Archive for September, 2013

10. Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

In the grand tradition of the haunted house and creature features of the 1950’s, “Alien” is a movie about that which lurks in the shadows and prefers to sneak up on you from behind. The title creature itself owes much to the ‘Carrot Monster’ from “The Thing From Another World” (1951) and the mutated ants from “Them!” (1954). Like the Gi-Ants, the Alien leaves a terrifyingly unforgettable impression upon its first appearance. In the case of the Carrot Monster, “Alien” borrows the idea of an extra-terrestrial life form hunting down humans within a limited area. Instead of an Arctic research facility, the setting is the commercial space freighter Nostromo. Also serving as inspiration is the science-fiction classic “Forbidden Planet” (1956), where an Earth spaceship lands on an alien world, ignoring warnings not to do so, and its crew is killed off one by one.

I first came across “Alien” in a kind of roundabout way, having the film’s most famous scene spoiled for me by a certain Mel Brooks comedy. About four years later, when I was ten years old, “Alien 3” was about to make its theatrical debut. Interested in seeing it, I first rented both “Alien” and “Aliens” so I would have some idea what was going on. I found, to my surprise, that “Alien” really cares about getting you acquainted with its small cast of seven characters. Although the Alien does pick them off in rapid succession, we spend almost half of the movie just getting to know these people before the monster comes out to play. Many horror movies made today will get so hyperactive about showing off scenes of gore that they forget to lure the audience in and get us emotionally involved. “Alien” makes you feel every death.

The crew members of the Nostromo act like real people. They bicker and argue, they panic, and some of them show particular interest in how much their employers plan to pay them for their work. Unlike many science-fiction or horror films, the cast actually looks like they have the experience they would need for deep space missions. This is partially due to their age, with Sigourney Weaver the only one who had not yet celebrated her 30th birthday at the time of filming, while the rest of the cast’s age ranged from 30 (Veronica Cartwright) to 53 (Harry Dean Stanton). Age isn’t everything, of course, and one of the things that really helps elevate “Alien” above the usual standard fare of the genre is the terrific individual performances, especially from Weaver. There’s a reason why all science-fiction female heroines since 1979 have been judged by whether or not they can be thought of as “the next Ellen Ripley.”

Add the beautiful soundtrack to the list of reasons why “Alien” makes my top ten list of all-time favorite films. I’ve often noted that great horror movies more often than not have amazing scores, but “Alien” is a unique case. The original score that Jerry Goldsmith composed for the film is almost completely unused here. Instead, other well-known pieces of orchestral music are used, my favorite being the excerpt from Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2, “Romantic.” For my favorite scene, I would have to go with the opening scene where we’re scanning around the empty corridors of the vessel while its passengers are still resting in their cryogenic chambers. This sets up the perfect foreboding atmosphere. The movie will never be this quiet or peaceful again.

11. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Wolf Kahler, Alfred Molina

Unlike most of my favorite films, I can’t seem to pin down exactly when I saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” for the very first time. Rough estimate would be between the ages of 8 and 10. Back then, it was a really fun adventure movie which happened to be set in the 1930’s. Now, as an adult, I can better appreciate the mythological and archeological material. I’m also more familiar with the source material, the old 12-part adventure serials that used to play in the theaters. When you watch this movie, you can tell exactly where the “To be continued…” card would show up as Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) faces one seemingly inescapable danger after another.

As this is set in the 30’s, the Nazis, being the most evil of all evil the modern world has ever known, are the bad guys. They are working with the French archeologist Belloq (Paul Freeman), a longtime adversary of Indy’s. In relation to our hero, Belloq is the Moriarty to Indy’s Sherlock. The two men are more alike than Indy is willing to admit and, as Belloq points out in one scene, they could be just the same if Indy were given the right push. Belloq is great, but I find myself the most interested by the Nazi gestapo named Toht. Actor Ronald Lacey’s performance is so snake-like that he fits right in among the dozens of slithering carnivorous reptiles which cross Indy’s path in this movie.

