Not rated, but this is pretty darned innocent. You know how Back to the Future is '80s PG? This is genuine PG. They discuss the weird incest motif of the first Back to the Future movie and that's the only offensive thing that I can think of in the entire movie. There might be some mild language. It is an extremely tame documentary without anything to worry about it. It's weird that Dan Harmon (a drinking Dan Harmon, nonetheless) still is allowed in a tame film. Unrated.
DIRECTOR: Jason Aron
Dan Harmon griped about his appearance in this documentary, so I watched it. Yeah, that's how it played out. It's also short, so I watched it. I watch a lot of movies, guys. I don't think that I should have to apologize for this. I like Back to the Future, a lot. But I never really put myself in the category of BTTF fans. It's really weird because I consider Back to the Future to be a comedy first and a time travel sci-fi movie second. But I do kind of like a genre of documentary a lot. It's not a special feature. I don't watch too many of those. But I do like dedicated documentaries to pop culture fandoms. The thing is, there is something that makes a fandom documentary great and I've only seen it work once. I'm referring to the best fandom documentary of all time: Trekkies.
The reason that Trekkies works when other fandom documentaries tend to fail is that they are way too reverend to their subjects. I love Back to the Future. I love Star Trek (probably more). But Trekkies is all about obsession in every form. It makes fun of nerds, but it also claims to be one of them. I don't think I ever want a documentary that trashes fandom, but I do like the idea that fandom is kind of silly. I tell my students that they should be fans of things. I like the idea of nerd obsession. But what it should also build is the ability to both be cool with yourself while not taking yourself too seriously. Fans who don't learn this distinction tend to be toxic. Back in Time is a documentary is a movie that is a love letter to Back to the Future. Coming from a guy who thinks that the movie is nearly perfect, even I think that this documentary is too much. It's too inside baseball. The audience for this movie is Back to the Future fans and really nobody else. That's a real bummer. So the entire time, the movie really gushes about the greatness of this film. We get that it's great. Instead of being anything that is good for a general audience, it kind of feels more like a video yearbook. "Look at all the clubs we formed." That's all well and good, but I want to explore the dark side of fandom. I want to tease this whole thing and take the air out of it a little bit. C'mon! Laugh at yourselves, Back to the Future fans. That's all that's missing. Without that sense of self-deprecation, this becomes a DVD extra and that's just a bummer. There's so much potential. I'm not saying that some things can't be precious. Trekkies covered that stuff too. There's very reverend things in Trekkies that balance out the teasing. But every Back to the Future fan is a superfan, not a dork. It's okay to be a dork too. This movie needs this kid hanging up the phone telling his friend that he "called at the worst possible time."
But since this movie isn't Trekkies, I suppose I should review what it actually is. It is slick. This is a fine looking documentary full of the stars. Back to the Future is an odd phenomenon. There's one section of the documentary that I really love and that comes from Dan Harmon. (Surprise.) He points out that the movie shouldn't work. I never thought about it because I've always had Back to the Future in my life. It's one of those movies that I've seen so many times that I can probably quote the whole thing. I loved this movie before I even understood that I should watch as many movies as I can. But Harmon is right. Almost every single element breaks the rules of story structure, but it still works. Maybe it works because it breaks every element of the story and that's fantastic. When the movie is focusing on the movie itself and not the fans, I find that extremely fascinating. I don't know whether or not to believe Christopher Lloyd about his love for Back to the Future. He tells the story about how he thought that the script was dumb at first and I appreciated that. But he feels like the generous host sitting through these interviews. I'm not mad about this at all. I think that Christopher Lloyd is the consummate professional and no more so than his agreement to do this movie. Michael J. Fox probably loves this kind of stuff. Lloyd knows that this role made him immortal, so of course he's not going to bit the hand that feed him. (You hear that, Christopher Eccleston?) But the real interesting pulls are Robert Zemekis, Steven Spielberg, Bob Gale, and --oddly enough --Donald Fullilove. Robert Zemekis and Bob Gale do their thing, only in a lot more detail. I think I've heard the short version of the origins of Back to the Future too many times and that part isn't interesting. Spielberg talking about the movie gives it a little bit more authenticity. There's something about Steven Spielberg that is so genuine that when he gushes, it sounds like he really means it.
