Back To The Future Trilogy Box Set Review
After a very, very long wait, the Back To The Future trilogy has finally landed onto the shores of DVD. Along with the Indiana Jones and original Star Wars trilogy, the three Robert Zemeckis film have been the most requested of all movie franchises, and fans have been treated to constant delays and false rumours. The first movie Back To The Future went for broke in 1985 with a brilliant concept and assured directing and acting to break box-office records. Four years later, two sequels were produced back-to-back, cementing the classical status of the fondest fusion of teen-comedy and science-fiction to ever hit cinemas, and certainly the eighties. This Region 4 (also encoded for Region 2) Australian box set is the first DVD release of Back To The Future. Even though there are rumours of the Region 1 version including more extras, particularly a Michael J. Fox commentary, this trilogy box set is certainly packed with a mass of quality extras, produced by DVD expert Laurent Bouzereau.
BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
Seventeen-year-old teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is a bright young man despite becoming disinterested in the school system. Tagged a slacker by his principal Mr. Strickland (James Tolkan), Marty would rather hang out with eccentric-genius Doctor Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd), especially considering his father George (Crispin Glover) and mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) are dysfunctional parents harassed by bullying 'friend' Biff Tannen (Thomas Wilson). Aranging to meet with Doc Brown in the middle of the night, Marty finds that the crazy scientist has built himself a time machine out of a DeLorean car, ripping off some Libyan terrorists' plutonium in the process in order to fuel the contraption. When Marty and the Doc are surprise-attacked by the Libyans, Marty escapes in the DeLorean, and inadvertently transports back to the year 1955! Arriving in a time that he had never lived in, Marty causes mayhem in his local town of Hill Valley, and even manages to halt the union of his future mother and father, therefore plunging his own existence into jeopardy. Enlisting the help of a much younger Doc Brown, Marty must both reunite his parents and travel back...to the future.
Back To The Future was a product of the eighties, but it lives on, not because of the wacky visual inventiveness the film possessed in abundance, but because of the values it preaches and its director Robert Zemeckis' belief that the heart of any classic film lies within a brilliant story. As a film, it's jam-packed with ingredients guaranteed to make it an all-time teen classic. Firstly, the lead casting choice of Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly is an inspired one. Fox stepped into the production six weeks after filming began, because Zemeckis and executive producer Steven Spielberg found lead actor Eric Stoltz 'too intense' for the role. Despite being a twenty-four year old playing a seventeen-year-old, Fox is perfectly likeable as Marty; he has a cute grin and an intellectual sense of humour, and yet he doesn't have the brat-pack arrogance so common place amongst eighties' stars such as Tom Cruise, Kiefer Sutherland or Rob Lowe. Fox almost befriends the audience through the use of Marty - he makes you care both about his character and the on-screen predicaments, proving that Fox can easily handle the weight of a blockbuster studio picture on his shoulders. Fortunately, Fox is matched by Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown. Lloyd literally throws such an enormous amount of manic energy into the performance that the character of Doc Brown eclipsed that of any other of Lloyd's previous roles, including Reverend Jim in Taxi. Despite his maniacal persona, Doc Brown represents the only 'cool' adult of Back To The Future, since he exists on Marty's level as opposed to the parental level. The generation gap between Marty and Doc has eroded, and is replaced only by a gap of knowledge and experience. Credit where credit is due, Thomas Wilson is such a frenetic force as bully Biff Tannen, and is such an annoying presence, that he almost flies off the scale and crash lands into memorable territory. The film's main enemy is the dimension of time itself, and so Biff acts as an amusing physical enemy, even if his role in the film is ultimately insignificant in the scale of things. Also, both Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover display fine talent for playing Marty's parents at two different ages, in particular Thompson, who transforms from a young, promiscuous wild-child into an old, bitter mother almost instantly.
