Time travel is exhausting, so it's back to the futon for Appellate Judge Tom Becker.
Our reviews of Back To The Future (published February 23rd, 2009), Back To The Future Part II (published February 23rd, 2009), Back To The Future Part III (published February 23rd, 2009), and Universal 100th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray) (published November 26th, 2012) are also available.
"Are you telling me that you built a time machine…out of a DeLorean?"
Facts of the Case
October 26, 1985
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox, Teen Wolf) is a low-achieving slacker kid in mid-'80s America. He's got a great girlfriend, Jennifer (Claudia Wells), and a disconcertingly dysfunctional family, including a mom who drinks too much (Lea Thompson, Howard the Duck) and an ineffectual father (Crispin Glover, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) who is still being bullied by the guy who made his life miserable in high school, Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson, April Fool's Day).
Marty's best friend is "Doc" Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd, Taxi), an eccentric inventor whose latest creation is a time machine built out of a DeLorean car. Through a series of mishaps, Marty finds himself back in 1955—just in time to muck up his then-high-school-age parents' meeting—meaning they might never get together, and he might never be born!
Now, Marty has to fix it so his parents go to the dance where they fall in love, even though, queasily, his future mom has another crush—on him. Plus he's got to find the '50's vintage Doc Brown, convince the inventor that he's from 1985, and get his friend to help him get Back to the Future.
Marty's problems seem to resolve themselves, and he's reunited with Jennifer—until Doc Brown and the DeLorean show up again. It seems the Doc has been time traveling, and there's trouble in 2015—for Marty and Jennifer's children! So now it's Back to the Future Part II for our time travelers, and not a moment too soon. Marty and Doc avert the tragedy for Marty's future children, and Jennifer gets a glimpse of what her life with Marty might become—and it ain't pretty.
Everything looks like it's been tidied up—but Marty disregards Doc's advice about trying to alter the future and tries to sneak a sports almanac back to 1985 that will provide the scores of every event from 1950 through 2000. This ends up having dire consequences not only for the McFly family but the world at large and necessitates yet another trip back to 1955 to undo the damage Marty caused in 2015.
When they finally straighten things out, Marty expects to go back to 1985. However, Doc has sent himself back to the Old West—1885, to be exact, where he's making his living as a blacksmith. Unfortunately, Marty, still in 1955, learns something disturbing, and realizes he has to go back to the past—or Back to the Future Part III—to rescue his pal. AND he still needs to go back to 1985, find Jennifer, and…well, it's a little complicated.
Back to the Future was the mega-hit of 1985, one of the best—and best remembered—movies of the decade. An existentialist sci-fi pop fantasy that the whole family could enjoy, it works as well today as it did two-and-a-half decades ago: great fun, exciting, and with enough dark twists to make it more thought-provoking than most "popcorn" entertainment.
Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Robert Zemeckis—who'd just come off the successful Romancing the Stone and would go on to do the successful Who Framed Roger Rabbit?—Back to the Future was a relatively modestly budgeted "summer" movie aimed at teens and families that almost didn't get made. Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale had shopped the script to virtually every studio in Hollywood and had been turned down by them all. Most felt it wasn't sexy enough to work as a teen comedy, and Disney balked at the romantic angle between Marty and his in-the-past mom. Then Spielberg became involved and Universal picked up the project.
Most important, Michael J. Fox, everyone's first choice to play Marty, was able to take over the starring role after a deal was worked out with the producers of his series Family Ties. Fox replaced Eric Stoltz, whom everyone agreed was a fine actor, just not right for the role. Fox is perfect in what would be his big-screen signature, his charm, athleticism, vulnerability, and comic timing making Marty as much a unique character as an everyguy. Just as it's inconceivable to think of anyone other than the indispensable Fox as Marty, it's also inconceivable to think of anyone other than the indispensable Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown. Fox and Lloyd play together like they've known each other for years, making what is really the integral relationship in the film believable, hilarious, and touching.
But then, the whole movie comes pretty close to being perfect. The script is consistently fresh and original, surprisingly complex and sophisticated, and Zemeckis' direction is just outstanding. The film is so filled with sly gags and visual references that it's almost impossible to catch them all in one viewing.