There are two actresses with the last name Allen whom I am fond of, though they bear no relation to one another. One is Nancy Allen of “RoboCop” and several Brian De Palma films. The other is Karen Allen, who plays Indy’s feisty love interest, Marion Ravenwood. Among the leading ladies of the Indiana Jones series, there has only ever been one who was a match for Indy, as Marion’s return in “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” suggests. When the other options are a whiny ‘dumb blonde’ and a Nazi sympathizer, you have to call it a no-contest. Where Indy differs a lot from other adventure film heroes is his capacity for screwing up quite often, in choosing the wrong partners for his archeological expeditions, and in his relationships with women. Marion’s a tough lady, and is quick to tell Indy where to get off when he’s done her wrong. But there’s always been love there between them. Another good movie to watch with Karen Allen in a starring role is “Starman,” but she is at her best here as Marion.

Astonishing are many of the films action sequences. In particular, I love the truck chase in Act Three. Indy is chasing down the Nazis, who are headed for a transport from Cairo to Berlin. In the process of intercepting them, he gets beaten up, shot, nearly run over, and dragged by a car with only his whip to hold onto. It’s the part where he goes under the car just before being dragged that’s the most intense part of that whole sequence. He survives, of course, but not without suffering cuts and bruises to nearly ever inch of his body.

All four movies have an object of historical and religious significance as their MacGuffin, each having their own place in real-life mythology.  As the title suggests, the object which both Indy and the Nazis are after is the Ark of the Covenant. The other artifacts of history which appear in the series are the Holy Grail, the Sankara Stones of India, and the Crystal Skulls of Mesoamerica. Many fans balk at the idea of aliens appearing in “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” I won’t disagree that the movie itself is of lesser quality than what came before, but the idea that aliens (or inter-dimensional beings) are a dealbreaker is funny to me. Isn’t it Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) who declares the Ark to be “not of this Earth”? The case could be made that he’s not talking about the stars, but the heavens. But the “aliens” from the fourth film are no different. To quote Dr. Jones himself, it “depends on who your god is.” With that out of the way, I’ll watch “Raiders” a dozen times over before I feel the need to watch “Crystal Skull” again.

12. The Terminator (1984)

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen

“The Terminator” is another movie that left an undeniably huge impression on me. There’s something compelling about artificial intelligence becoming sentient and deciding that man is too dangerous to be allowed to survive. Many of us have our own myths and theories about Judgment Day, whether it means the literal end of the world or just the end of everything which we hold dear. What’s generally accepted though is that Judgment Day is unstoppable; when it comes along, all we can do is prepare and hope we last the night.

Thanks to the all-together creepy as hell performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger (proof positive that spoken dialogue is not always needed in order to be effective as an actor), this movie had me checking around dark corners of my own house for some time after my first viewing. I was a small boy when I originally sat down to watch “The Terminator,” and it was also my first R-rated movie. But something else came out of that experience that wasn’t at first apparent, yet I should have seen coming. Nowadays, I can watch pretty much any kind of movie there is and they won’t even phase me, including the slasher film. Now, why on earth would I bring up that subgenre of horror here? That’s easy to explain.

In a slasher movie, you have the menacing soulless monster who rarely (if ever) says a word, and kills without any feelings of pity or remorse. There is a damsel in distress who the killer stalks and is the main objective of his bloody rampage. She is known as the “final girl.” Anyone else he comes across is little more than cannon fodder. Authority figures who show up are generally well-meaning, but utterly useless against the killer. They’re mostly cannon fodder, too. Most slasher movies make their killers superhuman, and so you shouldn’t be surprised to witness several moments where it appears as though the killer is dead/defeated, but then he gets right back up to continue the chase. You pretty much have to decapitate, blow up, disintegrate or crush the bad guy (possibly all of these things at once, just to be sure) in order for him to finally die. Does any of this sound familiar? Just add science fiction elements like time travel and cyborg technology, replace the knives with guns, and you’ve got “The Terminator.”

Linda Hamilton, as Sarah Connor, is your “final girl.” Sarah is naïve, innocent, and just a little clumsy. She lives in her own little world, and has not a clue of the horror that is descending upon her. Yet, it’s not her, but her unborn son John which the machines perceive as a threat. Following the Terminator into the past is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), sent by Sarah’s son to protect her. This is a plot element that’s generally uncharted by the slasher, although it’s not an uncommon story among sci-fi circles. Just ask Harlan Ellison, who was so convinced that his “Outer Limits” episode entitled “Soldier” had been plagiarized that he filed suit, and an acknowledgement of his works was added to the credits.

There have been other movies in the meantime which I’ve found disturbing and characters who make my blood run cold. A recent example of the latter is Javier Bardem’s performance as Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men.” Absolutely chilling. But only one character from only one movie has ever legitimately scared me: Arnold Schwarzenegger as the title character in “The Terminator.”

