This is a slightly edited version of the original review by Newsday's movie critic Joseph Gelmis that ran on July 3, 1985.
"Back to the Future," whose hero is a teenage time traveler, is the most exhilarating combination of high-velocity adventure, first-rate special effects, likable cast and funny script of any escapist fantasy I've seen in the first half of 1985.
Marty McFly, a 16-year-old in jeans and sneakers and plaid shirt and goose-down puff vest, zooms back in time 30 years to 1955 and meets his parents when they were high school kids his age. His mom becomes infatuated with him instead of his dad and Marty McFly is in danger of fading away because his parents don't appear likely to get together and therefore he will never be born.
Michael J. Fox, as Marty, is an ingratiating, plucky little guy who rises to the challenge of fantastic events. Early in the movie he looks with helpless love at his parents at the dinner table. His dad's a wimp who gets pushed around by Biff, his supervisor. His mom nags and regularly chug-a-lugs a snort from her private bottle of booze.
His home away from home is the ramshackle house and lab of an eccentric inventor, Prof. Emmitt Brown, a bachelor with white scraggly hair and disheveled clothes and a shaggy dog named Einstein and a history of inventions that fizzled. Christopher Lloyd is so enthusiastic and zany as Doc Brown we can't help rooting for him and his first success.
"Wait a minute, Doc," says the incredulous Marty when he first learns of the professor's newest invention. "Are you trying to tell me you built a time machine out of a DeLorean?" "Yup," says Doc, showing off his modified DeLorean, the Edsel of the '80s
Without going into to the details of the plot, suffice it to say that Marty hurtles into the past at the wheel of the DeLorean without enough fuel to return to his own time. He has to spend a week in 1955 as matchmaker to the teenagers who will become his parents while waiting for an alternate source of power to send him back to the future.
The past is like another planet — familiar, yet alien, too. This time travel movie gets wonderful comic mileage out of contrasting the look and lifestyles of the 1950s with our own. On the movie marquee of his town in 1955 is "Cattle Queen of Montana," with Ronald Reagan and Barbara Stanwyck. At the local service station, a half-dozen uniformed attendants rush to tidy up each car that comes in for gas. In the diner, coffee is a nickel and the counterman never heard of Tab or any sugarless soft drink.
McFly has trouble initially trying to prove to the professor — who won't invent the time machine for another 30 years — that he's really from the future. You know the professor is not going to believe what he hears at first when he asks "Who's President of the United States in 1985?" "Ronald Reagan," replies McFly. "Ronald Reagan, the actor? And who's vice president? Jerry Lewis?"
"Back to the Future" is the best comic-strip movie I've seen this year. It's well-made, lighthearted and is exactly the right length to give you excitement and laughs and a few surprises, and then it's over, leaving you feeling good.