While the sequels don't match the quality of the original, they aren't throwaways or rip-offs, either. Fortuitously, almost all the major players, save for Crispin Glover, returned for Parts II and III. Part II is a little more complicated than it needs to be, with its hopscotching through the decades, realigning history, and reimagining the first installment, but it's awfully clever—and who doesn't love the hoverboards? Part III gives Doc a romance, which is utterly charming, but the film overall is more of a well-done, fish-out-of-water western. Both are wildly entertaining and miles above what usually passes for sequels to blockbusters. They hold up pretty well, and actually look better when viewed right after BttF—they really work best as part of the larger piece. One thing that makes this trilogy so great is that it's an actual trilogy. The sequels are not retreads, but genuine continuations of the story that build on the previous films without copying them.
Universal released the trilogy on DVD in 2002, then released the films as stand-alones in 2009. Those releases featured good tech and solid supplements. Now, Universal is giving us Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy on Blu-ray, with upgraded image and sound, plus new supplements.
Universal has done a stupendous job on this. The 1080p transfers look spectacular, crisp and clear, with just a touch of DNR—mainly on the sequels—that's not overly artificial or distracting; all three entries still look like films. Detail is outstanding; colors are solid and contrast is pure. It's a substantial upgrade from the '02 release, which itself looked pretty terrific. The only downside is that the better picture helps point up one of the trilogy's weak points: the less-than spectacular special effects, which really have not aged well. Audio has been remastered in a solid DTS-HD 5.1 track that's near-pristine. While it's not an overwhelming track, it's full and detailed, offering a great representation of the sound design as well as Alan Silvestri's memorable score.
The standard-DVD release of the BttF trilogy came fully loaded with a nice array of supplements. For the Blu-ray, pretty much everything is ported over except for the BD-Rom supplements, and Universal has provided some cool new stuff.
The most significant new extra is a six-part retrospective, "Tales From the Future." Running more than two hours total, these are spread over the three discs—three parts on Back to the Future, one installment on Part II, and the remaining two segments on Part III. Created for this release, these include interviews with practically every surviving significant member of the cast and crew—including, of course, Fox, Lloyd, Zemeckis, and Spielberg—and generous mentions of those who either didn't participate (such as Glover) or who've passed (such as Wendie Jo Sperber, who played Marty's sister). "Tales From the Future" is crammed full of anecdotes, remembrances, trivia, history, and archival footage, including the never-before-seen—well, except for recent YouTube postings—silent footage of Eric Stoltz as Marty.
"The Physics of Back to the Future" is a slightly silly but really entertaining eight-minute piece with Theoretical Physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, who tells us that the time travel theories of BttF are not as outlandish as the time travel theories of most other films. This is part movie review, part "Mr. Wizard"-style scientific theory lesson (Einstein—the scientist, not the dog—is quoted throughout), and Kaku's sheer delight at being there makes this great fun and oddly informative. Also, if that whole incest thing weirds you out, Dr. Kaku has some comforting—if slightly confusing—news.
Then there's U-Control, a feature that is activated by pressing a button on the remote. U-Control gives you options to have a "Trivia Track," "Storyboard Comparisons," or "Setups and Payoffs" appear on screen while you're watching. Since I hadn't dealt with U-Control before, I at first found this feature a little cumbersome. An icon appears when there is something U-Controllable onscreen, and sometimes there's more than one icon (some trivia and a storyboard shot), so you have to use the remote to navigate to the one you want. Once I got the hang of it (pretty quickly), it turned out to be a pretty cool feature. The "Trivia Track" has tons of fun information, and the Storyboard Comparisons are reasonably interesting, but the "Setups and Payoffs" feature is the best part of this. Since the trilogy is built around its own slightly complex history and mythology, with self-references abounding, it's easy to miss some layers of the story. "Setups and Payoffs" helps fill in a lot of the gaps.
Here's the full rundown of the supplements:
Back to the Future:
Back to the Future Part II:
Back to the Future Part III:
Additionally, there are digital copies of each film on separate discs, as well as BD-Live functionality.
The Back to the Future Trilogy was an excellent DVD, and it's even better on Blu. The films range from "great" to "great fun," the transfers are excellent, and there's enough new supplemental material that this doesn't feel like a retread.
Past, present, or future, this is one great set. If you don't own the Back to the Future Trilogy, this is the way to go; if you own the 2002 set, the improved tech and new supplements are worth the upgrade.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Back To The Future
Perp Profile, Back To The Future
Distinguishing Marks, Back To The Future
Scales of Justice, Back To The Future Part II
Perp Profile, Back To The Future Part II
Distinguishing Marks, Back To The Future Part II
Scales of Justice, Back To The Future Part III
Perp Profile, Back To The Future Part III
Distinguishing Marks, Back To The Future Part III
Review content copyright © 2010 Tom Becker; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.