Some of Robert Zemeckis' best material has stemmed from his collaborations with Bob Gale, such as the hilarious comedy Used Cars or I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and Back To The Future is another excellent fusion of adventure, humour and warm sensibilities. It's possible the reason the film is so well-received across the generations is down to the way Back To The Future distorts the typical conventions of the teen movie. Usually, teens have all the fun, and are alienated from their parents who have become sucked into the corporate machine and no longer know how to let their hair down. However, Back To The Future is not only a teen movie, but it actually celebrates the parental figure. Marty's parents George and Lorraine are dull, boring and ageing quickly at the film's beginning, but when Marty travels back to 1955 he soon finds out that his parents were just as carefree, promiscuous and fun-loving as Marty's generation. Indeed, when Marty travels back in time it's as if the relationship has reversed, and Marty is now paradoxically the parents to his parents-to-be. This is the beauty of Back To The Future, as by the film's conclusion Marty learns that his parents were just as 'cool' as he is, and deserve much more respect than they are given. Still, as a representation of 'teenagers' in the film, Marty is a brilliant advocate, and he manages to do his generation proud even if the parents of the film are the unsung heroes. The film even has tremendous fun comparing the consumerist culture of the eighties with the diner culture of the fifties, especially with Marty's difficulty with fifties 'language' and practical 'invention' of heavy rock 'n' roll, which leaves fifties' audiences baffled.
All of these excellent traits are testament to Zemeckis and Gale's ability to weave multi-story threads through a film and still render it superficially entertaining to even the most casual observer. Zemeckis directs with a paced energy that seems to flow and diminish at just the right moments for the film. It's as if he identifies both with Marty and the parental generation, and he doesn't tip his hat either way as to who we should favour most. Zemeckis also handles the mumbo-jumbo of the time-travel aspects of the film with superlative ease. The audience has no idea what a Flux Capacitor is, but we trust that Doc Brown knows what it is, and that is acceptable. Furthermore, Zemeckis and Gale's script doesn't linger upon any time paradoxes that are commonplace in any film dealing with time-travel. Because the film doesn't take itself remotely seriously on a technical level, neither do we the audience feel the need to pick technical holes in the plot dynamic of Back To The Future.
Other departments deserve a mention, such as the thrilling and completely rousing score by frequent Zemeckis composer Alan Silvestri, that helps give the film its own catchy theme tune. Also, the visual effects headed by Ken Ralston were spectacular for the day, even if they have been superseded by nearly all major blockbusters ever since. Least (or maybe most) importantly, Huey Lewis & The News' 1985-defining smash hit The Power Of Love earned the band an Oscar nomination and a massive breakthrough hit.
Pleasantly life-affirming, without seeing itself as important in any way, Back To The Future is arguably the greatest teen-movie of the nineteen-eighties, and easily one of the best science-fiction/comedies to ever be produced in Hollywood. Now that Michael J. Fox has dropped from the scene through illness, and Zemeckis has joined the A-list elite through films such as Cast Away and Forrest Gump, it could easily rank as the best film of both men's early careers. The sequels that followed were decent, further adventures into the Back To The Future universe, but as most film series prove, the original is always the best.
Academy Awards 1985
Best Sound Effects Editing - Charles L. Campbell, Robert R. Rutledge
Academy Award Nominations 1985
Best Original Screenplay - Robert Zemeckis, Robert Gale
Best Original Song - "The Power Of Love" Chris Hayes, Johnny Colla, Huey Lewis
Best Sound - Bill Varney, B. Tennyson Sebastian II, Robert Thirlwell, William B. Kaplan
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, the transfer to Back To The Future is excellent, rendering the film fresh and sharply detailed, and easily concealing the film's age of over seventeen years old. Edge enhancement and grain are kept to a bare minimum and tones are fully-realised.
Presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 the mixes are very similar to one another, however on closer inspection the DTS mix carries a stronger mix in terms of surround effects and a more impressive bass tone level. Unfortunately, audiophiles won't consider the DTS mix to be reference level, but it still complements the film wonderfully in terms of its sound presentation.
Menu: A nicely animated menu incorporating clips from the film to serve its main design structure.