13. Die Hard (1988)

Director: John McTiernan

Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, William Atherton, Hart Bochner

When I think of the perfect Christmas-themed movies for me to watch around the holidays, I am not interested in saccharin-heavy feel-good stories. I also don’t participate in the annual 24-hour marathon of “A Christmas Story.” It’s just not my thing. “Die Hard,” on the other hand, is right up my alley. But, why an action movie, and why THIS action movie? While most other heroic characters of the genre in the 1980’s were being portrayed as near superhumans, John McClane (Bruce Willis) is made to appear quite mortal. He makes mistakes, he fights with his wife, he gets injured, and he doesn’t save everybody. This makes him easily relatable.

For an action movie to truly succeed, you need an equally strong villain to challenge the hero. Although Bruce Willis was a relative unknown outside of the television series “Moonlighting” and was enjoying his first cinematic starring role, you’d have to be an aficionado of British TV and stage to have known who Alan Rickman was prior to “Die Hard.” More than a decade before he would entertain “Harry Potter” fans the world over as Professor Severus Snape, Rickman brings style and sophistication to the role of Hans Gruber, leader of a group of West Germans who project the false image that they are terrorists demanding the release of comrades in arms around the world in order to conceal their true, much more simplified goal of robbery. Unlike the bad guys in, say, “Commando,” you can’t help but like Hans, and that’s all thanks to Rickman’s performance. Hans is as intelligent as he is ruthless, a quality that is missing from most of the cardboard villains of the genre.

There are other notables besides Willis and Rickman. As Hans’s right-hand man Karl, Alexander Godunov is the powder keg that could threaten to derail Hans’ plans just as much as McClane could. Karl goes off the deep end when he learns that McClane has killed his brother. It’s no longer about the money for Karl, now it’s about revenge. Karl is scary in a totally different way from Hans. While Hans can chew scenery all while holding a gun to your head, Karl is all about brute force. As news reporter Richard Thornberg (truly a “thorn” in everyone’s side), William Atherton does what he did best in the 80’s, and that’s totally get under your skin. He never comes off as evil in his roles, just annoying enough that you can’t wait for someone to slap that ridiculous smirk off his face. More intelligent even than Hans, and quietly sexy is Holly McClane, played by Bonnie Bedelia. She’s never afraid to tell John when he’s full of it, and even as she’s among the hostages, she shows poise in negotiating small favors from her captors. Though it seems a role he is always destined to play, Reginald VelJohnson is wonderful as Al Powell, McClane’s LAPD friend with whom he relays the situation by way of a CB communicator.

The only misstep in characterization, one which several notable critics happen to agree on, are the stupid LAPD and FBI officers at whom our two hero cops can do little but sneer. Their only function is to show up and, through their rash decisions, allow Hans’ plans to unfold as he has predicted they would. I love actor Paul Gleason, and I really like the insults which his character takes from John McClane, but he sticks out like a sore thumb here.

There are several scenes which stand out. The fight between Karl and McClane is unlike any of the other action in the movie. It’s up close and personal. The two men tear away at each other like a couple of wild dogs. The first face-to-face meeting between Hans and McClane is great, too. You really get a sense of Alan Rickman’s range in this scene, as Hans pretends to be one of the scared American hostages escaping to the roof. But when picking out my favorite, I have to go with the scene where McClane is evading Karl and others by climbing down a ventilation shaft. Nothing else in the movie tops this scene’s level of tension. The only thing keeping McClane from falling to his death is a machine gun’s strap, and as it’s slowly tearing away I find myself encouraging him to hurry up, even though I know how it will turn out.

It’s the sense of claustrophobia that this and other scenes provoke that is sorely missed from the sequels to “Die Hard,” although “Die Hard 2” does its best to live up to that standard. Also missing from the later films is McClane’s ability to appear mortal. Part of it is based on what we already know him to be capable of, but mostly it is due to the unbelievable feats he accomplishes in “Live Free or Die Hard” and “A Good Day to Die Hard” (I’m surprised he’s not fighting Klingons in that one!) in particular. I think the idea that one guy keeps running into these impossible situations gets a bit hard to believe after a while, too, like with Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in TV’s “24.”

