I recently sat down and watched Back to the Future again. While no doubt being a great movie, I had never realized just how great it was.
Don't get me wrong, no one would ever argue this is a bad movie (except for possibly Libyan terrorists). But this time I began to click on all the small things which make it just that great.
A great place to start would be the music. There's the one overpowering motif that everyone knows, and yet it's so very simple that you could whistle it without a problem. And the first three chords even work as a built-in cue! Plus what I'll call the Biff motif, most prevalent at the moments where he has the upper hand on our plucky heroes (the skateboard chase, the final car scene, countless times in the sequels). It's a fast-paced tension-builder piece, capable of resolving into the main motif powerfully. Then add in a couple of upbeat Huey Lewis songs, and you've got a soundtrack. Did you know Huey Lewis is the judge who tells Marty his band is "just too darn loud"?
Next, the plot is so well wrapped up that it feels like they thought of everything. Off-hand, it'd be difficult to come up with a real plot hole (I dare you to find one). Meanwhile the plot gracefully dances around what could be very dangerous territory: the reverse-Oedipus. Yet somehow it treats it lightly enough to be hilarious, all the way up to "it's like I'm kissing my brother".
Also, all the small consistencies make the movie great. Partly the little changes over time: Twin Pines Mall to Lone Pine Mall, the section of the clock tower that Doc Brown broke. Partly the well wrapped themes: Biff treating George the same in the original present as in the past, nearly word for word; Marty too afraid of rejection to send in a demo tape, like his father and his writing; Marty dealing with Lorraine's prudishness, only to find out she was quite different as a teenager; and the ever present "If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything". Then the multiple anachronistic jokes: Tab, Ronald Reagan, Calvin Klein, JFK, and don't forget Darth Vader. Meanwhile, I'd never fully realized just how "adult" this movie is. The peeping tom, the "reefer addicts" (band), and the final scene with Biff at the car. Every part of the movie has a point, and together they add up to create characters you actually want to see win.
From Marty, who finds everything heavy; to Lorraine, the pretty girl who everyone wants to go out with; to George, the well-meaning geek; to Doc Brown, the scatterbrained scientist with a penchant for making jokes. Actually, believe it or not, "Jigowatts" was the preferred pronunciation of gigawatts back then. Thanks to this movie, it will forever be my preferred pronunciation. And I didn't forget about Biff, who strikes that perfect amount of sadism expected in a bully.
Lastly, the film excelled in it's finale. It didn't just have to get Marty back to 1985, it had multiple other lines to tie up: George v. Biff, Marty v. the Kiss, Marty v. the DeLorean, Doc v. the Clock Tower, and Doc v. the Libyans. And it checked them off, one (or two) at a time. It's somewhat amazing because for the most part the enemy was really time itself: Marty making sure they kiss before he disappears, and then getting the DeLorean started so he can be make it to the wire. Doc fighting the Clock Tower to beat the lighting strike, and then deciding to learn the future to save himself from the Libyans. The only real villain: Biff, and what a villain he was! In fact, I think I'll leave off with the George and Biff confrontation just so you can enjoy watching Biff get his comeuppance while George saves the day.