Audio Commentary With Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, Hosted By Laurent Bouzereau: Although this audio commentary isn't screen-specific, it is a fascinating track to listen to, primarily because the two commentators Zemeckis and Gale are engaging hosts, and the interviewer Laurent Bouzereau asks some interesting questions. This was filmed in front of a film class audience and so brief laughter can be heard on occasions. Unfortunately, Bouzereau doesn't have the most charismatic delivery, which questions whether he needed to be involved in the commentary, but on the whole it is an excellent commentary, that only suffers by not having any cast members involved.
The Making Of Back To The Future: This is an original 1985 featurette that lasts for fourteen minutes and is presented in grainy fullscreen. It features interviews with the cast and crew, including executive producer Steven Spielberg, and is fascinating to watch considering it lacks any benefit of hindsight. Some of the behind-the-scenes footage goes further than most promotional featurettes, and as a relic of the mid-eighties this is a worthy extra.
Making The Trilogy: Chapter 1: Lasting for fifteen minutes, this is the first of three parts of a retrospective documentary produced by Laurent Bouzereau and featuring good interviews with the main cast and crew members, such as Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale and Michael J. Fox. Most of the information produced here is replicated in the audio commentary, but on the whole this is a concise and enjoyable featurette.
Outtakes: This is a three-minute reel of outtakes culled from the first film's footage, and is quite funny if not exceptionally hilarious.
Deleted Scenes: This is a reel of nearly nine minutes of deleted scenes that prove to be compelling viewing. The highlights include an extended version of the scene in which Marty pretends to be an alien in order to convince George McFly to ask Lorraine to the prom, and a scene in which the 1955-version of Doc Brown is baffled by the concept of a hairdryer. Sadly, no footage featuring Eric Stoltz's brief stint as Marty McFly is included. Presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Did You Know That? Universal Animated Anecdotes: Similar to Michael Okuda's text commentaries on Star Trek, this is an anecdotal textual fact-pack that appears sporadically throughout the screen if you wish it, and serves as an interesting and trivial guide to the universe of the Back To The Future trilogy.
Original Makeup Tests: This is a couple of minutes worth of makeup tests featuring Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Thomas Wilson.
Storyboards To Final Feature Comparisons: Two of the film's sequences are presented in split-screen, so that you can compare the final screen version with the original illustrated storyboards. The two sequences are Skateboard Chase and Clock Tower Sequence.
Production Archives: This is sub-divided into four sections. The Marty McFly Photo Album is a collection of promotional stills taken of the film's characters. The Behind-The-Scenes Photographs is a collection of more stills with the emphasis on the crew and their behind-the-scenes efforts. The DeLorean Designs is a collection of still designs of the various DeLorean time machines. Finally, Time Travel Designs is an interesting illustration of the many artwork designs that went into creating the visual look to the time-travel transition effect of the film.
Theatrical Trailer: This is a truly fascinating trailer, as it features extensive Nike product placement and is comprised completely of footage that never made the film. It's backed with terrible hi-octane eighties synthesiser music and looks more like an episode of Street Hawk. Presented in fullscreen.
An all-time classic teen movie is given a brilliant treatment in terms of picture and sound and certainly in terms of extras. It was a long wait, but the treatment of Back To The Future suggests that it was clearly worth it.
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (1989)
Because the original Back To The Future contained a tacked-on To-Be-Continued epilogue that blatantly set-up a sequel, Back To The Future Part II was one of the most anticipated sequels between 1985 and 1989. The film, shot back-to-back with Back To The Future Part III, took four years to reach its anxious audience. Because Back To The Future established its origins in the past, it was evident that Back To The Future Part II would take Marty and Doc Brown into the future, and on that note it didn't disappoint. However, whilst the film was a futuristic novelty when it was released in 1989, it has fallen prey to its own age, and is now heavily dated.
