Zemeckis.  Zemeckis is a technological innovator and architect of great blockbusters for over 30 years now (ok so only 2 so far in the 21st century so it’s been quiet lately). There are some Zemeckis detractors out there but his 10 year stretch from 1985-1994 that included Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump is a very impressive run. He’s also remarkably consistent in his obsessions for a big budget director.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is back-to-the-future-lajdfkljadflkajflafjkl-234-234-1024x550.jpg
Back to the Future opens with a bang– a oner tracking shot setting up the time motif

Best film:  Back to the Future. Its critical reputation has really grown in the last 10 years. My own appreciation of this brilliant piece of pop art has done the same. It is certainly up there with some of the best 25-50 pure narratives in my (1983 and on) lifetime.

  • It’s a masterpiece because of the overwhelmingly engaging and vividly unique narrative
  • Touches parts of Frank Capra, mainly it’s a wonderful life, whilst also being a excellent statement on eras—much like Zemeckis’ forrest gump was and is a statement for the baby boomer generation this film speaks to the 1980’s Reaganism (Biff waxing the BMW) and neo-conservatism (captured in post WW2 suburban America here). It’s a fascinating study
  • Oedipal elements for sure with Michael J. Fox and Lea Thompson’s character
  • Such economy in that narrative
  • Hill Valley (city) and Bedford Falls comparisons
  • Not the big jump back in time, but the quick flash forwards mirror the Bedford falls back and forth in Capra’s masterpiece
  • There’s formal repetition and variation here in the young and old that is ingenious- it’s not yet tired or tedious like the sequels would run into as they try the same jokes the 2nd and 3rd time
  • That variation in the narrative also reminded me of another narrative masterpiece- ramis’ groundhog’s day
  • The product placement for Pepsi gets hard to handle
  • Michael J. Fox is a revelation—Christopher Lloyd is perfect as the wide-eyed eccentric (not surprisingly plucked from Milos Forman’s cuckoo nest– but Thompson is strong as well as is Crispin Glover
  • Yes the clock intro is taken from Pinocchio but it’s a thoughtful (albeit blunt) motif. I love it. It’s also a fairly impressive oner (referring to opening clock credit)—Zemeckis details every frame with economy so nothing is accidental—it rewards multiple viewings—the “Uncle Joey behind bars” stuff—the “I love you” note from Jennifer on the clock tower paper
  • The score is very good- I was surprised to see it wasn’t John Williams—it’s Alan Silverstri who did forrest gump and predator
  • Some moments are too on the nose— Lea Thompson’s dad in the 50’s says “If you ever have a kid that acts that way I’ll disown you”
  • These actors, as good as they are here, would never again really find roles for them half as suitable
  • DeLorean—fully embracing the time. Ditto with the great Huey Lewis track
  • Marty’s skateboard skills are properly set up again nothing here is done without a later purpose
  • What doesn’t age well upon repeat viewings is the time and space deadline manipulations at the end (car doesn’t start)— wire comes unhooked- and some of the weaker narrative contrivances like “I’ll go back 10 minutes earlier and that should be enough time to warn doc”—why not go back an hour?
  • Love the ending- “where we’re going we don’t need roads”—it’s not Casablacna’s line and ending but still

total archiveable films: 8

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  1 (Back to the Future)

top 100 films of the decade: 3 (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump)

most overrated:  Zemeckis has two films in the TSPDT consensus top 100. Back to the Future lands at #302 and Forrest Gump lands at #509. I’m pretty close to both—Forrest is may just slightly overrated but only by 100 slots or so.

most underrated:   Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Pretty easy here- it can’t find a spot in the TSPDT top 1000 and it would for me. I don’t get it at all. If you don’t care about the bold technological advance: blending of animation and live action—ok– but it’s still a wonderfully comedic and engaging neo-noir narrative and Bob Hoskins is fantastic.

for decades Zemeckis has been pushing the boundaries of cinema and technology — a superb shot here in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is zemeckis-ladjfla-4234.jpg
the narrative soars– and it works as a pretty incredible detective almost neo-noir film

gem I want to spotlight:    Back to the Future Part II

  • A very flawed film but one I find myself coming back to often. I have it on the fringe but am officially putting it into the archives for now.
  • The annoying Pepsi ads have grown even compared to the 1985 original.
  • I do love that Café 80’s (mock 1950’s diner) diner—Michael Jackson and Reagan
  • Set in 2015, 1985 and 1955
  • Big plug for Jaws with Spielberg’s fake son (I think) “Max Spielberg as director”
  • “All I want is a Pepsi” literally says that in the film after a Texaco ad
  • Recreating and living in the great masterpiece but this one tends to get caught up in the gimmicks (Zemeckis in love with people coming into touch with future and past self)—I think more so he’s in love with the technical achievement of having that actor in the same frame- this is an auteur driven by technical enhancements as much as any. He will go out of his way, same with James Cameron in the abyss to create a character or bend the plot to include a new technical achievement he’s proud of
  • The Bedford Falls/Pottersville alternative 1985 is the best sequence. It’s part Escape from New York dystopia
  • I do still love the narrative here even if it doesn’t hit genius-level like the first
  • I think it’s a strong Thomas Wilson performance. He’s cartoonish but the film/role calls for it
  • I hate all the western crap leading so directly to Back to the Future III
  • Very slapstick, jokey and self-aware
  • Very odd how the final 3rd of this film just lives in the 1985 film
  • Praise for the set designs—all 3 of them- 1955, 2015 and 1985 alternative (Elvis sideburns Biff)
  • The narrative time travel webs start to get muddled
  • I love the little identifiers, riffs and twinkles in the score
  • The film literally ends with a trailer of the 3rd film- awful
  • It does flip between sci-fi and broad comedy a bit too much—much more than the original
  • Recommend but not in the top 20 or so of 1989 for sure
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is back-to-the-future-zemeckis-ladjfkl-323.jpg

stylistic innovations/traits:  For those that complain that Lucas and Spielberg ruined cinema you can always point to Cameron and Spielberg’s protégé Zemeckis as some of the positives that have come from their sort of blockbuster revolution of the back half of the 1970’s. Zemeckis is rightfully known for his technological inventiveness (not all of them worked but he’s been at the forefront of CGI for decades) but I think he’s already being underrated as a narrative genius. I mean look at his best 4 films below especially—perfect film narratives that have, rightfully so, become part of our iconic cinema fabric.

impressive compositions in Cast Away and below in Forrest Gump

top 10

  1. Back to the Future
  2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  3. Forrest Gump
  4. Cast Away
  5. Contact
  6. Back to the Future Part II
  7. Romancing the Stone
  8. Flight

By year and grades

1984- Romancing the Stone R
1985- Back To the Future MP
1988- Who Framed Roger Rabbit MS
1989- Back to the Future II R
1994- Forrest Gump MS
1997- Contact R
2000- Cast Away R
2012- Flight R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives