Whether you have seen the second or third “Back to the Future,” almost everyone I know has at least seen the first one. It is one of my all-time favorite movies and will be considered a classic until the end of time (I added a pun without realizing it, so score for me). There are so many incredible scenes in the first “Back to the Future” film but there is one that will remain one of my personal favorite movie scenes of all time, “The Enchantment Under the Scene” dance scene. As a little refresher this scene happens right after George Mcfly knocks Biff out in front of the car Marty was originally supposed to be in if things went according to his “get my parents back together” plan (they didn’t). By doing this he saves Lorraine from Biff’s assault.
The background to this scene is that when Marty goes back in time, he accidently changes the event where his parents initially meet. Because of this, George never takes Lorraine to the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance the way it was supposed to happen. As a result, Marty must get his parents to have their first kiss at the dance and restore things back to the way they are. However, if he doesn’t his parents will never get married and he will cease to exist. So…with all that at stake, let’s get into the scene.
It starts out where one of the members of the band playing the music for the dance slices his hand trying to free Marty from the back of a car trunk he was locked into by Biff’s goons. As a result, he can’t play for the rest of the dance, which poses a problem because as Marty says “if there’s no music they can’t dance and if they can’t dance they can’t kiss and if they can’t kiss they can’t fall in love and I’m history." Pretty accurate, Marty. So, Marty then begins the scene playing the guitar as a substitute to try and save the day. But, not before other things start to go wrong (of course).
As Marty watches his parents dance he checks the photo of himself, his brother, and his sister that he has to see how much they have disappeared from the photo (signifying that they are disappearing in real life do to the alternating events that transpires as a result of his parents not meeting the correct way).
Lorraine then turns to George and asks if he is going to kiss her to which George replies nervously that he isn’t sure. Another guy then comes up and says “Scram Mcfly, I’m cutting in,” and takes Lorraine away to dance with him. George looks distraught and gives her a look of weakness on his part. All of a sudden Marty starts hitting many wrong notes on the guitar to which he knows something is wrong and looks at the picture. It shows that he is disappearing (along with his hand he is playing the guitar with). The scene cuts between Marty in agony and Lorraine calling out to George in a scared manner until Marty finally takes his last gasp and says “George…”
Out of nowhere George appears in front of Lorraine and the guy and says “Excuse me” and pushes the guy to the ground. He then looks right into Lorraine’s eyes and they share their first kiss on the dance floor. Marty springs up, having been restored and fully existing as a result of the kiss that would eventually lead to his parents’ marriage and birth. George gives Marty a little wave of thanks for everything he has done as Marty smiles and waves back until the song finally ends. We can all just stand up and give a slow clap now.
What Makes It So Genius
Given the events that I have just set up, it’s the elements in between and the small details that make this one of the greatest (to me at least) scenes in cinema. First of all, let’s talk about the song “Earth Angel” that the band plays. It makes the entire scene. The song has such an 80’s love song feel and the lyrics and melody of all of the different instruments played in unison makes it sound absolutely magical. So check one, they picked a great song.
The suspense and intensity of the scene is executed perfectly. When Marty starts to hit those wrong notes and realizes what is going on, the score starts to become extremely unsettling, muffling the calls from Lorraine to sound haunting while cutting back to Marty’s hand that is slowly disappearing. As the music gets louder and louder, the sound of Lorraine’s calls and the boy’s evil laugh who stole her away from George heightens. At this point “Earth Angel” has completely stopped playing in the scene to show Marty’s concentration on the terrible situation happening before him.
Finally when George approaches Lorraine and the other guy the intense music comes to a halt and the audience can hear “Earth Angel” in the background again. When George finally pushes him down one of the classic “Back to the Future” theme scores starts to heighten as it reaches it’s peak and stops the minute George looks directly into Lorraine’s eyes. “Earth Angel” starts to get louder and louder until George and Lorraine finally kiss and the climax of the song begins right as their lips touch. The music comes back to its full volume as the rest of the incredible and magical scene plays out. The camera then zooms out on the two of them dancing in the middle of the floor surrounded by everyone else as the last note closes the song. The way the filmmakers put together the entire scene, music, camera works, and sound editing creates a scene where all of these elements mesh so well together.
The emotion that this scene evokes is like no other, which is also why it is brilliant as well. The entire movie was leading up to this moment, whether or not Marty would find a way to bring his parents together. The fate of Marty and his siblings is on the line as well as the futures for his parents (and if his parents never married there is no telling what each of their lives would have been like). The filmmakers did an amazing job placing all of the stakes and emotions on this one scene, which makes it feel that much more triumphant when things work out, not as planned, but for the better. I don’t know about anyone else but this is the one scene that makes me smile like never before every single time I watch it. Whether or not I am watching it after seeing the entire movie or just watching the clip on my computer, I feel the exact same joyful emotions. It takes a great filmmaker to create a scene that evokes so much emotion even if you haven’t seen the movie play out beforehand.
As I said, greatest scene ever.