But Donald Fullilove? That's the guy who played Mayor Goldie Wilson. (Spoiler: lots of people ask him to say "Mayor".) I just looked up his IMDB credit and he moved to the crew side of filmmaking for the most part. He had a voice role in Up, but he basically works behind the scenes for films now. That's fine. But what makes it interesting is that he and Lea Thompson kind of do the most interviews. Lea Thompson is her own person. Donald Fullilove became one of the fans...of his own movie. Not to tie it into Star Trek again, but that's a real Star Trek move. Lots of people ask Fullilove to say "mayor" and he's excited. He shows up for Back to the Future events. (I went to a Back to the Future event once where the guy who sang "Earth Angel" did that at an Enchantment Under the Sea dance. It was fantastic.) He wants to buy a tricked out DeLorean. (I mean, who doesn't.) But he's all in. Like, all in. I was surprised by that. But he's the nice transition moment in the documentary. The focus shifts from the filmmaking element of Back to the Future to the fans. The fan section I found a little less interesting. For those people who are nerds, showing convention footage isn't surprising. The movie really focused on the DeLorean collectors. I can see why Aron did it. It is a very iconic image from the movie and it does separate itself from other fandoms. I have to throw myself under the bus Trekkies style. The movie kept on calling the interviewees "Time Machine Owners". These were the people who refitted their DeLoreans to look like the one from the movie. I kept rolling my eyes because I thought it was dumb to A) call them "Time Machine Owners" and B) spend that much time and money converting these things. After all, they kept stressing how expensive it was to own a DeLorean, let alone refit it. Then I realized I was rolling my eyes mere feet away from one of my two TARDISes. (Mine are storage cabinets that I refitted to look like the TARDIS, but who am I to throw temporal stones.) Yup, as much as I complained about someone being a time machine owner, I guess I was part of the club as well.
There was one thread that I don' t think was completely explored, despite the fact that I kept hearing the phrase over and over again. Fans would constantly tell us that "Back to the Future showed me that I could be anyone I wanted to be." That's a really cool idea, that a fandom could let you express yourself. But that's not one of the themes of Back to the Future really. I mean, in an obtuse way. But there are way more fandoms that are all about self-expression. If anything, Marty is constantly disguising himself so he doesn't mess with the time-space continuum. If the fans are just talking about the fact that they can hang out with people who have the same interests without being judged, I'm in full support. But for all the messages of Back to the Future contains, "being yourself" isn't one of them. You can kind of force with with Marty always reacting to being a chicken or yellow in parts 2 and 3, but that's a bit of a stretch. The more I think about it, the movie might actually discourage being yourself. George is considered socially awkward for being himself. It's only once he beats up Biff that he's considered acceptable. This is where the documentary could have gotten something about the more noble value for being oneself. Just add confidence to social awkwardness and you can thrive. Maybe that's it. Also, you can propose to your girlfriend at a DeLorean convention. That's just a fun moment.
Back in Time is watchable. It just feels like sugar. There's nothing really all that challenging. We can watch about the lives it has changed and that's great. We can watch people perform service for Team Fox and I guess that's something. But the movie never really sells its initial concept of Back to the Future being something more important than a movie that a lot of people like it. It gets close. I would say that it gets up to 86 or 87 miles per hour, but it never really generates the 1.21 Gigawatts, if you know what I mean. It's a fine watch. I'm more afraid to watch Ghost Heads. I think that's going to be more of this. While I may love Ghostbusters even more than Back to the Future, I know that fandom gets even more toxic.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.