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Back to the Future
  • Composed by Alan Silvestri
  • Intrada / 2015 / 49m

One of the most beloved films of the 1980s, Back to the Future opened to rave reviews in summer 1985 and has remained popular with audiences ever since.  Its easy-going blend of humour and nostalgia coupled with memorable action sequences and gentle science fiction captured the mood of the day perfectly.  I find it fascinating that it’s now thirty years since the film was released, which is the same length of time that Marty McFly travelled back in the film; and I wonder if a 2015 filmmaker would manage to find such a fond view of 1985 as Robert Zemeckis managed to find of 1955.

Alan Silvestri was only 35 when he recorded his score for the film, the one which would make him an A-list film composer (he had been working steadily for some time already at that point, but generally on synths; Fandango was his only major prior orchestral score) and which remains his most popular work even now.  Of course it also cemented his relationship with Zemeckis, which has gone on through a further 13 films (so far) and various tv shows.  And most importantly, of course, the film inspired Silvestri to write one of the greatest of all movie themes, an iconic classic whose appeal has not diminished at all in the decades since.

Alan Silvestri

Alan Silvestri

That theme is present almost all the way through the score in a great number of different guises, with a little hint of it in the opening, unused “Logo” and a little bit more in “Delorean Reveal”.  It’s a theme of two main parts, the fanfare opening of its most well-known arrangement (for the end titles) coupled with the heroic second part.  Both crop up throughout the score, with the composer cleverly linking everything together with sometimes just the smallest fragments of the theme.  It’s actually not until some time into the film that it’s really unleashed in all its glory (at the end of “’85 Twin Pines Mall”), and of course the fullest and most satisfying appearance is right at the end in the glorious end titles suite which is simply spectacular.

Of the other main motifs, my favourite is probably the madcap one often associated with Doc Brown.  It’s got a slapstick air to it which is great fun, perhaps best encapsulated in “Marty Ditches DeLorean”.  There’s also a lovely, warm motif used for Marty’s softer moments (my favourite version coming in the delicate “Marty’s Letter”) and of course the little glissando effect used for time travel throughout the score, which is almost as much the signature sound of these films as the main theme is.

There’s some great action music, with two cues in particular standing out.  The aforementioned “’85 Twin Pines Mall”, before the main theme soars away, is based around a rollicking motif for the villains with a gently witty over-the-top nature (which is perfect for the film); and most famous is the lengthy cue which underscores the famous clocktower finale (on the album combined with a short cue and so given the rather less-than-snappy title “It’s Been Educational / Clocktower”) which is probably the prime example of Silvestri’s signature stop-start action style, running through all the score’s main motifs, supporting the film absolutely perfectly and absolutely riveting, truly thrilling away from it.

For a long time (pretty much from 1985 to 2009, in fact) a full album of Back to the Future was near the top of the wish list of a lot of film music fans, particularly those who grew up in the 1980s.  The mega-successful original album only featured two Silvestri cues and, while they did cover 11 minutes, that was hardly enough to satisfy those who loved the music.  Intrada finally put out a double CD version which surprised a lot of people because it didn’t just feature Silvestri’s score, it also featured his other score – one he recorded a couple of weeks earlier than the final product, which was revised to reflect changes to the film’s editing and a slightly lighter tone incorporating more of the fabulous main theme.  The early sessions make up a complete programme of sorts on the second disc of that set, running nearly 40 minutes.

Then in 2015 to mark the film’s thirtieth anniversary Intrada reissued the score, just the first CD this time, which represents the music as Silvestri intended for the final film (though some cues were unused).  It’s not quite a perfect presentation – the pair of source cues placed in film sequence spectacularly and disastrously break up the flow of the score and should not have been anywhere near the main sequence of cues – but that’s an easy problem to deal with.  It’s a classic score, one I’ve always admired within the film (it really is a textbook film score) but which I must admit took me a long time to fully appreciate away from it.  It’s the surprisingly delicate and precise way it’s constructed that makes it ultimately work so well (and which converted me into a true believer) – its warm nature, the stunning main theme, the other little motifs that bind it together.  Alan Silvestri’s never written anything better.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. Erik Woods (Reply) on Wednesday 21 October, 2015 at 21:59

    It’s about time you came around. I’ve been battling with you concerning this score for years. It’s a perfect score and one of THE very best scores ever written. It’s in my Top 5. Great review as always!

  2. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Wednesday 21 October, 2015 at 22:18

    First How to Train Your Dragon, now this…there’s hope for you yet, James! 😀

    To be honest, my opinion of this score probably lies somewhere in between this review and your original one. The theme is, obviously, a classic and it’s used really well throughout the score, but there are some bitty sections that don’t do a WHOLE lot for me…not dealbreakers or anything, but enough to stop me from agreeing with Erik’s “perfect score” assessment. It’s still a really good’un, though, and this is a far better review than your original, so nice work! 🙂

  3. Kevin (Reply) on Thursday 22 October, 2015 at 05:14

    Cool, but it’s about time you got on with Bridge of Spies, no?

    • James Southall (Reply) on Thursday 22 October, 2015 at 20:02

      I’d love to but I seem to be the only person in the world who hasn’t heard it.

  4. Pepper Skyberry (Reply) on Friday 23 October, 2015 at 14:25

    About time I listened to this, seeing all this glowing praise O.O Nice review, too.

  5. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Friday 23 October, 2015 at 19:16

    Great review! Quite a turnaround from your previous one 🙂

    I’m with you on those source cues, though: they really ought to have been banished to Disc 2, since they break the flow in the same way an iceberg broke the Titanic’s.

  6. Mike (Reply) on Saturday 24 October, 2015 at 03:02

    This is one of the only soundtracks where I program in the songs. I even have a version of “The Kiss” where “Earth Angel” is intertwined, just like in the film. (Forget where I downloaded that!).

    Perfect score in the film, although I think Part 3 is the best musically.

  7. Howard Hand (Reply) on Wednesday 25 November, 2015 at 02:28

    I agree more with the original 3-star review.

    • Yavar Moradi (Reply) on Monday 2 October, 2017 at 20:42

      I’m with you!

  8. Vincent (Reply) on Tuesday 22 August, 2017 at 19:28

    Any chance you could review 2 and 3 too?

  9. Frederic Bernard (Reply) on Sunday 1 October, 2017 at 20:11

    Absolutely loved the works of Alan Silvestri – not only for the first one which is reviewed here, but for the other two as well. Such lovely, dedicated scoring!