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Like any child born in the 80s I have an undying affection for Back to the Future, but I like to think it goes deeper than that. I can't remember a time when I didn't expect all DeLoreans to be time machines, didn't wish I could pull myself on my skateboard behind a car, didn't want a red puffy vest and mirrored Ray-Bans of my own. Marty McFly was my first crush. I owned the full Back to the Future soundtrack on tape and knew all the words, even to the lame "Time Bomb Town" by Lindsey Buckingham. When my family visited Universal Studios when I was 8 or so, the movie memorabilia on display at "Back to the Future: The Ride" took my breath away. I regret to this day not buying the shiny hat worn by Marty McFly Jr. in the second movie.
This is all to say that, when the news first hit that Back to the Future would be playing in AMC Theaters on October 23-- almost exactly 25 years after Marty first traveled back in time-- I sent the group e-mail to get all my friends to join me. And when about 15 of us showed up and claimed our row near the back of the packed theater on Saturday, I was so happy it was like an out of body experience. I was about to watch this movie that I had loved so deeply as a kid, when my friends had moved on to more modern attractions like Jurassic Park or Beauty and the Beast, up on the big screen for the first time in my life, surrounded by pals as enthusiastic as I was, and a room full of people who cheered when Alan Silvestri's name came up in the credits. I imagine it's exactly how plenty of people feel the first time they run into a Stormtrooper at Comic Con: I was home.
It surprised me to realize about halfway through the film that I hadn't watched it all the way through in years. I could probably recite it from memory, of course, but I'd never used my film critic brain to appreciate the way the "Darth Vader from Planet Vulcan" ties so well into the Peabody family thinking the DeLorean is a spaceship, or the fascinating racial politics of Marvin Berry and the Starlighters intimidating Biff's gang merely by stepping out of their car. I noticed how long it actually takes the "get George and Lorraine together" plot to get going, how George is really the only character in the whole movie to change by the end, and how obscenely materialistic the happy ending is. I was flabbergasted by Michael J. Fox's comedic skill, how quickly he and Christopher Lloyd build an unlikely friendship, how truly bizarre but endearing Crispin Glover makes George McFly, and how incredible Lea Thompson's transformation from dewy teen to puffy housewife really is. I won't argue that I can look at the movie without a giant haze of nostalgia, but I could feel in that packed theater how well it holds up, how every comedic and dramatic beat hit perfectly, how the experience sends you out on that kind of moviegoing high you're lucky to get once or twice a year.
And when it was over, I learned for a fact that I was right. My friend Jenni, who had been sitting right next to me utterly enthralled, told me she had never seen the film before. It explained why she was so anxious during the final DeLorean drive, but also confirmed the movie's enduring appeal, beyond 80s nostalgia or catchphrases or sci-fi sheen. I sincerely believe Back to the Future is a perfect movie, calibrated to the last reaction shot and musical cue, no scene wasted or superfluous, every actor inhabiting their characters with precision (and in Glover's case, an almost alien commitment). The movie came out in the 80s, a time of truly exceptional blockbuster filmmaking, but even compared to its peers it stands alone. Aliens may have had better effects and Raiders of the Lost Ark snappier lines, but nothing matches Back to the Future for both popcorn thrills and an exploration of deep human feelings like nostalgia, regret and parental love, so feather-light you don't even see it happening until you've walked out of the theater-- or until you watch it 20 years after you first saw it and feel you've discovered it all over again.
Back to the Future is showing in theaters again on Monday, October 25 at 7 p.m., and if you're reading this in time, I beg you to go. Not only is it by far the best movie you can see in theaters right now-- sorry, Social Network-- but the atmosphere of the theater packed with Back to the Future fans feels like the cinephile equivalent of a church revival, everyone gathered to hear the messages and stories they already know in a congregation of fellow believers. Yes, the new Back to the Future Blu-Ray set is stupendous, and you can probably catch the movie on TBS as we speak. But Back to the Future is the oldest kind of movie magic, a story both wild and innately familiar that's so confident it captivates the audience as a whole; it is that rare experience of sitting in a room full of hundreds of people, all feeling and thinking the same thing in unison. Seeing Back to the Future in a theater is proof that a great movie is both intensely personal-- the way I felt so desperate to time travel as a child--but universally appealing as well. Take anyone and everyone you know to see it, like I did, and get that unique thrill of discovering something you already thought you knew perfectly.
To find out where Back to the Future is playing tonight, go here. Share your own Back to the Future memories or moviegoing experiences in the comments.