If they’d gone with a different main character each time, then I could see it working. Jan de Bont, who was the cinematographer for “Die Hard,” would go on to direct “Speed,” which feels very much like a “Die Hard” movie. Instead of Bruce Willis, you have Keanu Reeves who, like Willis before “Die Hard,” wasn’t really considered action hero material (despite his starring role in 1991’s “Point Break”). There’s tension and claustrophobia, along with an admittedly healthy dose of implausibility, and “Speed” also has that great villain that you need in Dennis Hopper. To that end, I consider the “Die Hard” franchise as a trilogy, consisting of “Die Hard,” “Die Hard 2” and “Speed.”

14. The Karate Kid (1984)

Director: John G. Avildsen

Starring: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Elisabeth Shue, William Zabka, Martin Kove

With such a deceptively innocuous title, you wouldn’t think there’d be much to expect from a movie called “The Karate Kid.” At first glance, it seems like it would be just another teenage movie about a boy learning how to overcome the bullies who torment him. It’s about that, too, but there’s more going on here. The kid, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), has been ripped away from the home that he loves in Newark, New Jersey to have it replaced by the harsh and unforgiving environment of California, where his mother observes it seems like “the whole world turned blonde.” So you have the fish-out-of-water scenario.

Daniel makes both friends and foes fast. His tormentors are the Cobra Kai, a group of karate students from the dojo of the same name. Their ringleader, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) is none too pleased when he sees Daniel flirting with his ex-girlfriend Ali (Elisabeth Shue). The actor playing Dutch, one of the other Cobra Kai students, is a second-generation Hollywood actor. He may not have his father’s blue eyes, but that’s Steve McQueen’s son, Chad. Despite their behavior, the only person in the movie who can be considered “evil” is their teacher, former U.S. marine John Kreese (Martin Kove). This is a man who has blurred the lines between his military training and whatever formal martial arts training he received, corrupting the lessons of the latter and poisoning the minds of his students as a result. Though he never personally lays so much as a finger on Daniel, Kreese’s teachings make him responsible for what happens to our hero. I’ve never met the man in person, but from what I’ve heard, Martin Kove is a pretty nice guy in person. Based on that, it makes his performance that much more impressive.

The movie’s centerpiece, though, is the bond formed between Daniel and his apartment complex’s maintenance man, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). In the middle of the last of three beatings that Daniel receives from the Cobra Kai, during which actor Ralph Macchio sustained an injury when he was legitimately kicked in the face, Miyagi steps in to put a stop to it. Yet, Miyagi is more to Daniel than someone who comes to his rescue. Each person fills a void in the other’s life; Daniel lost a father, while Miyagi lost his only wife and son in childbirth. Daniel and Mr. Miyagi’s friendship led to the creation of the movie’s two greatest scenes, one of which was almost certainly the basis for Pat Morita’s Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor:

Daniel realizes he’s actually learning karate. For several days straight, Daniel has been expecting for Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate, but his senses have been telling him that manual labor is all he’s learning: painting fences and houses, sanding decks and washing cars. Then Mr. Miyagi asks him to demonstrate the specific motions he was asked to use in performing these tasks. It suddenly dawns on him that he’s been learning karate the whole time. I love the look of surprise on Ralph Macchio’s face during this scene. It’s a lot like the look on Mark Hamill’s face in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Yoda demonstrates his power to Luke for the first time.

Miyagi gets drunk and reveals a past tragedy. After a rather humiliating incident at a country club, Daniel returns, spaghetti-stained clothes and all, to Mr. Miyagi’s home to find the man dressed in a military uniform and quite drunk, insisting that Daniel join him. Miyagi is celebrating his wedding anniversary, unfortunately to a wife he lost while he was in Germany during World War II and she was in the Manzanar relocation center, pregnant with a son. Miyagi’s wife died during childbirth, as we find out when Miyagi re-enacts a phone call he received from his superior officer. This scene lets both Daniel and the audience know that, whatever current grievances Daniel is experiencing, they are infinitesimal in scale compared to the sadness Miyagi has been living with for the better part of forty years.

