This is Alan Silvestri’s masterpiece, and just so happens to also be my absolute favourite score of all time. Accompanying one of the best movies ever made, ladies and gentlemen I present to you a soundtrack review for Back To The Future.
Here it is at last. I’ve been trying to write this review off and on for the past two years, and I’ve discovered it’s surprisingly hard to write about something you really love…without descending into gabbling fanboyisms anyway. As such, I can’t promise that there aren’t one or two of those in this review, but for the most part it’s fairly coherent. So, without further ado –
One of the most intriguing aspects of Back To The Future‘s score is the fact that in complete form it is only forty five minutes long. The fact that it manages to achieve so much in so comparatively little time is just one of many elements that contribute to why I love this score as much as I do. Another is the fact that Alan Silvestri doesn’t actually start to work his magic in the movie itself until about twenty minutes in, and it’s there of course where this soundtrack review begins; DeLorean Reveal. Tense and high-pitched strings open the piece, with quiet brass hinting toward the mystery of the movie’s now iconic time machine before then flaring up in full, dramatic force and playing a few teaser notes of the soon-to-be-unveiled main theme. Curiously though, while this track is where the score in the film begins, the Intrada Special Collection actually starts with an unused title cue; Logos – and it’s here that the iconic main theme receives a short and particularly triumphant introductory rendition. However – while it is a nice track, I can see why it was left unused. For me, the full reveal of the main theme later on in the album makes for a much more epic and well-earned thematic introduction, especially when it’s a part of a score like Back To The Future where less is certainly more.
Einstein Disintegrated then arrives with tense strings to open, before dramatic and rather rapid brass appears accompanied by low-pitched backing percussion. At eighty seconds long, this cue is actually very demonstrative of another aspect of Silvestri’s score here that never ceases to amaze me; its truly unique sound. There isn’t really any thematic material in this track, and yet even heard in isolation it’s unmistakably Back To The Future. There’s just something about it. That certain combination of instruments and tonal style that simply scream Back To The Future whenever you hear them.
This “methodology” if you will then features in spades in ’85 Twin Pines Mall; the album’s first major action cue, and the film’s big, loud introduction for the legendary main theme. The track starts softly, with strings setting a rather ominous atmosphere before worrisome brass and percussion then join the fray, inching the tension up higher and higher with each passing second. The build-up then all comes to a head at about two and a half minutes in where louder, sharper brass cuts in alongside additional and particularly frantic percussion. This new tone then rapidly switches up a minute or so later – leaving tension behind in favour of sheer heroism – and it’s here that the Back To The Future theme then debuts in all its epic, brass-heavy glory. Seconds later it then disappears just as quickly as it came – but what an impression it leaves behind.
After the action-heavy excitement of the previous cue things then calm down a bit for the opening of Peabody Barn/Marty Ditches DeLorean. Ominous, almost horror-like strings start it off before anxious, rumbling brass then arrives, overall establishing quite an eerie musical atmosphere. This doesn’t last for long however before the big, boisterous brass from ’85 Twin Pines Mall returns for another short yet brilliantly epic rendition of the main theme. The next few tracks are then a series of short minute-or-so pieces, with the first being the rather moody ’55 Town Square, where high-pitched strings and anticipatory percussion continue the darker tone from the start of Peabody Barn.
Lorraine’s Bedroom then brightens things up a little, starting with a slightly solemn rendition of the main theme on quiet brass before strings and gentle percussion provide quite a peaceful back half. The darker, more mysterious sound then returns with Retrieve DeLorean, where worrisome strings and tense brass hint nervously at the main theme before the cue then draws to a rapid close. Low strings and upbeat, light percussion introduce Doc’s theme in 1.21 Jigowatts – it’s a rather difficult motif to spot as it’s not quite as pronounced as the main theme is (then again, what theme is?), but it’s very character representative all the same – being a sprightly, eccentric and rather hopeful piece altogether. The Picture then establishes this motif a little further alongside the main theme before the dramatic and extremely short Picture Fades cuts in, bumping up the tension tenfold with twenty seconds of particularly chilling score.
