I love the first Back to the Future but had no desire to watch the two sequels since seeing them in the movie theater 20 years ago. I watched Part II and Part III for the first time after getting the 25th anniversary Blu-ray set. I still don’t think much of the sequels, but man o’ man, this is one awesome set.
While often on lists of the best movie trilogy of all time, the Back to the Future films are really one great movie saddled with inferior sequels. The first Back to the Future, from 1985, was a truly fun, enjoyable, well-made movie, mixing science fiction, humor, and cultural tweaking along with a star making performance by Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and a perfectly cast Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown. The time travel idea of sending 1985 teen McFly to help his parents get together in 1955 was a stroke of genius. Then, with cash registers ringing in everyone’s head, director/writer Robert Zemeckis put the old DeLorean time machine through it’s paces to 2015, back to 1955, and way back to 1855, in Part II (1989) and Part III (1990) with a increasingly aging Fox trying gamely to be a teenager yielding some very mixed results.
The first movie was impressive for the way it made science fiction accessible to almost any age or interest group. While there was some sci-geek stuff in the story of a crazed scientist, Lloyd’s Brown, who invents a time machine out of a DeLorean automobile, spare parts, a flux capacitor, and some stolen plutonium, its appeal wasn’t limited to that somewhat isolated fan base. Instead, everyone got something out of it, and still do. The younger viewer enjoys the action and humor that still (mostly) holds up to this day, along with a could-not-be-more-appealing hero in Fox’s Marty. Older viewers enjoy the idea of going back and seeing mistakes in the past that can be corrected and the very old get to remember the good old days. The movie was a smorgasbord of everything and it just works when linked together in some decent if creaky special effects and a truly clever story by Zemeckis and co-writer/producer Bob Gale.
Fox and Lloyd anchored the cast, but the first film also introduced a fantastic performances by Thomas F. Wilson as the bully Biff, and Lea Thompson as Marty’s mother Lorraine. Both versions of Lorraine, the moralizing, alcoholic middle aged mother and horny teen are great to watch. Both supporting performances, however, pale when compared to the bizarre Crispin Glover acting bizarrely as George McFly. He’s just a weird guy but somehow he gives a jaw dropping performance as both the older man and the teen wimp who finally breaks out of his Biff bullied shell.
Glover’s absence is not the main problem with Part II, it could have been easily glossed over or better recast (after all, they replaced Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer with Elizabeth Shue in the sequel and no one really cared), but the script, frankly, sucked. Not only is the idea that Marty must go to 2015 to “do something about your kids” not the real story in Part II, but the actual story devised by Gale and Zemeckis is dark, fragmented, and overly confusing, even for a time travel movie.
The third act of Part II has Marty heading back to 1955 and watching his activities from the first movie from another perspective, and it’s one of those “it’s so crazy, it just might work” ideas, but in order to get there we have to sit through the very derivative 2015 sequences, including the never good idea of casting Fox as both his son and daughter (note to filmmakers, having one person play a whole family is NEVER funny.) Watching McFly skateboard around the town square chased by Biff and friends was funny and exciting, watching McFly hoverboard around the town square chased by Griff and friends is… not so much.
However, that part is a laugh riot compared to the middle section, showing an alternate 1985 universe where Biff is the town big shot and everything is a bad parody of the alternate universe Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life. While Wilson’s aged Biff is still interesting to watch, the rest is just too depressing and yucky, it stops the whole movie cold and by the time we get back to 1955 it’s too confusing to get us all the way back. Worse, the whole plot idea of having Doc Brown, who constantly lectures Marty on not disrupting things and changing the future, have Marty come to 2015 to do just that makes no sense.
The ship, train, car, or whatever gets a bit more upright in Part III, which takes place primarily in 1885. However, it’s also a love story between Doc and Clara (Mary Steenburgen) and while that’s cutesy, it does push Marty more to the side. Part II feels more like Marty’s movie, while the nearly concurrently shot Part III is more Doc’s story. The old standby of having Biff’s great-grandfather Buford Tannen as the main nemesis keeps some continuity and the tone is a bit lighter and more fun, thought it’s almost too lightweight. Still, the battle to get the locomotive moving so the DeLorean can get up to 88 and get everyone back to 1985 reminds you of how exciting the electrical storm and the clock tower were.
The whole trilogy works as a long sci-fi/comedy/action blast but not as well as it could have if the stories of the sequels matched those of the original. Also, the original can be watched as a great stand-alone movie while the following two don’t necessarily stand up well to individual viewing. Stick to the first, with occasional viewings of the second and third to see how jokes and payoffs play out over the whole series. Also, watch how the nearly 30 year old Fox never really seems like a teen after the first movie.
