundwork for Marty’s travel into the 50s, not to mention some of the biggest laughs of the film.

Michael J Fox does an amazing job bringing both credibility and charisma to his role as Marty. Through those first scenes when he lands in 1955, you can honestly believe he is stumbling through a younger Hill Valley. His interactions with the locals are hilarious, and his blank glances at bizarre questions about his life preserver land with perfect comedic timing. I like Eric Stolz (famously replaced by Fox after several scenes had been shot) as an actor, but I cannot see him being able to pull off the part as well as Fox did.

Further to that, I think there are equally great performances from Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, and Thomas F Wilson. Lloyd shines as Emmett, and his acting is filled with the perfect balance of eccentric and lovable goofiness. Thompson as Lorraine is just adorable with her doey eyes and pseudo-innocence. She doesn’t get much to work with, but she spends a chunk of the movie batting her eyes at Marty. I find myself believing her when she kisses Marty in the car, and the awkward encounter is lifted by her admittance that it felt wrong. It just rings true. On the other end, Thomas F Wilson hams up his scenes with all the best screen-chewing villainy he can muster, and you hate him in every scene as the womanizing, buff bully he is.

Crispin Glover, as George McFly, embodies the stereotypical geek that was found in too many 80s movies. He grows through the movie, though, and despite first glance, the film is really to showcase his character arc. Marty doesn’t really change through the whole movie. Instead, he helps George develop a backbone and get the girl. It’s through his actions that the future is ultimately changed.

There is a lot to love about Back to the Future outside its well-paced story and characters (stereotypes and all), including the practical effects, the incredible sound work (for which it won an Oscar – specifically Best Sound Effects Editing), and editing and direction. The music is top-notch, with the iconic “Power of Love” instantly transporting you to the film any time it plays. And it’s a movie for any age, really.

Back to the Future holds up today and there is zero doubt that it is a classic and will remain one for decades to come. While, the other two films cannot quite say the same thing, the first, the original, is among the greatest films ever made, and it deserves its placement on this list.

Lord help anyone who decides to reboot it!

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Return of the Jedi – a movie list challenge

I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Rank: 97
List Appearances: 4/10
Average Rank: 67
Highest Rank: 60, on Ranker’s The Best Movies of All Time
Total Final Score: 756
First off, apologies for the lateness of this entry. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing an online course which has taken up almost all of my free time. While I had watched RotJ in order to write this, a couple of weeks ago, I have not had the time to write my thoughts/impressions. I may still be quiet for a couple more weeks after this, because I have not finished the course yet, and need to by mid-March.

I mentioned in my Star Wars: A New Hope review that as a child, when I heard the 20th Century Fox fanfare, I would enthusiastically exclaim, “Return of the Jedi!”, even if it wasn’t Return. I unabashedly loved Return, I think in large part to the Ewoks, and I had a propensity to love any kind of movie that forced its hero to choose between light and dark – light winning with the narrowest of margins. In fact, I still love Legend because of this, even though I know it’s a far from perfect fantasy movie.

With Return of the Jedi, that battle between the Light Side and the Dark Side was stronger than any of the previous entries, as it should have been. This is played out on both ends with Luke battling with his darkness, and Vader battling with his light. Vader is muted and dulled in the film, though, with the introduction of The Emperor. The opening scene sees Vader verbally threaten the admiral of the Death Star, in perhaps my favorite shot of the three films. The nervous admiral swallows, eyes hyper-focused as he realizes that The Emperor was far more intimidating than Vader.

As I grew older, though, my love of Return diminished, and I now know that it is the inferior of the original trilogy (as evidenced by its placement on this top 100 list). That is not to say it isn’t a great movie, and it doesn’t belong on a list. It doesn’t help, either, that of the originals, this was the movie with the greatest number of changes from the original film in the Special Edition cuts. I detest the updated music number in Jabba’s palace and at the end of the movie, and I didn’t see any reason why the Sarlacc pit needed an extra head or tentacles. The original pit was terrifying enough. I also never questioned if Boba Fett survived being eaten, but I guess that’s largely because I never quite understood his appeal, as previously mentioned.

At the start of the film, we see C-3P0 and R2D2 back in the deserts of Tatooine, entering Jabba’s Palace on a mission. C-3PO hasn’t been included in the plan to help Solo escape his imprisonment. It unfolds like a slow-moving heist film, complete with planned twists and turns. Though, I’ll admit, I always feel a little bad for the Rancor’s handler. He must have loved him like a pet, and I can totally get on board with that deep sadness and void that a family pet leaves when it dies. According to Fandom, there’s a rich story about the handler, which I would be far more interested in watching than some Solo, Lando, or Boba Fett prequel.

The Jabba’s Palace scenes are a great introduction into the strength of these characters and how much they have grown. Unfortunately, Leia is relegated to a sex icon with her slave girl outfit, but she makes up for it later during her racer chase scenes, interactions with Wicket, and her telling of her memories of her mother. Solo and Lando have both embraced their positions with the Rebel Alliance and take up the mantle of General, taking on fool’s errands in the hopes of beating The Empire once and for all. Luke looks battle-worn and tired. His goodbye to Yoda, conversations with Obi-Wan and Leia, and his final confrontation with Vader are filled with hope but laced with a deep melancholy. The task of defeating Vader wears heavily on him.

It plays out as largely one big battle, both on land and in space. The moon of Endor is a beautiful place, with the majority of its action in the incredible redwood forest in Del Norte, California. While, in space, ships are seen from a distance exploding; nameless and faceless people dying in an unwinnable war. This plays as a David vs Goliath fight, with the stakes higher than ever, given the building of a new (fully operational) Death Star. For several long minutes, it looks like there is no chance the rebels can win. It is a credit to Luke that he waits so long before he reaches for his lightsaber.

In the end, though, the Light Side wins, and not from some brave act by our hero, but from that conflict raging within Vader himself, culminating in a redemption arc that inspired a prequel trilogy. Our heroes save the universe, destroy the Empire, and bring peace across the lands…. for now, anyway. There’s a giant celebration, and we cheer with the Ewoks and our friends as Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie embrace. It’s a bittersweet end, thanks to the removal of “Yub Nub”, my favorite Ewok song, and the inclusion of Hayden Christiansen where Sebastian Shaw once stood, but I won’t harp on that any more.

Let’s just say I have a deep passion for Star Wars, and that no amount of mediocre prequels or future sequels will diminish that love.

 

 

Minor disclaimer: I do enjoy the new trilogy and think Last Jedi and Force Awakens are worthy additions to the lore. (At least they don’t talk about midichlorians.) But nothing will ever reach the heights of the original trilogy, and that is absolutely fine. It doesn’t have to, and the creators owe me nothing. If only the rest of the internet believed as I do.