Loud, frantic brass then leaps into action in Skateboard Chase, with the main theme thundering into heroic view just a few seconds later. At just under two minutes long this is one of the best tracks on the entire album; a wall-to-wall action spectacular featuring many a triumphant burst from the iconic main theme. Marty’s Letter then kicks the pace back down into slow, cheerful territory with Marty’s theme on strings and low brass. Like with Doc’s this is also a tough one to spot if you’re not actively looking for it, mainly because it sounds like an extension of the main theme (which to be honest, it sort of is).
Rumbling percussion then opens George To The Rescue Part 1, with a tense piano and strings taking up the remainder of the sub-minute cue before Marvin Be-Bop then cuts in with two and a half minutes of light, refreshing jazz underscore. It’s an enjoyable if not slightly unremarkable piece, as is Goodnight Marty – a ninety-second track appearing a bit later on that’s essentially just more of the same. Tension then returns in George To The Rescue Part 2, with strings and low brass alongside a very anxious main theme building to a particularly dramatic climax before the score settles back down in the back half with a second and relievingly soft rendition of the main theme. Tension/The Kiss then boots things right back up into horror territory with high-pitched strings, ominous percussion and loud punches of brass before the suspense then fades towards the end with light, gentle strings that (in the movie, anyway) lead right into Marvin Berry & The Starlighters’ fantastic rendition of Earth Angel.
The next track is my favourite action cue. Ever. It’s one of the best action setpieces ever composed for film, and I absolutely adore every second of it. It’s Been Educational/Clocktower is the intense, fast-paced and brilliantly epic eleven minute climax to Back To The Future, and an expertly-crafted example of build-up-to-release action scoring. The cue begins lightly with gentle strings playing the main theme, before punchy brass then cuts in with a rather anxious rendition of Doc’s theme. Tense drums then join the fray for a poignantly dramatic playthrough of the main motif, and it’s here that the real fun then begins. For the next few minutes the brass begins to build, the percussion becomes tenser and the musical thrill ever more prominent, with the main theme appearing here and there for “teaser” moments before then practically exploding towards the end for its loudest, boldest and most heroic performance yet. All-in, Clocktower is a truly breathtaking piece, and of course – the standout cue of this soundtrack review.
Things then calm down considerably for the twenty second Helicopter, featuring a quietly triumphant main theme on brass. The orchestral energy then starts to build again with ’85 Lone Pine Mall, where dramatic percussion and energetic, imposing brass lead the orchestral charge. Before long the main theme then reappears; firstly in loud, anxious form before then slowing right down on cheerful strings alongside Marty’s motif. This then segues rather seamlessly into 4×4, where Marty’s theme returns once again – this time on quiet, hopeful brass and light strings. Doc Returns brings back the aforementioned character’s upbeat, eccentric motif for one last rendition before the main theme then sweeps in to push the score back up into loud, heroic territory, making for a pretty seamless introduction to the album’s final (brilliant) cue; Back To The Future (End Credits). In essence, it’s a three minute long, hair-raising, fist-pumping, kickass performance of the now iconic main theme. Fairly obviously it’s a fantastic track, and a perfect finale for an already astoundingly good score.
Overall, Alan Silvestri’s Back To The Future is one of the best film scores of all time. It’s an orchestral masterpiece, with the main theme leading the charge as one of the most iconic pieces of thematic scoring ever written (see End Credits). Said motif is utilised expertly throughout the album; appearing just enough to satisfy but not so much as to overstay its welcome (not that it ever really could – it’s just that good). The secondary themes (namely Doc and Marty’s) are also superb, and the action setpieces are simply out of this world (see It’s Been Educational/Clocktower). Back To The Future is also my absolute favourite film score, and so it is for this and all of the above reasons that it of course gets a Perfect Score award on this site. I honestly don’t think any other film score I’ve reviewed on here has ever deserved it more.
Standout Cue: 19. It’s Been Educational/Clocktower
Buy the complete score for Back To The Future from Intrada right here.