A vintage Scene review of Back to the Future, tomorrow's Saturday-morning kids' show 10 a.m. at The Belcourt:
To prove that he's really a time traveler, a 1985 teenager informs a 1955 scientist who will be president in 30 years: Ronald Reagan. "The actor?" scoffs fright-wigged Christopher Lloyd. "Who's vice president? Jerry Lewis?" Hey, it didn't seem any more plausible in 1985. But this forward-to-the-'50s slapstick fantasy seems downright Reaganesque in the way it pines for the Eisenhower era, as if by literally turning back the clock to the days of The Honeymooners and "Johnny B. Goode" we could solve America's woes. (Of course, this was before we knew about the Butterfly Effect.)
The hero, Marty McFly (played by the deft and appealing Michael J. Fox, then TV's reigning Young Republican), smashes his DeLorean time-travel machine into the space-time continuum, goes back to the days when his teenage mom was hot and his dad fatally uncool, and reclaims the invention of rock 'n' roll from black dudes. He's rewarded with 1985's idea of heaven: suburban luxury, successful upper-middle-class parents (played at all stages by Lea Thompson and a still-surprising Crispin Glover), a giftwrapped new vehicle (not a DeLorean), and a theme song fare-thee-well from Huey Lewis.
Back to the Future was among the first of Steven Spielberg's blockbuster franchise productions, written by his 1941 collaborators Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale and directed by Zemeckis in the same giant-gizmo spirit. Even if its Amblinisms had ossified within just a couple of years into rigid formula (the Capra-lite mix of mild cynicism and populist fairytale, the high-gloss look, the triumphalist Alan Silvestri fanfares), the original remains a Rube Goldberg marvel of precision-tuned farcical machinery, setting up toppling-domino gags with inexhaustible invention. Let's just hope that when the inevitable remake comes along, sometime around 2016, there won't be any jokes about "President Schwarzenegger."