As Marty McFly would say, this is heavy! After 30 years it was time to go back, not just back to the big screen but back to the Royal Albert Hall for a live performance screening of Back to the Future.
The DeLorean ‘parked’ outside only helped heighten the anticipation, prior to us getting lost in the maze of the Hall’s stairways and corridors.But then we made it into the wide open space of hall itself, adding to the occasion we even found ourselves two across from a couple who had come dressed as Marty and Jennifer, McFly complete with ‘life preserver’. He must have been roasting!
Seeing it on the big screen is not unlike time travel itself as it takes you right back to your childhood. I had never seen the original at the cinema until its 25th anniversary, only catching the sequels on the big screen first time round, although I had seen it more times than I cared to mention on TV, DVD and Blu-Ray. This mattered not as I approached the screening with the same excitement as if it were a brand new release…and so it appeared did the thronging Royal Albert Hall audience.
If Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd are the stars of Back to the Future then so is the DeLorean and if they are part of its very fabric the, like John William’s score to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Alan Silvestri’s sweeping epic score to Back to the Future is as well. And that was the real reason thousands of us were there to listen and watch a live rendition of the iconic music played to the film.
We must have only been seated five or six rows from the front, a Back to the Future live screen welcoming us into the vast auditorium. It all only added to the electricity (1.21 gigawatts) of electricity that was in the room, an electricity that initially peaked when the orchestra played those familiar bars.
Simultaneously hairs stood on end and goosebumps were raised, somehow from somewhere it all started to feel very emotional and just stirred something seeing that famous piece of film music history, so intrinsic to my childhood and my growing up, be recreated in front of my very eyes and ears.
Even though the screening, the first of its kind of this particular film in the UK, featured newly written cues by original composer, Silvestri, notably the opening titles over the ticking clocks, it was hard to believe that the orchestra was creating this well known score, in fact and times you got sucked into the film and the music that you sometimes just plain forget that creative music forces were at work just in front of you. It was that good, it was seemingly effortless but amazing to watch as you could see how the famous tune was created layer by musical layer, instrument by instrument, hand motion by hand motion.
Certainly we ensured we were watching the orchestra as much as the film after the interval, and boy those guys in percussion were certainly kept on their toes. Again, it was amazing to just see all the individuals in action that helped create the whole. Just prior to the film starting up again for its second section we were treated to a Back to the Future Part 3 medley with its western overtones and drifting into Clara’s theme.
As a film Back to the Future holds up not just magnificently but majestically, both against those films touted as family friendly fair today and even those from ‘whence it came, circa 1985, such as The Goonies and Ghostbusters. They are both classic films but Future just raises the quality bar and actually, even today, doesn’t look to have aged in the slightest in its pacing or any aspect of its unfolding story.
It was a delight to watch the familiar story unfold with characters we have got to know and love every nuance and line of dialogue and see them giant on the big screen again. It’s of great testament to the writers, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, that the story, a modern day Wizard of Oz of sorts, still holds true and is practically timeless, which is perhaps as much to do with its setting as much as its writing.
Script wise it is practically faultless and doesn’t miss a beat, the perfect movie script, nothing is wasted, no plot thread is left hanging and each piece of dialogue dovetails into the next and has real meaning and consequence. It’s a piece of storytelling without an ounce of fat. Everything occurs and happens for a reason, right down to the tiniest of nuances and should be high on anyone’s list wanting to study the craft.
The film itself bounds along at a fair old pace, another sign of its unflabby script and and edit suite culling, it not out staying its welcome, and at 1 hour 40-something is practically short by today’s standards where we have become used to the somewhat ponderous unfolding of the likes of Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins and one Captain Jack Sparrow.
It’s also refreshing to see a film where everything looks real and doesn’t have that muted CGI feel to it, everything in both time periods looks and feels real and solid, almost as if you can touch them. Sure, we know the Hill Valley of the 1950s is a film set on the Universal backlot (as also used in Gremlins and countless other films) but we know that it was all recreated for us to see up on the big screen and not rendered in some computer.
The interplay between Lloyd and Fox dazzles on the big screen, I had a similar experience seeing Robert Shaw writ large in Jaws on the big screen. Fox is deft at comedy, his falls and reactions really sell yet combining both straight man reacting and playing it for laughs on different occasions.
Although everyone else was familiar with how the film unfolded there were still laughs to be heard when it came to Doc Brown and his constant questioning of the use of the word ‘heavy’, guffawing at the really rather more excellent than you ever remember Crispin Glover, he really is quite amazing as the hapless George McFly. His laugh still brought the house down and there were plenty of laughs during the many moments of Marty with his mum, Lorraine.
It really did feel in many ways as if you were watching it for the very first time, more curious still was the spontaneous applause that erupted when George smacked Biff, I think for many this is a standout moment in the film execution wise and in many ways is just as fulfilling as the DeLorean striking the wire just as the lightning strikes the clock tower, cue massive applause and squeals of delight.
The viewing experience was almost akin to watching someone you know do well on the sports field or on stage. You know they were good last time you saw them and are pleased that they’ve given a barn storming performance this time round. Often favourite films or programmes viewed when growing up tend to lose their charm or appeal, but with this one it only grows. It’s as if you know the film intimately.
Having said that, the film is more sweary than I care to remember and Biff is also essentially attempting to rape Lorraine, moments that tend to get lost when you are younger. But that only makes the George McFly rescue all the more satisfying and shows that it’s not just a kid’s film.
Future also has its melancholy side as well, not so much in the feeling that this is a period that we are so far removed from – even when referring to the 1980s – and is almost unrecognisable but also in the shape of Michael J Fox. He’s never been more breezy and likable, well okay I’ve got a soft spot for The Secret of my Success as well, but with his absence from our screens, due in large part to his Parkinsons, it’s a reminder of the loss of such an comically gifted actor. And his glances, trips and delivery is effortless to the point that if you aren’t careful you could miss it. That’s how good he is.
I don’t think I’d ever noticed him edging away from Doc before when the DeLorean is heading towards them at Twin Pines Mall, classic. He will forever be Marty, much like Matthew Broderick will always be Ferris Bueller. He is stuck, quite fittingly, in a time capsule for us to enjoy again and again.
After one of the greatest endings to a film ever the: “roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads” scene and flying of the DeLorean into 2015 (their time), we get the titles and a great rousing end of the score just as the Amblin logo crawls across the screen – so much so I’ve always found it hard to separate the two – that is just so uplifting and celebratory it is almost difficult to find words. That was like a Silvestri full stop to it as at that point he and no one else involved in the project knew there would be two sequels so he really gives it all he has got.
So did the orchestra and it was a sublime finish that was followed by a prolonged and much-deserved standing ovation and crackle of applause that continued long after the baton had been lowered. And as for the experience of a film that you love with a live orchestra, I couldn’t recommend it enough, it takes it to a whole new level.
I’m sure it won’t be long before I end up removing the wrapping of the Intrada special edition version of the score, which I’ve yet to open after six years. Great Scott you say, no, great score.And there was no finer way to celebrate 30 years of Back to the Future.
Will we be back in time to the Royal Opera House? Quite possibly, as Raiders of the Lost Ark is swinging into the venue to do the very same. Perhaps I’ll use the staff of Ra to locate the best possible seat this time round though.