The story tells of Doc Brown, travelling back from his future holiday to the year 2015 to warn Marty that his future marriage to sweetheart Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) hits a barren patch when their future kids fall on the wrong side of the law. Taking Marty and Jennifer into the future via the DeLorean time-machine, Marty and Doc try and save events by altering the timeline for the better. However, the pair end up causing time-travel carnage when an old, 2015-version of Biff Tannen travels back to his 1955-self and gives him a sports almanac containing the winners of every sporting event. This therefore earns Biff millions in betting, and once again alters Marty's parents George and Lorraine's chances of meeting in 1955 because Biff has his eye on Lorraine.
The plot is convoluted, and doesn't stay in one time-zone quick enough for the audience to grab their barings, but Back To The Future Part II is still a very enjoyable sequel, even if it lacks the delicate wit and charm of the original. The problem with the film is that it ultimately breaks one of the rules it preaches in the first film, that a man's destiny should not be altered. Yet this rule seems to have been left buried in the year 1955, as even Doc seems committed to the idea of helping Marty's future children. Surely the crazy freaky-haired scientist could have thought of a more worthwhile cause to support with such a fantastic invention?
Because Back To The Future Part II is far more ambitious compared to the original, the film's audacious visual effects are prone to being exposed as inferior compared to the commonplace of today's CGI. Indeed, some of the visionary concepts the film prophesises, have been greatly superseded by the digital era heralded by such glorious inventions as the Internet. This isn't the film's fault, but it does strip its value down a few levels of worthiness. As opposed to being an outgoing futuristic prediction of the way the Western world was headed, Back To The Future Part II is now nothing more than another fictional world of an alternative future that we have mostly avoided. Granted, there are still a few years to go before 2015.
In the four years since the original Back To The Future, Michael J. Fox seems to have aged slightly, and he seems to have outgrown his seventeen-year-old teenage persona and instead moved into the young-hotshot-adult market, no doubt fuelled by films such as Bright Lights, Big City and Casualties Of War. Still, Fox has fun playing his own kids, especially as one of them is a girl! Christopher Lloyd is his usual dependable self, and Thomas Wilson does a fine job in playing the different versions of Biff Tannen, and there seems to be a consistent bullying streak in each one. Elisabeth Shue replaces the original casting choice of Claudia Wells as Marty's girlfriend Jennifer, and she is a deliberately annoying hanger-on to Marty and Doc's schemes, and Shue turns in a decent performance, making it hard to notice that she wasn't in the original.
As a middle segment, Back To The Future Part II sits comfortably among the other two, even if it lacks a suitable beginning or an ending, in terms of narrative plot cohesion as a film in its own right. It's a dated, wacky ride that many will enjoy, and it serves up Part III brilliantly, which is all that is required.
Academy Awards 1989
Academy Award Nominations 1989
Best Visual Effects - Ken Ralston, Michael Lantieri, John Bell, Steve Gawley
Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, the transfer for Back To The Future Part II does wonders for the film as it possesses a bright exterior that the original theatrical presentation lacked. Originally, colours were gloomy and saturated but on DVD they are restored to their original primary tones, and the result is very satisfying.
Like each of the films in this DVD trilogy, the sound comes in both a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix and a DTS 5.1 mix, and both are very similar other than the DTS' more effective use of bass frequencies. Both mixes possess a powerful and dynamic anthology of sound events and spatial channelling, although the rears aren't used as extensively as one would hope.
Menu: An exciting menu that utilises clips from the film to fuel its interface.
Back To The Future Part II Featurette: This is an original 1989 featurette that lasts for six minutes and is nothing more than an extended trailer for the film mixed with some behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew.
Making The Trilogy: Chapter 2: The second part of Laurent Bouzereau's retrospective documentary focuses on the second film and lasts for fifteen minutes. It's interesting to note how Zemeckis and Gale refute claims that they always intended Back To The Future to be a franchise, even if the ending to Part I seems very suspicious indeed. Thankfully, Gale and Zemeckis discuss why Crispin Glover wasn't involved in the production this time around, and also how difficult the film was to script sufficiently, because of the many interweaving time-lines.
