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Back to the Future anniversary: What critics thought 30 years ago

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If you could travel back in time to July 3, 1985 — when Back to the Future was released and the DeLorean became the magical, revered vehicle it is today — you’d find that top film critics’ initial reactions to the Robert Zemeckis movie weren’t so different from the way we feel about it in 2015. They thought it was smart, original, and full of summer blockbuster fun — for the most part. Read on to see what they wrote:

1. “Director Zemeckis, who is on a roll with this film and his previous effort, Romancing the Stone, has placed enough twists and turns in his story so that even jaundiced movie viewers are likely to be surprised more than once. … [A] jewel of an entertainment, a throwback to the classic Hollywood scripts of 40 or more years ago.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

2. “Unlike The Goonies, whose narrative is a rapid succession of hotfoots, Back to the Future has a long fuse that, halfway through, explodes into comic epiphany. Until then, the film is nicely propelled by the ingratiating Fox (from the NBC sitcom Family Ties) and some snappy then-and-now jokes (in 1985 the local theater is showing Orgy American Style, while in 1955 the attraction is a Ronald Reagan western). The choice of year is canny, for 1955 is close to the historical moment when television, rock ‘n’ roll and kids mounted their takeover of American culture. By now, the revolution is complete. So the child of 1985 must teach his parents (the children of 1955) how to be cool, successful and loved. When they learn it — when the Earth Angel meets Johnny Do-Gooder — the picture packs a wonderful wallop.” — Richard Corliss, Time

3. “Welcome back to the art of storytelling! Back to the Future is a whirling merry-go-round of a movie, in which everything is precisely machined but nothing seems quite safe. It’s a wildly pleasurable sci-fi comedy, filled with enchantment and sweetness and zip as only a bona fide summer hit can be.”  Paul Attanasio, The Washington Post

4. “Consistently compelling, witty and imaginative, this time-travel fantasy offers more rapturous fun than a gaggle of goonies. …. The film, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, is alternately hilarious (as McFly tries to deal with a world before rock, video and mens’ purple underwear) and heartfelt (as the son teaches his father how to be a man). The period props, from Davy Crockett posters to the Four Aces warbling ‘Mr. Sandman,’ are also first-rate. Jacked-up technology takes a backseat to charm here, and the film is better for it.” — Peter Travers, People

5. “The movie, in fact, resembles Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life more than other, conventional time-travel movies. It’s about a character who begins with one view of his life and reality, and is allowed, through magical intervention, to discover another.” Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times

6. Back to the Future, which opens today at Loew’s State and other theaters, takes this sweet, ingenious premise and really runs with it. In less resourceful hands, the idea might quickly have worn thin; it might might have taken an uncomfortable turn, since the story’s young hero must face the transformation of his plump, stern, middle-aged mother into a flirtatious young beauty. But Mr. Zemeckis is able both to keep the story moving and to keep it from going too far. He handles Back to the Future with the kind of inventiveness that indicates he will be spinning funny, whimsical tall tales for a long time to come.” Janet Maslin, The New York Times

7. “It’s big, cartoonish, and empty, with an interesting premise that is underdeveloped and overproduced.” — Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times

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