Experience the future all over again with the Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy! Join Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and a time traveling DeLorean for the adventure of a lifetime as they travel to the past, present and future, setting off a time-shattering chain reaction that disrupts the space time continuum! From filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, this unforgettable collection features hours of bonus features and is an unrivaled trilogy that stands the test of time.
There are a few films that I'd consider a big part of my youth. Many of my memories growing up in the 80s involve casual scenes sitting in front of a large Zenith console. You know the ones, with the gaudy wood paneling all around and the stereo speakers on either side. On that, I made countless viewings of 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show,' the first two 'Indiana Jones' movies, 'Grease' and 'Back to the Future.' Of those, the adventure of a teen musician traveling through time was the most awesome thing ever! I couldn't get enough of it. I simply cherished the sci-fi comedy as much as any pre-adolescent boy could. From the story and characters to the look and special effects, 'Back to the Future' was the best movie ever made. Next to 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' of course. And if you asked me to pinpoint the moment I fell in love with movie-magic, this would probably be it.
The concept is deceptively simple, but something most people can easily relate to. Many have probably even imagined it at least once in their lifetime. Producer and co-writer Bob Gale was inspired with the thought after discovering his father's yearbook. What if you could hang out with your parents when they were teenagers and discover they were drastically different from the adults they grew into? He shared the pondering with friend and director Robert Zemeckis. Together, they wrote the screenplay, and with the help of friend Steven Spielberg, 'Back to the Future' was quickly on its way to becoming one of the most beloved movies of the decade. The entire plot revolves around this straightforward, nearly universal idea. And the script is genius in conveying this without making it blatantly obvious, practically perfect in its structure and delivery.
The audience quickly identifies with Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) not only because he's the first character we see, but also for his struggles in school and the way he talks about his parents long before we meet them. He's an average teen with dreams of someday becoming a rock star. His audition for the high school dance is hilarious since Huey Lewis is the dorky-looking judge who tells Marty's band they're too loud. While expressing what a downer the adults are, never encouraging him to pursue his goals, Marty sums up the story's theme wonderfully when he thinks his mother must have been a nun. It's difficult to imagine our boring, square, unhip parents as teenagers or that they knew anything about what's cool, fun, and stylish. The kids of the past were never as lively and rebellious as they are in my generation is the typical mindset.
And therein lies the brilliance of 'Back to the Future.' The skeptical teen accidentally travels back in time to when his parents were of similar age. Although the reasoning behind Marty landing in 1955 is simple arithmetic, the period couldn't be any more ideal because the era essentially gave rise to teenagers, and it's the decade that originated rock 'n' roll. It also coincided with a popular trend of the 80s, of looking back to the 1950s with loving nostalgia. In that sense, the movie almost offers a fun and quirky remembrance of that generation, and the filmmakers throw in numerous cultural gags while Marty tries to repair the timeline he's disrupted in his travels. 'Back to the Future' effectively combines fantasy and science fiction with elements of the teen comedy, creating a remarkably charming and memorable centerpiece of 80s pop culture.
Aside from the captivating story and nostalgia, there is also Zemeckis' underrated and expert control of the camera. And no moment in the movie reveals this better than at the start. During the opening credits, the camera slowly pans across a wall covered in a variety of clocks. We don't know this yet, but we're allowed a sneak peek into both Doc Brown's house and personality. As we continue, we see picture frames of famous scientists, an unkempt bed and gadgets aplenty. The man is an inventor and clearly hasn't been home in a while. A TV newscaster informs us of missing plutonium in connection with Libyan terrorists. The homeowner appears to have a close friendship with a local teen because the boy knows the hidden key is under the doormat. As his skateboard rolls beneath the bed, we discover a yellow case with the words plutonium written on it. In those few minutes, Zemeckis discloses everything needed to set the plot in motion, and he maintains this same level of keen direction throughout the rest of the movie.
Another big part of the film's success is without a doubt the excellent and memorable performances of the cast, especially Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. At the time, Lloyd was an unknown to younger audiences, but everyone knew precisely who the uptight, Young Republican Alex P. Keaton was. Playing against type, Fox is believable and comical in the role, and likely a major reason why many teens flooded theaters. We may not have been familiar with Lloyd when the movie premiered, but today, the actor will forever be remembered for his portrayal of Doc Brown. He's charismatic and amusing, keeping viewers glued to the screen, waiting for whatever bizarre phrase he'll say next. Marty's friendship with the wacky scientist feels oddly genuine and realistic, which is essential for making the entire series work. And the two actors succeed without fault in this department, making us want to see more of their madcap adventures.
