Back to the Future is a catalog perennial. It’s the sort of film that people like having as an anchor in a collection, and for Blu-ray enthusiasts, the release of the trilogy means that their collection is starting to have a number of the go-to titles. Back to Future stars Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, who along with Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown goes to 1955, 1985, 2015, and eventually 1885 in their time traveling journey through the past, present and future of Hill Valley, California. In it, Marty helps his father George (Crispin Glover) and Loraine (Lea Thompson) fall in love, defeat Biff (George F. Wilson) in his numerous iterations, and learn something about life, or something. There’s no denying that the first film is a crackerjack piece of entertainment, and that both sequels have their plusses (and minuses). My review of the Back to the Future Trilogy on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
The bottom line: Universal added enough additional content to make this worth an upgrade, and the transfers are slightly better than all previous versions. This isn’t a quantum leap, but it’s a nice half-step upgrade. Perhaps these films have been talked out, but the most revelatory thing here is the footage of Eric Stoltz as Marty.
The first film is pretty much perfect, and an example of how to engineer a film. Marty lives with his depressing parents in 1985, where his father is still bullied as an adult by Biff. Doc Brown has made a time machine out of a Delorean, but in getting the plutonium he needed to fuel it he pissed of some terrorists. Such leads Marty into 1955, where he gets to interact with his parents, and interferes with their original courtship. So his mission is to get the two to fall in love and live happily ever after – which is flummoxed by his mother falling for him instead of George.
Devin Faraci has threatened to write about the racial and conservative politics that litter some of the film, and though the idea that Marty helped created rock and roll is fuel (though he doesn’t actually create it, he may have just speeded up the process), what I like about the film is that the parents in the original 1985 are shown as conservative, and with unhealthy attitudes toward sex and sexuality. Marty – in his trip to 1955 – shows that his parents were teenagers as well, and when their courtship comes about through his means, their sexual life and attitudes become healthier. I like thinking about the film in context of Reagan’s America – and that’s partly why the film is so perfect – in that Reagan suggested (as did the culture at the time) that the atomic age family and the 50’s were somehow perfect. Though Zemeckis has little interest in skewering or exposing the underbelly of the culture (he does show the racism, date-rapists etc.), he at least mock the sexual hypocrisy. Regardless of it’s cultural leanings, it’s just great entertainment.
The first sequel starts by going to the future, and though this sequence starts strong, the family sequence (where all of Marty’s kids are played by Michael J. Fox) sags because it creates a character trait in Marty that seems all wrong (this is where the reverse engineering starts to suffer). In the first film, Marty is mostly a tour guide, here they set up the seeds that he too has to better himself. It works okay, but it doesn’t have the pop of the first. But the rest of the film delves into an alternate 1985 where Biff has taken over Hill Valley, to which Doc and Marty must go back to 1955 to stop Biff from giving himself a sports almanac that turned him into the richest man in the world. This leads to Doc and Marty overlapping with their 1955 selves trying to get back to the future. It’s dizzying, but the return is both fun in how it weaves them into the first film’s narrative, but not as satisfying for an audience because they never actually interfere with themselves.
The third film is mostly a western as Marty goes back to 1885 to save Doc from the gun of “Mad Dog” Tannen (Wilson), but it’s there that Doc falls for Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen), a bookish teacher who shares his love of Jules Verne. This one has many of the same beats as the first film but in a western setting, and though the insertion of the first generation Hill Valley McFly’s is sloppy there’s a lot of charm in the courtship of Brown and Clayton. Their late-in-life love raises the film, while – as with all of these films – the end sequence is timed to perfection, with each incident creating a greater escalation in the drama.
And though it’s weird to say, it’s hard not to marvel at the construction of these movies. They’re the cinematic equivalent of Rube Goldberg machines (which exist in the film proper). It’s fun to think about how time travel works, and how it effects or doesn’t change the characters. But with the first film, it’s such a marvel. I mean, how they set up the clock tower and the bolt of lightning is ingenious. The first film is also fascinating at how it sustains its climax, as there’s at least four events that have to happen (George beating up Biff, Marty playing his song, Doc getting the wire connected and Marty getting home), that makes the whole last half hour a series of pay offs. These films may be wedded to the era (and they are by design), but they still play like gangbusters.
The Back to the Future trilogy comes in widescreen (1.85:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround, with each film coming with a digital copy. Though the picture quality isn’t a revelation for any of the movies, it’s noticeably improved over the previous DVD releases, and the surround sound is excellent. Extras for all three include three U-Control features that cover all three films. There’s a trivia track, a “set-ups and Payoffs” track that highlights all of the connective tissue of the film, and storyboard comparisons for key sequences. Also included for all three are Q&A commentaries with writer/producer Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis, and a second set of commentaries with Gale and producer Neil Canton. The second commentary is new for this release.
The first film comes with eight deleted scenes (11 min.) with optional commentary by Bob Gale. “Tales From The Future” is a multi-part documentary with pieces “In the Beginning” (27 min.), “Time to Go” (30 min.), and “Keeping Time“ (6 min.), which covers the film’s production, from the script stage to release and hints at the sequel, with the final piece all about Alan Silvestri and the pop music of the films. They got everyone they could (no Crispin Glover, nor Thomas F. Wilson), but did grab Steven Spielberg, Zemickis and Gale, Michael J. Fox, and Lea Thompson, and Claudia Wells. As has been highlighted before, there is some footage of Eric Stoltz, but if you’ve seen the online clips, you’ve seen it all. Then there’s period stuff, including a “making of“ ( 14 min.) from 1985, and one from 2002 (16 min.), along with “Back to the Future Night” (27 min.) hosted by Leslie Nielsen for a Friday night NBC movie presentation that also offers behind the scenes on the first film and a preview of the second. There’s a Michael J. Fox Q&A (10 miin.) from ’02, original make up tests (2 min.), outtakes (3 min.), and a storyboard sequence for the original ending (4 min.) with optional commentary by Bob Gale. This stuff may have had an influence on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There’s also five photo galleries, a music video from “Power of Love,” the film’s teaser trailer, and an ad to “Join Team Fox” (6 min.), Michael J. Fox’s charity.
Part II starts with seven deleted scenes (6 min.) with optional Gale commentary, and then more of “Tales of the Future.” This time it’s “Time Flies” (29 min.), which covers the entirety of the making of part II, while there’s also “The Physics of Back to the Future with Dr. Michico Kaku” (8 min.) where a scientist fawns over the franchise. There’s an archival making of from 1989 (7 min.) and from 2002 (16 min.). There’s outtakes (1 min.), featurettes on production design (3 min.), storyboarding (2 min.), “Designing the Delorean” (4 min.), “Designing Time Travel” (3 min.), a “Hoverboard Test” (1 min.), “Evolution of Visual Effects Shots” (6 min.), and five photo galleries, and the film’s theatrical trailer.
Part III concludes with a deleted scene (1 min.), and the “Tales from the Future” piece “Third Time’s the Charm” (18 min.), and “Test of Time” (17 min.), which talks to the franchise’s legacy, spin-off’s, and fans who made their own Deloreans. There’s a period making of (8 min.) the 2002 version (15 min.), and “The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy” (21 min.) hosted by Kirk Cameron! Then there’s outtakes (2 min.), “Designing the Town of Hill Valley” (1 min.), “Designing the Campaign” (1 min.) with alternate poster designs, and five photo galleries. Then it’s the “Doubleback” ZZ Top music video, an FAQ about the trilogy, the film’s theatrical trailer, and “Back to the Future: The Ride” (31 min.) presented in its entirety, and in D-Box.