In watching this movie again, I made a few new observations. For one thing, the soundtrack seems to be different depending on the person with whom Daniel is spending his time. Of the pop songs that appear in the movie, which include “Cruel Summer,” “Can You Feel the Night,” and “You’re the Best,” all of them only play in scenes where Ali is with him. Though not entirely a new observation, the comparisons and contrasts between “The Karate Kid” and “Rocky” are more clear now than ever. Both feature a young, irrational and impulsive man of Italian descent who look to an elderly mentor for the guidance they need to achieve their own goals. However, whereas Rocky Balboa was only looking to be good enough to “go the distance,” this would never be satisfactory enough for Daniel LaRusso. And while Rocky’s trainer Mickey was a broken down old man well past the glory days of his own boxing career, Mr. Miyagi is vibrant and spry for a man his age, and carries a generally good outlook on life. The comparison to “Rocky” becomes a lot easier to make when you consider that both movies share the same director (John G. Avildsen) and composer (Bill Conti). The track “Training Hard” contains a few bars that sound reminiscent of “Gonna Fly Now.”

I’ve softened on my opinion of Ali’s two “rich girl” friends. For years, I simply regarded them as cruel and mean-spirited, but that was because I’d never chosen to look at things from their perspective. They don’t understand why Ali is interested in Daniel. I had always assumed this was based merely on the class system, and maybe that does have something to do with it. What I hadn’t considered was the fact that they’re not following him around like we are. All they see is this immature kid who speaks and reacts before he thinks, and I can’t blame their characters for finding this off-putting. I also feel differently about the ending than I used to. Daniel’s efforts in the karate tournament earn him respect, though it’s the source of that respect that bugs me more now than it used to. It just seems to come out of left field, and before you know it the credits are rolling. It all seems so abrupt. A satisfying journey, yes, but over too quickly.

15. Ghostbusters (1984)

Director: Ivan Reitman

Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, William Atherton, Ernie Hudson

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I do not believe in ghosts. But what is a ghost, exactly? There seem to be many different variations out there. Some are malicious spooks that only wish to terrorize the living. Some seem to wander the Earth unaware/unable to admit that they’re dead. Others have a wrong that was done to them which they are trying to make public knowledge. About the only type of ghost I could say I have some small belief in is the metaphorical kind. I believe that, because of our memories, a small trace is left behind of the people who once graced a particular location with their presence. In this way, I can go to these familiar places and feel… odd… when I take a look around, especially in my old schools. Whatever the reason for a ghost’s presence among the living, I would be the character known as ‘the skeptic.’

There are several skeptics in “Ghostbusters.” One of them early on is Peter Venkman (Bill Murray). He’s a scientist at NYU, as are friends Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis). Ray and Egon want to prove the existence of and study the paranormal, whereas Peter just wants to use his position to pick up college girls. Although the Dean of the University (who finds their theories preposterous) kicks them off campus, an incident at a library involving a “full-torso apparition” changes everything for them. Now, the three men are ready to go into the business of catching ghosts. Along the way, a very annoying skeptic in the form of EPA representative Walter Peck (William Atherton) impedes their path. He thinks the Ghostbusters are dangerous, and wants their facility shut down. Seriously, has William Atherton ever played a character that didn’t make you instantly hate him?

One of the charming aspects of “Ghostbusters” is Peter Venkman’s hilarious repeated attempts to secure a date with his first client, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver). I think probably my favorite scene of the movie, other than the apocalypse-averting climax, has to be the scene where Dana brings Peter over to her apartment to check things out. You know, to make sure the ghosts aren’t still hanging around. Try not to break up when you hear Peter’s response to Dana’s statement about how nothing ever happened in the bedroom. I’ll bet you can’t do it. For me, “Ghostbusters” represents Bill Murray at his best.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw “Ghostbusters.” It was 1987, and I was five years old. That day, my family and I attended someone’s wedding (though if you asked me their names or what relation the bride/groom were to us, I couldn’t tell you), but all I could think about was catching “Ghostbusters” on ABC’s Sunday Night Movie. Remember when ABC regularly showed movies pretty much any night of the week? That Christmas, I got the full set of Ghostbusters action figures …which were a tie-in not with the movie but the cartoon, but I didn’t care. I still have them in a box somewhere to this day. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was always my favorite.

The cast for “Ghostbusters” almost ended up looking quite different, and yet I can see how the actors who were the original choices of writers Aykroyd and Ramis might have worked out well. John Belushi was to be Peter Venkman, however he died in 1982 before the project could get underway. The role of Winston Zeddemore was to have gone to Eddie Murphy, and Louis Tulley was to have been played by John Candy, but both turned the movie down. I can definitely see Murphy and Candy working out quite well, but I’m happy with what Ernie Hudson and Rick Moranis were able to do with those characters.