Originally, Zemeckis and Gale wanted John Lithgow in the role of the wild-hair scientist, but schedule conflicts made it possible for Lloyd to take over. The same issue arose when the creators wanted to cast Fox, but his commitments to the 'Family Ties' series made it impossible when shooting was to begin. Filmmakers, then, asked Eric Stoltz ('Some Kind of Wonderful') to step in after watching his performance in 'Mask.' After a few weeks of filming, it was decided the young promising actor was simply not right in the part, lacking the kind of comic timing required of the character. In interviews, everyone agreed Stoltz was too dramatic as Marty McFly, so they parted ways amicably. Coincidentally, Fox's schedule became more flexible and was able to star after all. Looking back, one can only imagine what type of movie this could have been. (Movie Rating: 5/5)
For the sequel, that close friendship between Lloyd and Fox remains an integral part of the story as Doc shows sincere concern about Marty and his family's future. The two friends seem to grow closer than ever as they work together in trying to stop Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) from changing the course of history. Tagging along for this second journey in time is Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue), since it also concerns her according to Doc. The gang travels to 2015, five years from now, where the only thing filmmakers predicated accurately is a nostalgia for the 1980s. While Marty succeeds at preventing the mistakes of his children, both played comically by Fox, old Biff steals the DeLorean to give his younger self a financial advantage with the help of a sports almanac. Crashing into an alternate 1985, Doc and Marty must revisit the events of part one and return the timeline to its proper order.
Unlike its predecessor, which took a simple, straightforward approach with the time-traveling aspects, creators Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale expand on the story's sci-fi themes and have some fun with the butterfly effect. This time around, the filmmakers throw fans head-first into the paradoxes of the space-time continuum, however somewhat innocently and ingenuously. Doc and Marty gain first-hand experience that altering the events of history, no matter how small, could cause drastic changes to their present. The Biff character and his family lineage also take on a more prominent role as bullies harassing Marty's family in the past, present, and future. In doing this, the follow-up to the already immensely popular 'Back to the Future' can be enjoyed as an homage of sorts to the science fiction genre and a quirky look at the consequences of time traveling.
Granted, Part II doesn't really live up to the original, but it's still an entertaining continuation. I recall watching the VHS of the first movie with the bold letters "To Be Continued" right before the closing credits and imagining where the two friends would travel next. The sequel didn't quite satisfy expectations, but it's still fun envisioning 30 years into the future, plunging into an alternate reality and then forced back to 1955. So as to not mistakenly feel like a cop out in revisiting the first movie, most of the story's charm works as a different point of view to the original. It's offers a delightful and amusing joyride while avoiding a time paradox. Logically, the fact that Marty and the Doc accidentally interact with people of the past should be enough to leave an unpredictable impact on the future. But with endless gags, setups and payoffs to divert us from pondering such conundrums, we simply sit back and enjoy the silliness into Part III. (Movie Rating: 3.5/5)
If 'Back to the Future' could be viewed as a nostalgic look at 1950s pop culture and the sequel as homage to the science fiction genre, then the third and final installment to the series is a loving tribute to the western. As a devoted fan of the genre, this last entry in the now-classic film series in my book ranks higher than the second movie. And like the original exploring the decade that introduced rock 'n' roll, this story has fun in the epoch that gave rise to science fiction novels with several mentions of the French author Jules Verne. After watching the previous two, seeing this combination of fantasy meets the American West can seem a bit awkward and rather outrageous. But with that little historical tidbit being alluded to by Doc and his love interest, Clara (Mary Steenburgen), the plot feels right at home with the six-shooters, train robberies, and damsels in distress.
By this point, Marty discovers that no matter where he is in time, history tends to repeat itself, which allows Zemeckis and Gale plenty of room for using the same running gags and setups that create a funny feeling of déjà vu. Marty is once again knocked out and awakened by someone who he assumes is his mother (Lea Thompson), reiterating the same lines almost verbatim. In the first two movies, he ends up at a trendy diner — this time a saloon — where he confronts another in the Tannen line confusing Marty for someone else in the McFly family. By this point, the Tannen men prove to be an irritating thorn in the side of the McFlys. Like Mr. Strickland (James Tolkan) would say, they're all a bunch of slackers. Once Marty joins the Doc, the two set the course for another narrow, "just in the nick of time" escape (while slightly altering history for the better).
