Universal // 1989 // 108 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // February 23rd, 2009
"Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads!" -- Doc Brown
Moments after the end of Back to the Future, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox, Teen Wolf), his girlfriend Jennifer (Elizabeth Shue, The Karate Kid), and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) hop into the DeLorean time machine and jump to October 21, 2015. It seems Marty and Jennifer's future son Marty Jr. is to be thrown into the slammer for theft, kicking off a chain of events that will destroy the McFlys. Impersonating his dweeby son, Marty Sr. changes future history by keeping his boy from getting involved in a scheme devised by Biff Tannen's (Thomas F. Wilson, Action Jackson) grandson, Griff (also played by Wilson). Matters are complicated, however, when the elderly Biff discovers Doc Brown's time machine. Stealing the car, he goes back to 1955 and gives his younger self a future sports almanac with which to amass a huge fortune. When Doc, Marty, and Jennifer jump back to 1985, they discover that Biff has used his ill-gotten gains to alter the space-time continuum, recreating Hill Valley in his own image. The once quaint California town is now a Vegas-style den of sin where everyone dresses like '70s porn stars, Marty's dad is dead, and his mom is in an abusive relationship with Biff. To save Hill Valley and themselves from ruin, Doc and Marty must journey back to 1955 and recover the almanac from Biff before he has a chance to use it.
Call me a Philistine, but I've always enjoyed Back to the Future Part II as much as its blockbuster predecessor. Yes, its plot is convoluted, but convoluted can be good in a time travel picture -- and Part II is convoluted in a fun way. Yes, it has a bleak and cynical underbelly, but so does Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (both films present alternate reality versions of small town America sullied by a corrupt bully with too much money and power). Yes, it lacks a reprise of Crispin Glover's memorable performance as the milquetoast George McFly, but it has hoverboards, second only to lightsabers on the "Most Badass Movie Props of the '80s" list (yes, movie nerds, hoverboards are cooler than the Glaive -- much cooler). Plus, Part II has no musical interludes involving Huey Lewis and the News.
Part II hits the ground running with a reprise of the final moments of its predecessor (reshot with Elizabeth Shue replacing Claudia Wells as Marty's girlfriend). The Act One jump to 2015 is bodacious fun as Marty visits The Café 80s (where the wait staff is Max Headroom versions of Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, and the Ayatollah Khomeini) and, yes, gets involved in an extended hoverboard chase with Griff and his gang of not-so-tough-looking toughs. Jokes about how garish and lame the '80s were take on a new level of unintentional hilarity 20 years down the line when we view the '80s as garish and lame. The movie's projections of fashion trends in 2015 are particularly funny because they're just gaudier variations on bad '80s style: iridescent rainbow baseball caps, padded Members Only jackets, and acid washed jeans worn inside-out. Act Two dives to the depths with Hill Valley's transformation into Biff's perfect world. I'm not sure which is more horrifying, the tragic murder of George McFly or Marty's gob-smacked fascination with his otherwise saggy mother's (again played by Lea Thompson of Red Dawn and Howard the Duck fame) surgically-augmented rack. But the movie really kicks into high gear with the Act Three jump back to 1955. Here Marty's forced to revisit the "Enchantment under the Sea" dance from the first film, while avoiding his former time travelling self so that he doesn't inadvertently cause a universe-destroying major paradox. The merging of Marty's antics trying to retrieve the sports almanac with the events of the original Back to the Future is manic, clever, and loads of fun. Back to the Future Part II may be a rehash, but it makes the most of revisiting old turf.
This release is the first time that Back to the Future Part II is available as a stand-alone DVD. What we have here is a repackage of Disc Two from the Complete Trilogy boxed set released back in 2002, minus the framing issues from the original pressing. The transfer, cheesy animated menus, and supplements are identical to the earlier release. In terms of A/V, the transfer is impressive. Colors are strong and accurate, while black levels are inky and supple. Best of all, the image has a beautiful patina of fine grain that evokes an era of cinema that wasn't obsessed with smooth, deep focus crispness. Those (like myself) revisiting the movie for the first time in a long time may be surprised at how clunky some of the optical visual effects are, but that's what happens as films age. Director Richard Zemeckis's use of the revolutionary VistaGlide system -- which allowed camera moves in shots where, for example, Thomas F. Wilson is composited on both sides of the frame as the old Biff talks to the young Biff -- are still impressive, though not quite seamless (there's something about those shots that had my brain crying foul; I couldn't put my finger on what it was, though). The Dolby 5.1 surround track is a fine expansion of a source limited by age. Dialogue and effects are clean and well mixed, even if dynamic range and LFE doesn't compare with modern blockbusters.
Though this is a single-disc release, it's packed with extras -- even if most of them are brief and fluffy as bunnies (those expecting a no-holds-barred examination of Crispin Glover's absence in Part II will be disappointed). First up is a pair of commentaries. The lesser of the two is by producers Neil Canton and Bob Gale. The better, presented in a Q&A format, is by Zemeckis and Gale. Zemeckis, in particular, is expansive, easy-going, and fun to listen to. There are two making-of featurettes: "The Making of Back the Future Part II" (6:40) and "Making the Trilogy: Chapter Two" (15:31). Seven deleted scenes can be played individually or with a Play All option. They also come with an optional commentary by Bob Gale. A 50-second outtakes reel is mildly amusing. "Did You Know That? Universal Animated Anecdotes" is a subtitle track that offers Back to the Future trivia while you watch the feature. There are also a series of ultra-brief featurettes on various aspects of the movie: "Production Design" (2:55), "Storyboarding" (1:31), "Designing the DeLorean" (3:33), "Designing Time Travel" (2:42), "Hoverboard Test" (0:58), and "Evolution of Visual Effects Shots" (5:43). A "Production Archive" option leads to a quartet of stills galleries: "Marty McFly Photo Album" (shots of Michael J. Fox), "Behind-the-Scenes Photographs" (production photos), "Futuristic Designs" (concept designs for various props, sets, and costumes), and "Vehicles of the Future" (concept designs for the cars of 2015). There is also a music video for "Power of Love" by Huey Lewis and the News (even though the song appears in the original Back to the Future and not this sequel), a theatrical trailer, cast and filmmaker biographies, and text-based production notes.
Back to the Future Part II may be dated, but it still holds up as a fun amusement-park-ride of a flick. If you loved the movie back in 1989, you'll love it now. While this DVD release offers nothing new, it's a fine (and long overdue) option for those who don't want to own the entire trilogy (read: those who hate Part III).
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Animated Anecdotes
* Production Archives
* Music Video
* Production Notes
* DVD-ROM Content