Though I was too young to see this one theatrically, I did get the chance to see “Ghostbusters 2” with my mother in the summer of 1989. A third movie has been teased ever since, but creative differences, particularly on Murray’s part, combined with the falling out between Murray and Ramis, kept that idea on the shelf. At this point, a remake is more likely, and that’s not a prospect that appeals to me, either. Since Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis seem the only original cast members interested in continuing the franchise on the big screen, maybe they could do one where Ray and Egon hire youthful ghost hunters as their own replacements, so that it would be both a sequel and a reboot.

In the meantime, the original “Ghostbusters” is here to stay, ready to entertain a whole new generation who either want to believe in ghosts or just want to laugh at their expense.

16. Back to the Future (1985)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson

Have you ever had a look at your parents’ old high school yearbooks? If you have, like me, you may find yourself flashing back to those years in your mind as if you had been there. Never mind that the pictures are all in black & white, because the imagination can still view it all in vivid Technicolor. If we could physically travel back in time to when our parents were teenagers, they might appear just as we picture them, or maybe they could surprise us still. One October night in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Hill Valley, California, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is able to take just such a journey.

Marty is a 17-year old kid with dreams of becoming a rock musician, but lacking the self-confidence to achieve his goals. In this way, he reminds himself of his father, George (Crispin Glover), who is so lacking in courage that he’s never been able to stand up for himself in his life. Marty’s mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson, one of my earliest celebrity crushes thanks to this movie) is just as disappointing to him, a heavy drinker who disapproves of his girlfriend. Her story of how she and George fell in love sounds more pitiful than romantic, yet it is the basis for the very existence of Marty and his two older siblings. The only thing keeping Marty from going crazy is his friendship with Emmett “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Doc is anxious to show off his new invention, which turns out to be a DeLorean converted into the world’s first time machine. It is this vehicle by which Marty will find himself stuck in 1955. One of the first things he manages to do while there is bump into both his parents and prevent the incident that led to their romance and his eventual birth.

His interaction with the 17-year old versions of his parents is by far my favorite thing about “Back to the Future.” Lorraine is not the depressive stick-in-the-mud he’s become familiar with. Instead she’s an assertive, rebellious teenage girl who actually likes sitting in parked cars with boys. But it’s George who I relate to most. He’s a lonely, science fiction writer who could make something of himself if only he had the willpower. He’s equally helpless when it comes to the ladies. The diner scene where he’s trying to woo Lorraine with a pick-up line fed to him by Marty is nothing short of cringe-worthy. I feel your pain, George! Michael J. Fox plays this part of the movie wonderfully, as Marty sets up a scenario by which he can help George make his pivotal date with Lorraine happen. To steal a line from the 1978 Superman movie: “The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son.”

A danger that any comedy may face is that its gags will begin to really date the movie over time. An example of that from this all-but flawless movie involves product placement (of which there may be more in “Back to the Future” than in any other movie I know about), specifically regarding the soft drink Pepsi Free. Only two years after the movie was released, the name “Pepsi Free” was discontinued, and the drink has been known simply as Caffeine-Free Pepsi ever since. Another danger that can completely sink a movie is when a character is miscast. I can’t imagine anyone other than Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, yet it almost didn’t happen due to his attachment to TV’s “Family Ties.” Actor Eric Stoltz was to be his replacement. Many scenes were filmed with Stoltz, and there is plenty of archival evidence that exists to this day, but director Robert Zemeckis could sense that it wasn’t working out. Luckily, Michael J. Fox was so interested in the part that he was willing to work on both the movie and his TV show, thus not leaving much time for him to sleep each day. What a trooper!

The one segment of the “Back to the Future” story which I adore most is the entire Enchantment Under the Sea dance sequence. I’m especially fond of the character growth which George goes through, standing up to Biff Tannen (the consummate bully, played by Thomas F. Wilson) and protecting Lorraine all at once. Of course, there’s also the music. As much as I love the iconic score by Alan Silvestri and the great songs by Huey Lewis, it’s the rendition of “Earth Angel” playing during the dance which really tugs away at the heartstrings.

In addition to an almost certain influence from Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone,” Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale drew their inspiration from two movies in particular: 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.” Both of these are must-see movies for any serious moviegoer, but if you’re looking for something fun with a nice message presented in a way that only the 1980’s could, and you’ve somehow managed to go this long without seeing it at least once in your life, then steer yourself at 88 mph in the direction of “Back to the Future”!