The recent release of the three-movie DVD set of "Back to the Future" series offers us a chance to look back fondly on the adventures of young Martin McFly and his eccentric mentor Emmett Brown. However, as correspondent Monica Fitzpadrick points out, there are still some unsettling, or simply bizarre aspects of the film.
First, Miss Fitzpadrick points out her favorite discovery of the re-release, namely, the depiction of the Libyan nationalists from whom Doc Brown purchases plutonium. These Libyans are swarthy. They have dark hair, and some sort of face paint. One of them wears a turban-headband thing. Even though they're dealing in weapons-grade radioactive material, they nonetheless travel around in a decrepit VW bus, with a sun roof. (Keane family note: We owned nearly this same vehicle, a blue-and-white marvel named "Huey" that maxed out at about 75 MPH, 45 if driving uphill. My parents opted for the sun roof instead of air conditioning, a decision that would haunt us every summer, when we were forced to choose between stifling heat and mini-tornados whipping down from the open sun roof.) For whatever reason, this crude Middle Eastern stereotype had not registered with Miss Fitzpadrick until a recent viewing, but once it did, it has become virtually all she can talk about.
Other Libyan-related questions raised relate to the VW's ability to race a DeLorean, or that a case full of shiny pinball machine parts would deceive even the most simple-minded terrorists. One imagines a series of 1985 public service ads about how when you travel through time, you're really funding the murder of a judge in South America.
Another interesting scene in "Back to the Future," from a 2003 perspective, comes when Marty McFly visits a shop and tries to order a soda. Contemporary viewers of the film are likely to be just as confused as the 1955 drugstore owner was upon hearing McFly request a "Tab." One can imagine a kid today, too young to remember the soda hubris of the mid-80s, catching one the thrice-weekly USA network airings of the film and confusedly responding, "Why is he asking for a tab? He hasn't ordered anything! Why does he think he can get a Pepsi for free? Just because people think he's in the Coast Guard?" The joke has boomeranged, culturally, exposing the fragility and transience of pop culture, especially as it pertains to sugar water.
Finally, one cannot discuss "Back to the Future" without going over the greatest example of poor judgment in the film, which I call the "ten-minute fallacy." Before leaving 1955 and returning to the future, McFly attempts to warn Doc Brown of his impending death at the hands of the Libyan nationalists. Once Doc tears up the letter, McFly wonders aloud how he might save his friend:
"Dammit, Doc, why did you have to tear up that letter? If only I had more time. Wait a minute, I got all the time I want. I got a time machine! I'll just go back and warn him."
The audience nods along with McFly, following this train of thought. With the time machine, McFly need not remain a victim of temporality. Instead, McFly could go back to a few hours before he met Doc Brown at the Twin Pines Mall, and try to change the rendezvous. He could go back to a full day before he left, allowing himself time to save Doc Brown, try again at the musical audition, or even avoid his fourth tardy in a row and subsequent confrontation with slacker-hating Principal Strickland.
Instead, McFly utters the fateful words, "Ten minutes oughtta do it." Ten minutes! That's his entire cushion? It has to have taken almost five minutes just to drive to the Twin Pines Mall from downtown, since it took McFly ten minutes to sprint there. For McFly, "all the time I want" translates to roughly the length of one side of a Weezer album. One wonders what McFly was going to do to thwart the Libyans in five minutes, once he arrived on the scene - trick them into driving into yet another Fotomat? Maybe they'd have collapsed under the sheer weight of their own stereotypes.
Still, "Back to the Future" is a fine film, and a fine movie franchise (although making two entire films hinge on McFly's unwillingness to be called "chicken" was perhaps not the strongest dramatic choice). In fact, once I get a chance to peruse the entire three-movie set, I will no doubt have a blog entry effusive with praise for Messrs. Zemeckis, Lloyd, and J. Fox. I'll just have to set aside a little time to compose and edit the entry. Ten minutes oughtta do it.