The best part for this fanatic of the genre and the comedy series is watching a tongue-in-cheek encounter between the 1950s romanticized view of the west and the more realistic portrayal of outlaws from Italian westerns. This is most apparent in the way Doc dresses Marty in the silly cowboy outfit before traveling to 1885. Once there, he is gawked at as if the circus were in town. Even funnier is Marty thinking the name Clint Eastwood universally epitomizes toughness. One of the more clever parts is having the DeLorean drive directly into the movie screen at the drive-in. For his final journey across time, Marty not only travels into the past, but literally jumps into the movies. Along with a multitude of sight gags referencing the future, like the Frisbee pie tin, 'Back to the Future Part III' is a rowdy good time and an exciting conclusion to one of the coolest and often celebrated trilogies in motion picture history. (Movie Rating: 4/5)
25 years later, the 'Back to the Future' series continues to capture the imagination and deliver the laughter. It's possible some of its enjoyment is partly nostalgic. But it's also likely these really are well-made, entertaining and highly creative films that haven't lost any of their fun. And in this era of remakes and reimaginings flooding theaters, revisiting older movies somehow makes us forget that Hollywood seems to lack any vision and originality right now, that it fails to make us believe in the magic anymore. Nearly 30 years later, the 'Back to the Future' trilogy endures as a better movie-going experience than many, many other movies of late.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment celebrates the 30th Anniversary of 'Back to the Future' by offering fans a choice between two Blu-ray sets, with the more lavish one being a limited edition Flux Capacitor package that features the complete animated series and a 64-page book. For this review, we look at the four-disc digibook style package that includes a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy and a brand new collection of special features on a separate Blu-ray disc. The package is shaped and opens much like a book with each page showing new artwork and pictures for each adventure. Those same pages serve as sleeves for each Region Free, BD50 disc which slides out by placing some slight pressure to the top and bottom, widening the mouth only a little. The inside is smooth and glossy to prevent the discs from scratching, and the whole thing comes with shiny, lightly embossed slipcover. At startup, each goes straight to a menu screen with the usual options, full-motion clips and music.
Back and forth comparisons reveal Universal Studios has repurposed the same, identical 1080p/VC-1 encodes (1.85:1) from the previous collection for this new set, except for Part III, which features an AVC MPEG-4 encode. With that in mind, I will repeat the same thoughts I wrote back in 2010.
All three movies display great definition and clarity, whether we're watching Marty narrowly escape the clutches of Biff/Griff in the town square or riding the wild plains of the Wild West. Granted, there is some minor noise reduction applied and some slight digital tampering used to sharpen and clean the picture a bit, but it's nothing so objectionable as to ruin the quality of the film. We've seen much worse done to other favorites, and only the most discerning of viewers are likely to notice. The image still retains a very fine layer of grain and shows several strong moments of dimensionality. Fine object and textural details are exceptional for a catalogue title of this age. They're not always consistent, which is understandable, but it's much better than anyone could have expected. The worst instances are during the optical effects, where matte lines and softness are made more apparent. But again, this is a normal result of the available technology.
Contrast is spot-on and brightness levels are well balanced with deep, accurate blacks and brilliant whites. Facial complexions aren't very revealing, but they appear natural and healthy in all three films. The color palette is vibrant and dramatic, especially during scenes of the 1950s in the first two movies. Primaries are lush to give the transfer some great pop, but it never feels gaudy or artificial. Part III, of course, places more attention on the secondary hues and earth tones, showing a very pleasing range and also providing the video with a cool, gritty impression. Taken as a whole, the classic 80s trilogy looks terrific on Blu-ray.
As with the video, all three movies arrive with the same audio presentations as before, and my thoughts remain the same. And with that, I'll simply repeat my impressions from five years ago.
The sci-fi comedy also comes well equipped with a highly enjoyable DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. As one would expect, much of the presentation is centered around the dialogue, and it's delivered with terrific precision and intelligibility. We can clearly make out the unique, distinctive inflections and utterances in Michael J. Fox's voice and the funny, high-strung tone in Christopher Lloyd's wacky scientist.
The front soundstage feels wide and welcoming with plenty of strong clarity detail and good channel separation. Dynamic range is surprisingly extensive and even far-reaching, never faltering at the higher frequencies. But the original design, of course, shows its age somewhat in this department as the differences between the high and mids only come into play during the time-traveling sequences. Movement and directionality are attractive and persuasive, especially when the DeLorean travels through time, creating a fun and satisfying soundfield. It's during those same moments that the lower frequencies are made known, spending the majority of the runtime pretty much in silence. This is rather surprising because gunshots tend to feel a bit flat, but bass is present to give music some depth. This isn't a matter of complaint, just something worth noting.
Discrete effects in the surrounds have been added to the audio for ambience and to extend the imaging with slightly more activity. There are clear moments where we can hear birds chirping in the first movie, cars flying in the sky in the second, and crickets singing in the open range of Part III. Anyone intimately familiar with the movies will notice them, but they're not distracting and don't feel forced. Alan Silvestri's now-iconic and memorable score receives the biggest upgrade by spreading evenly throughout the entire system and engaging viewers at just the right moments. For fans, listening to the composer's signature brass-style will likely be the highlight of these lossless mixes. In the end, the 'Back to the Future Trilogy' sounds awesome on Blu-ray, and fans couldn't ask for anything better.
When creators Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale first made 'Back to the Future,' they never expected the film to turn into such a beloved Hollywood classic and become an influential icon in the lives of so many fans. Taking a universal fantasy about time travel, the adventures of Doc and Marty live on today as a cultural favorite that younger generations continue to discover. This 30th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition comes with the same, great audio and video presentation that was seen in the trilogy box set from five years ago. Although largely the same assortment of supplements are carried over from that same set, this new digibook package nonetheless makes it a must-own set for fans and movie-lovers alike.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.