What it’s like to watch ‘Back to the Future’ with new music, with 15,000 people

“Back to the Future” broke a record on Tuesday night: Over 15,000 people gathered at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles to watch the beloved 1985 movie – that”s more people watching “Back to the Future” together, at the same time, in the same place than ever before.

It”s always a joy for me to watch “Back to the Future” on the big screen with an audience (which is an opportunity afforded rather often to Angelenos), an audience that laughs and cheers in all the right places so you know you”re surrounded by people who share an appreciation for this uniquely delightful movie.

But to do that at the Bowl with over 15,000 people was a particular thrill. Laughter chorused all around me that much louder at lines like “When this baby hits 88 m.p.h., you”re gonna see some serious s-.” The cheers were that much more thunderous for moments like George”s triumphant punch that knocks Biff out cold.

At some moments in the film, it was clear how the comedy hits certain generations differently: When Lou says in the cafe, “I can”t give you a tab unless you order something,” there was a pocket of chuckles to my left. When Marty asks for a Pepsi Free, there was a collection of laughter to my right.

And at the big venue, there were all the more fans dressed up in “Back to the Future” garb. I spotted a lot of red-orange vests, several of Marty Jr.”s color-changing caps, countless “Back to the Future”-referencing T-shirts, a few people in Doc”s lab coat and a wig of his recognizable wild white hair, one fan wearing George McFly”s white dinner jacket and bow tie from the dance, and one pair of Nike Air Mags that I admittedly ogled at for a bit too long.

Of course, one of the biggest thrills of Tuesday”s Hollywood Bowl show was the Los Angeles Philharmonic performing the movie”s score live. The screening was part of FILM CONCERT LIVE!”s series of “Back to the Future” screenings with live orchestras. At the Bowl, David Newman conducted the L.A. Philharmonic. “Back to the Future” writer-producer Bob Gale introduced the event, along with several cast and crew members.

A live orchestra meant the quality of the sound was superb, but there was the added visual bonus of watching the orchestra. I was fortunate to be sitting close enough to see the orchestra and to pick out individual musicians. To watch the drummers – either directly or out of the corner of my eye as I focused more on the screen – during the moment when the Libyans are driving into the Twin Pines Mall intensified the suspense of that scene. To see a mass of bows fly up across violins right as the DeLorean”s hook hits the cable and sends Marty back to 1985 punctuated the satisfaction of that moment of success.

Composer Alan Silvestri wrote about 20 minutes of new music for the occasion. Most of the new music is derived from melodies or themes already present in the score of the movie.

I do believe that “Back to the Future” as it was originally released has just about the right amount of score. Silvestri, Zemeckis and co. knew that silence can be golden and can let the music – when it”s there – be that much more powerful. And the producers of FILM CONCERTS LIVE! agree: “‘Back to the Future” is a darn near perfect movie. You wouldn”t change a single thing about it as a cinematic experience,” Jamie Richardson, one of the concert series producers, told HitFix.

But for it to make sense to screen the film with an orchestra performing the music live, there needed to be a longer running time for the score.

There were moments where the choice to add music was poignant, especially for fans of the trilogy, such as when Lorraine, at age 47, is at the McFly dinner table, wistfully recalling meeting George. For that moment, Silvestri added some music that fans recognized as part of Doc and Clara”s love theme from “Back to the Future Part III.”

For the moment Marty first walks into the door of Doc”s garage (which usually has no score), Silvestri pulled a cue from later in the film when Doc says he”ll travel “30 years” into the future, a “nice round number.” For a screening where fans cheered for the first appearance of every major character, where fans were excited to celebrate the movie”s big anniversary, that addition felt appropriate.

But the concert also could be taken as a lesson for aspiring film composers of when too much is too much. Silvestri inserted music into the scene in Lorraine”s bedroom, which originally has none after the moment Lorraine turns on her night table lamp. Various flairs of music accent Marty”s hesitant turns of head and his terrified stare at his 17-year-old mother who”s coming onto him. There, the music felt perhaps less necessary than any other place in the movie. That scene is golden, largely thanks to Michael J. Fox”s physical comedy. The actor doesn”t need help from music that says, “Isn”t this funny?” The performance can stand on its own.

While I probably wouldn”t change a thing about the score in the film, for this experience, it was entertaining to see how Silvestri found ways to expand his music, and much of it was fitting for the special event.

FILM CONCERTS LIVE! has several more shows lined up for its “Back to the Future” live orchestra series. If it”s not clear from what I”ve written above, I do recommend the experience to any “Back to the Future” fan, especially if you don”t get many chances to hear orchestral music performed live, and especially if you don”t get many chances to see “Back to the Future” with a large audience. It”s a rhythmic ceremonial ritual that you won”t want to miss.

For more of HitFix”s coverage commemorating the 30th anniversary of “Back to the Future,” set your time circuits to right on over here.

All photos by Craig T. Mathew / Mathew Imaging