Favorite Fictional Characters, #135: Dr. Emmett Brown
Talking about Rufus the other day reminded me of another of my favorite time travelers, the addled genius Doc Brown from the Back to the Future franchise. Oh, you didn't know there was more than one movie? Lucky you. As much as the original installment was well-conceived, tightly written, and almost flawlessly executed, the sequels were eminently forgettable. So let's focus our energies on the 1985 classic. This was at the height of Michael J Fox's powers, when he was one of the most reliably bankable stars in Hollywood, and he does not disappoint in this vehicle. Yet the most delightful parts are when Christopher Lloyd's Einstein-haired mad scientist streaks across the screen like a misguided comet.
Brown is all arms and legs and troll doll hair, a zany kinetic wind-up toy skittering along throughout the film, bellowing his trademark "Great Scott!" and other verbal explosions, leaving Fox's McFly bouncing along behind him like a powerboat dragging a waterskier who's lost his balance. His mad electric presence and physical comedic style are intentionally reminiscent of Gene Wilder's iconic performance in Young Frankenstein.
Emmett Brown is a visionary, an iconoclast, probably a lunatic, but a brilliant one. He's a thinker, an inventor, and as is often the case with these absent-minded archetypes, he struggles to navigate normal human society. He's capable, for instance, of swindling some plutonium from Libyan terrorists, all the while disregarding the distinct possibility that such a course of action might be perilous. Doc Brown exists in the world of the possible, not the advisable. What kind of off-kilter intellect builds a time machine out of a DeLorean?