Outtakes: This is clearly the lamest collection of outtakes of the trilogy and only lasts for a few seconds, and are also presented in quite a gloomy visual level.
Deleted Scenes: Three minutes worth of deleted scenes are included, with the highlight being a deleted sequence that shows the 2015-version of Biff Tannen accidentally erasing his own existence through his time-travel exploits. Presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Hoverboard Test: This is a one-minute collection of silent test footage for the film's memorable 'Hoverboard' sequences.
Storyboards To Final Feature Comparisons: The Marty On The Hoverboard sequence is presented in split-screen, so that the viewer can compare the final screen version with the original illustrated storyboards by David Jonas.
Production Archives: This is sub-divided into four sections. The Marty McFly Photo Album is a collection of promotional stills taken of the film's characters. The Behind-The-Scenes Photographs is a collection of more stills with the emphasis on the crew and their behind-the-scenes efforts. Futuristic Designs is a nifty collection of still designs of futuristic props and set locations. Finally, Vehicles Of The Future is a collection of design art and photo stills of the various futuristic vehicles used in the film.
Theatrical Trailer: The theatrical trailer annoyingly presented in fullscreen is included, and is quite a good summary of the film's merits.
Both the film itself and the extras department suffer in comparison to Part I. However, Back To The Future Part II is still given a decent DVD package when considering the fact that it is a sequel, and most of the extras will have focused on the first film. The biggest sadness is the lack of a commentary, but apart from this, it's a fine middle segment.
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III (1990)
The final part of the Back To The Future trilogy takes place in a leftfield setting, the wild west of 1885, and yet it still manages to finish off the series with an inspired mixture of comedy, science-fiction and closure. Shot back-to-back with Part II, the film garnered better critical reception compared to its immediate predecessor, but still left the original movie's reputation as the best Back To The Future chapter intact.
Because the pair's antics saw Doc Brown stranded in 1885, Marty, with the help of the 1955 version of Doc, launches himself back in time to rescue his scientist pal, and becomes stuck there when the DeLorean machine suffers a petroleum leak. To make matters worse, Marty has learned that Doc will be killed in less than a week's time, because he has angered local town cowboy bully Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, ancestor of Biff Tannen. Also, Doc has found a love interest, in stargazing schoolteacher Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen).
After the two time-periods of 1955 and 1985 were flogged to death in the first two films of the series, its refreshing to have completely new locations for Back To The Future Part III. As a sort-of western, the film works remarkably well on its own terms, effectively balancing stereotypical movie westerns with a sense of revisionist realism, ensuring that the film looks the part of the old-west and yet still can be incorporated smoothly into the Back To The Future trilogy. Yes, it can be argued that the plot has strayed into silly territories, even more so than the first two, and yet because of the absurd antics that Marty and Doc immerse themselves in we fully believe that the timeline could be so heavily distorted purely because of their actions. It's hilarious that Marty feels forced into a showdown with "Mad Dog" purely because he pretends that his name is Clint Eastwood, and if he chickens out Eastwood's name will be dirt. This is the sort of inspired alternative comedy that makes the trilogy of Back To The Future a clear winner.
For once, the cinematography stands out in a Back To The Future film. Dean Cunday's photography gives the film a stunning natural vista for the old-west location, and the blue skies of 1885 Hill Valley act as a decent tourist advertisement for Utah's Monument Valley. Even the wooden-based production design by Rick Carter gives the film a distinctly characteristic look, and suggests that Part III allows the crew of Back To The Future to flex their creative muscles.
By now, the performances by Fox and Lloyd are so slick they coast on autopilot, but Thomas Wilson continues to impress as Biff's ancestor Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, reducing the bully to a dumb brute that is menacing purely because of his immense stupidity. Mary Steenburgen enters the scene as the new love interest, and she performs admirably in support of the two leads.