Regardless of your interest or lack thereof in the sequels, this 25th Anniversary Trilogy on Blu-ray is a must have. It presents the movies in a beautiful, sharp HD set loaded, loaded I tells ya, with extras and cool features. If you have any interest in even just the first movie, then this set is worth picking up, if for nothing else than the awesome way it looks in Blu-ray high definition. As a bonus, each movie has a limited time (I think a year, but it’s not clear) digital copy for your portable media player. But there is so, so much more.
Each movie contains two commentary tracks. One features writer/producer Bob Gale and producer Neil Canton. Gale dominates the track in such a way that when Canton throws in the odd answer to one of his questions, you’re surprised, since you forgot there was anyone else participating. Gale is a fount of information and remembers things that happened more than 20 years ago surprisingly well, but a lot of the stuff is presented in a fairly boring way. More interesting by far is the “Q&A Commentary” with Gale and Zemeckis. It features questions from some of the disc’s producers that were asked to the pair while at some film school appearance and their answers, which play over the movie. While the questions and answers don’t always match up very well to film, the stories and information imparted are fantastic and interesting. Of the two, it’s definitely the commentary to listen to first.
The disc contains “behind-the-scenes” featurettes from three periods. The all new six part set called “Tales from the Future” is in HD and was shot specifically for this release. The second is a three part “Making the Trilogy”, which seems to be a holdover from the previous DVD release and another three parter called “The Making Of” which seems to be contemporaneous with the release of the actual movies. All three sets of “behind-the-scenes” featurettes are worth checking out and the older ones are kinda funny if only to see the somewhat lower production values for this type of thing back in 1985 or 1989. Plus, since you are seeing all the same cast and crew being interviewed, observing the aging process is interesting. The most recent set, which totals a little over two hours, is the most encompassing and has the widest view, including the overall impact of the movie on culture and the participants. It also shows rare scenes of the original Marty, Eric Stoltz, who was dropped after filming began and replaced with the creators’ original first choice, Fox.
If the commentaries and the “behind-the-scenes” featurettes don’t impart enough information, there is a U-Control feature that has three separate features for use while you watch the film. Each item features little popups that play during the movie and give you more info on what’s there. There is a trivia track, which is what you think it is. There is a “setups and payoffs” which ties things together from previous or future films or within the same film. Like comments made by characters to continue throughout the trilogy. Finally, there is a view of storyboard along with the actual completed scenes. This is a cool “Pop Up Video” kinda feature, although the writers are sometimes obvious and not particularly witty when it comes to imparting this information.
Each disc typically contains the extras related to that particular movie. Deleted scenes are available for all three films and total about 17 minutes. Bob Gale provides commentary on the deleted scenes and some of the scenes supplement information from the movies which wasn’t clearly explained. For some reason, Part III only had one deleted scene while the first movie has eight. There are also outtakes from each movie, but they only last about three minutes total.
In addition to the “behind-the-scenes” featurettes, which cover tons of material, there are some shorter featurettes that last less than five minutes each and cover things like town design, makeup tests, visual effects shots, storyboards, and a storyboard of the original ending to the first movie. These are much less polished than the other featurettes, and sometimes don’t include any sound. While they are repetitive, there are two very funny featurettes done at the time of the release of the movies, “Back to the Future Night” and “The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy.” Each lasting about 20 minutes, they are television specials from the era, one hosted by Leslie Neilsen and the other by Kirk Cameron, used as advertisements about the upcoming films, Part II and Part III. If for nothing else, they have some heavy nostalgia value and cheese factor.
The rest of the discs have things like music videos (for “The Power of Love” and “Doubleback”), trailers, a short on how the physics of the movies are possible (in some ways), scads of photo galleries with all kinds of stuff that will take you hours to go through, and an extensive video on the theme park ride based on the film. That one’s a very popular to watch around my home. Not sure why people like watching a theme park ride in their living room, but they seem to. There’s also a surprisingly detailed FAQ about many of the seeming contradictions or poorly explained aspects of time travel in the movie. The explanations are interesting to read because they do make some sense and also give you an insight on the movies you might not get from just watching. I’ll never look at old Biff’s seeming heart attack in Part II the same way again.
There’s a serious effort here to make this Blu-ray a worthwhile upgrade, even for people who have previous DVD sets of the trilogy and don’t care about HD. A lot of time went into putting together this set and it’s paid off in a big way. Not including the photo galleries and commentary tracks, there are easily six to seven hours of extra material included, in addition to the movies. Whether or not you think the two sequels are that great you’ll love this set, pricey though it is.