Back to the Future

Back to the Future – The Complete Trilogy on Blu-ray

Finally, Robert Zemeckis’ terrific time travel tales are available on Blu-ray – and as a bonus, Universal Home Video has put all three movies into one deluxe set that gathers the McFly family together in a single box.

It all started in 1985, when Zemeckis and co-writer/producer Bob Gale unleashed the first of what eventually became a trilogy. It's the story of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox, who’s terrific in the role), a typical Eighties teen who’s whisked back to the past when he tries to escape being gunned down by terrorists, making his escape by driving off in his friend’s car-mounted time machine.

Marty arrives in 1955, when his parents were his age, and accidentally changes the timeline so that his “present” in 1985 begins to unravel. He has to repair the damage to ensure his own survival, which in this case means he has to act as matchmaker for his mother-and-father-to-be.

Aided by the younger version of his inventor friend Doc Brown (magnificently played in a most satifsying larger than life way by Christopher Lloyd) Marty also has to figure out how to power the futuristic time machine so he can return “back to the future.”

Along the way there’s some great humor as eighties culture clashes with fifties nostalgia, son comes into contact with future parents, and the phrase “whatever goes around comes around” is brought to life with joy and humor.

Besides Fox and Lloyd, Lea Thompson turns in a wonderful performance as Marty’s mother past and future (or is it present?); Crispin Glover is also good as the father/to be – and Thomas F. Wilson has a wonderful time chewing the scenery as Biff, the past, present and future bully.

Part II is, as happens with middle sections of a trilogy, the darkest of the three. It’s also the most imaginative, however, and offers some wonderful time travel paradoxes as well as great humor and a chance to see Marty watching his own actions from the first movie. Fans of time travel stories will love how the writers have played around with time travel paradoxes here!

All the major cast members are back, except for Glover (and his presence isn’t missed), and the result is one of the best time travel movies of all time. In fact, the entire trilogy belongs in time travel film buffs’ libraries because of the intelligent – yet hilarious – way they deal with time travel issues.

The movie picks up seconds before Part One ends, with Doc Brown (Lloyd) returning to 1985 to take Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer (played this time by Elisabeth Shue instead of Claudia Wells) with him “Back to the Future” because of some problem involving their as yet unborn kids.

They jump ahead 30 years, to a high tech 2015 where cars can fly and skateboards can hover – and 80’s nostalgia is rampant. Big screen, multiple picture TV’s and fax machines are the norm (how could they have known that faxes would already be virtually obsolete by the time the movies premiered on BLu-ray?), clothes are powered and movies are holographic.

And Michael J. Fox gets to play “normal” Marty, older Marty, and his own son and daughter, and he does a good job (and, as with everyone else, seems to be having a good time).

They accomplish what they set out to do, but when they return to 1985 it becomes obvious that something has gone horribly wrong because their 1985 present no longer exists. Instead, the Hill Valley of that “present” is a horrible place dominated by Biff, the richest and luckiest man around.

This sends them back to 1955 again to fix the damage caused when 2015 Biff borrowed the time machine, where they not only run into their past selves again but Marty also has to avoid his own current self from its trip back to the past in the first Back to the Future.

Confused? Good. But it all becomes plain with very funny results. In the end, Marty’s ready to head back to the future (his 1985 from the end of the first movie) but another fly is put into the ointment and he’s faced with another trip to the past – this time to the 1885 old West where Doc has landed after a time machine accident.

This leads us (and the same cast!) to Back to the Future Part III, perhaps the weakest of the three but not much less fun. Here, Marty takes the Delorean back to 1885 to rescue Doc from being killed by the old West’s version of Biff.

Doc’s the local blacksmith, where he can continue dabbling with science on the side, unnoticed, and Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen (Wilson) is the tough gunslinger who terrorizes the town. Marty (a.k.a. Clint Eastwood) rubs him the wrong way and has a date with destiny in a gunfight scheduled to take place about the same time as his and Doc’s planned departure Back to the Future (the 1985 future) in the refurbished time machine.

Along the way there’s a quite believable love interest (well played by Mary Steenburgen), plenty of the type of “time paradox” and “culture clash” humor we saw in the other movies. In all, it’s a fitting and highly entertaining end to the trilogy.

Any of these movies are worth owning, and it’s nice to see Universal’s marketing department see fit to offer all three at once.

The Blu-rays are, not surprisingly, the best video versions of the trilogy yet, with overall picture quality excellent for all three films. The first installment isn't as good as Parts II and III, however, exhibiting more grain than its sequels and with an overall "flatter" picture that's less dynamic. That said, what grain there is on all three movies isn’t bad, and is intermittent, so that overall the picture quality is excellent. Colors are rich and deep and the overall viewing experience is very satisfying.

All films are presented in 1080p at a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, leaving tiny black bars above and below the 16x9 TV screen. The most problem comes during the special effects scenes, of which there are plenty, thanks undoubtedly to the old fashioned special effects technology that predated today's CGI extravaganzas.

But colors are bright and robust in all three of the films, with a definite improvement on parts two and three, which were shot back to back.

Audio is dts HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and it’s as good as you couldd expect from films of this vintage - not particularly old but toward the end of the analog recording age - better, in fact. The dynamic range is full and, well, dynamic, and while there isn't as much surround as we hoped for, there are plenty of sections that immerse you in the soundtrack well. Dialogue is always discernable, the music comes through great, and the sound effects are balanced very well.

Universal has really piled on the extras, too, including adding most of the extras that were on the DVD trilogy boxed set they released several years ago. There's plenty of new stuff, too, including Universal's "U Control" thingy that consists mostly of text-based stuff including "Setups and Payoffs," (how plot points are prepared and referenced later), "Storyboard Comparison" and a trivia track.

Tales From The Future is a terrific six part documentary, in HD, that offers peeks into more aspects of the films than you might think it has, from its orginal development through the eventual release. The Physics of 'Back to the Future' is a fascinating (but too short) discussion about how the films got the science of time travel right for the most part, while the "Nuclear Test Site Ending Storyboard Sequence" is an interesting look at how they planed to end the original movie (with optional commentary by Bob Gale). Back to the Future Night, hosted by Leslie Nielsen, is an old NBC feature that ran before the initial film's first TV broadcast.

There's also a selection of deleted scenes, with optional commentary, a Q&A session with Michael J. Fox and sometimes very funny Q & A Commentaries with the Bobs (Zemeckis and Gale), where they hang out at USC and opine about the films. They're very worthwhile and entertaining.

You also get more conventional Feature Commentaries, with Bob Gale and co-producer Neil Canton, which are also very interesting and informative.

And there's plenty more, including some older documentaries on the films, including an abundance on the making of the trilogy and The Secrets of the 'Back to the Future' Trilogy, hosted by Kirk Cameron. There are also behind the scenes looks at Original Make-up Tests, Outtakes, production design, storyboarding, design, and more.

Huey Lewis and the News is along with their music video of "Power of Love" from the first film, and ZZ Top performs "DoubleBack" from the third.

In all, it's a terrific Blu-ray set that does justice to these classic sci-fi comedies.

Now how about if George Lucas allows another two great modern sci-fi/adventure movie trilogies (Star Wars and Indiana Jones) to be given a similar loving treatment on Blu-ray?

The Back to the Future 25th Anniversary Trilogy on Blu-ray, from Universal Home Video
Approximately 350 min. 1080p widescreen (1.85:1 dts HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson
Produced by Bob Gail and Neil Canton
Directed by Robert Zemeckis.

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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