If only to slightly criticise, Back To The Future Part III in its efforts to place itself in the wild-west era manages to sometimes find itself amongst the City Slickers mould of conventional comedy. Also, it could easily lose the technophiles it amassed after the first two films due to its carefree abandon of non-stop time displacement that was previously so common place.
But still, as a 'conclusion' to the Back To The Future saga, Part III is the perfect touch. It evolves the personal storylines of Doc and Marty and it manages to throw enough leftfield devices into the plot to ensure the film as a western is still invigorating. Fans would dearly love more segments to the saga, but as a trilogy this is unbeatable for family entertainment.
Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, the PAL transfer is very good, with an impressive clarity-packed image and a very sharp level of detail. Artefacts and grain are generally lacking, and the colour tones are vibrant, suggesting that this is the best transfer of the series, due primarily to the film being the most 'visual' of the three.
Presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS mixes, there is only a slight improvement on the DTS mix, mainly in terms of a richer bass level. The sound events and dialogue are given excellent treatment in both mixes, with a good use of spatial channelling and a brilliant swirling of Alan Silvestri's memorable score. On the whole, both mixes complement the film admirably.
Menu: A nicely animated menu that incorporates clips from the film to form the basis of the menu system.
Making The Trilogy: Chapter 3: The third part of the Laurent Bouzereau documentary unsurprisingly concentrates on the making of Back To The Future Part III and lasts sixteen minutes. Featuring interviews primarily with Zemeckis, Gale and Fox, the focus centres on the difficulties of shooting the two sequels back to back and how Part III was seen as a refreshing and liberating retread compared to the techno-babble of the first two films. It's interesting to watch from beginning to end, and is a slick, well-made featurette that incorporates film clips and behind-the-scenes footage effectively.
Outtakes: A brief, minute-and-a-half collection of outtakes from the film, mildly amusing and presented in a grainy, somewhat sepia tinted quality. Presented in fullscreen.
Deleted Scenes: There is one deleted scene included here, and it involves Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen involved in a stand-off with Marshall Strickland, that ends tragically for the Marshall. Presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Storyboards To Final Feature Comparisons: Three of the film's sequences are presented in split-screen, so that you can compare the final screen version with the original storyboards illustrated by Marty Kline. The three sequences are The Indians, Showdown At Hill Valley and Final Train Sequence.
Production Archives: This is sub-divided into four sections. The Marty McFly Photo Album is a collection of promotional stills taken of the film's characters. The Behind-The-Scenes Photographs is a collection of more stills with the emphasis on the crew and their behind-the-scenes efforts. Production Designs is a collection of still designs of props and set locations. Finally, The Trilogy: Poster Concepts is a good collection of different poster concepts and artwork from the three films of the series.
ZZ Top's 'Doubleback' - Music Video: The music video is presented here to ZZ Top's 'Doubleback' song that tied-in with the film's soundtrack. Surprisingly, the inclusion of the band in Back To The Future Part III dates the film to the early nineties more than any other item, and in hindsight was a slight faux pas. Presented in fullscreen.
Theatrical Trailer: This is annoyingly presented in fullscreen and seems to sound slightly lacking, as if the music track for the trailer has been accidentally forgotten about.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial DVD Trailer: A trailer for the upcoming release of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial on DVD.
Back To The Future Part III is given a similar DVD release to that of Part II which basically means that the film presentation is fine, and the extras are also good, but lack an-depth focus such as a commentary. Still, the package is consistent with the level of quality associated with this DVD box set, and fans will not be disappointed.
Packaging: The three discs are housed in a cardboard/plastic Digipak packaging, that are in turn kept in place by a strong cardboard dustcover. A short fold-out booklet is also included that contains some brief production notes.
Considering the very low retail price, and the exceptional depth of extra features and feature film presentation quality, this box set is genuinely one that most will consider top priority in terms of purchasing. Nearly six hours of cinematic enjoyment, coupled with almost double that length in terms of extra features, ensures that the Back To The Future trilogy is a set to treasure far into the year 2015 and beyond, even if the Region 1 is rumoured to contain more extras.
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