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Back to the FutureBack to the Future – The Complete Trilogy on DVD

Finally, Robert Zemeckis’ terrific time travel tales are available on DVD – and as a bonus Universal Home Video has put all three movies into one deluxe set that’s priced right.

On the downside, they’ve also inflicted separate Pan&Scan and widescreen versions onto the public, and the labeling is such that you have to turn the box around and look at some fairly small print on the top right corner of the rear (above the UPC code) to see which version’s which.

We mention this because, as outlined here, this ugly trend toward putting the versions out separately could come back to bite you down the road if you buy the Pan&Scan version because when you buy a widescreen TV you’ll be disappointed. We’ll mention a little more about this later in this review.

That said, other than that aspect ratio kerfuffle, this deluxe set is wonderful and a fitting way to own all three of these classic sci-fi comedies.

It all started in 1985, when Zemeckis and co-writer/producer Bob Gale unleashed the first of the trilogy. 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 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 era so that his “present” of 1985 begins to unravel. He has to repair the damage to ensure his own future, which means he has to act as matchmaker for his mother-and-father-to-be.

He, aided by the younger version of his inventor friend Doc Brown (magnificently played larger than life by Christopher Lloyd) 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; Crispin Glover is also good as the father/to be – and Thomas F. Wilson has a good time 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.

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 DVD?), 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 have 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. 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 again) to Back to the Future Part III, perhaps the weakest of the three but no 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 conflict” and “culture clash” humor we saw in Part One. It’s a fitting and highly entertaining end to the trilogy.

Any of these movies are worth owning, and it’s a tribute to Universal’s marketing department that they saw fit to offer all three at once and priced it low enough to tempt people into shelling out for the set.

As mentioned, the set is available in either anamorphic widescreen or Pan&Scan and the films have been remastered for the DVD release.

Alas, we were sent the damn Pan&Scan version, so had to watch the trilogy stretch/zoomed on our 16x9 reference rear projection TV. We borrowed a widescreen version from a friend, however, so we could properly judge the picture quality and our comments reflect that version since the Pan&Scan one loses resolution during the stretch/zooming process.

The overall picture quality of all three films is excellent, though Parts II and III are better than I, which exhibits more grain than its sequels. 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 if you have the right aspect ratio is very satisfying.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it’s fine. There isn’t a lot of surround, but where they’ve used it they’ve used it very well. It’s mostly used for ambient effects (for instance the high school dance surrounds you with sound and is very lifelike), though not exclusively and, while we’d have liked to experience more surround we can’t complain about what we’ve been given. Audio quality is very good, about as good as one can expect from pre-digital.

Universal has really piled on the extras, too, including a running commentary with producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton for each film. There’s also Q&A with Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, a “making of” feature for each film and a “Making the trilogy” featurette for each chapter.

There’s plenty more, too, including conversations with Michael J. Fox, outtakes, special effects info and "Animated Anecdotes" a viewing option that includes some 150 facts and trivia notes accessible during the films. You also get deleted scenes, interviews, production notes, a “Hoverboard test, interactive production archive, music videos (Huey Lewis and the News and ZZ Top), screen tests and plenty more, including DVD ROM features that include the original screenplays.

In all, a terrific set that really does justice to these soon-to-be classic movies.

Now why can’t George Lucas allow the other two great modern movie trilogies (Star Wars and Indiana Jones) to be given a similar loving treatment on DVD?

The Back to the Future Trilogy on DVD, from Universal Home Video
Approximately 350 min. (4x3) Pan&Scan (not 16x9 TV compatible) or anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible (SOLD SEPARATELY), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson
Produced by Bob Gail and Neil Canton
Written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (Part One), Bob Gale (Parts II and III), Directed by Robert Zemeckis.


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Updated March 7, 2019