Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on December 31st, 2002
The original Back To The Future film is already a classic. There has never been a more original sci-fi/comedy film. The sequels are less stellar but do retain the charm and uniqueness of the original. The talent of Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox shine in these films. Both actors were trying to shed strong TV characters and prove they were more than Reverend Jim and Alex Keaton. The chemistry generated between them goes a long way in enhancing both performances. The supporting cast is also quite good here. Lea Thompson handles multiple ages and roles with convincing style. Thomas L. Wilson’s arch nemeses members of the Tannen family provide generous helpings of humor and villainy. Of course, the story is a bit tired by the third film, but the Western motif helps to freshen things up. Then again, I’d be inclined to watch Fox and Lloyd do play by play for a football game … especially if they could give me a little tip about the final score.
Marty McFly is a normal teenager in 1985. He’s got a knockout girlfriend, a typical dysfunctional family, a dream of becoming a rock star, and an eccentric friend, Doc Brown (Lloyd) who just so happens to have created a time machine out of a Delorean car.The three films follow their exploits as they continue to screw up and then try to fix the time space continuum. Star Trek time travel this ain’t.
Universal did a nice job with this Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The dialogue is forever crisp and clean. Alan Silvestri’s John Williams-like soundtrack is there in all of its majestic brilliance. Highs are dynamic and lows will give your sub a fair workout at times. Perhaps the most astonishing element of this audio is the clever use of surrounds on a film made before their common use. When Marty enters 1955, ambient sounds such as the “Mr. Sandman” music and street noises are integrated with such perfection that you enter the scene yourself. The third film is more dynamic by nature, but it is clear that more effort was given the first film. All are clean and exceptional, however.
Each film comes with a commentary track by Bob Gale and Neil Canton. There are some interesting stories and for the most part they seemed to be having a lot of fun revisiting the series. They discuss almost every aspect of the films including shooting down rumors of Back To The Future part IV. By the third film they are noticeably tired and talk less.
All three films are presented in their original theatrical aspect ratios. The problem here is the by now well known misframing of films 2 and 3. I had a very hard time noticing anything in the 2nd film. To me the 3rd film’s framing was far more apparent. The wider western vistas provide a sharper contrast to the cityscapes. You will not notice anything if you are not already familiar with how the picture was framed before. Laser disc versions provide the best comparison. The problem is that these transfers were made from the original 35mm film (which is ordinarily a very good thing). Somehow the transfer image was shifted so that the bottom third of what you should see is cropped out while more of the top of the frame is visible than should be. Universal is planning to offer replacement discs by mail in Feb 2003. A few retailers are planning on exchanging them at point of sale.
With all of that said, the transfers are nearly flawless. Color is particularly impressive. The transfer conveys a superb color vibrancy while retaining the 80’s feel of the print. I saw no real noticeable artifacts or specks. There is some edge distortion on the third film, most noticeable at about 1 hour and 15 minutes in. Blacks are typical of 1980’s film stock, a bit grainy but still quite deep. Once again, more effort obviously went into the first film.
There are a lot of extras included on this disc. Each film contains two very short documentaries which are mostly interview clips with Bob Clark and are intercut with scenes from the films. They deal primarily with the first film even though they are broken into three parts for each disc. There is a lot of redundancy between them and the commentary tracks. I thought I would cry if I heard one more time about the proposed refrigerator time machine concept.
The deleted scenes are my favorite features. You can watch them with or without a Bob Clark commentary. Warning: the scenes have not been restored in any way and are in horrible film condition but are a treasure to any fan nonetheless. Each disc also has a funny outtake reel.
Most of the features require you to be watching the film and I wish they could have been provided in another format. (It took 4 passes on the first film to see/hear everything). There is a conversation with Michael J. Fox which is really interview snippets placed strategically throughout the films. You can turn on popup menus that feature questions and answers with Bob Gale. (There’s a ton of Bob Gale on this trilogy). There is even a Universal Artifacts pop-up menu that I did not find worth the time.
ZZ Top and Huey Lewis music videos are cool little gems. Make-up tests are boring.The evolution of the f/x is a very interesting look at how f/x are created. A few scenes are provided in a loop with a little more work done with each pass. Don’t forget to check out the many photo galleries and text based material as well.
No question this trilogy is worth buying even if you are indifferent to or downright hate the sequels. Universal was very smart to release this as a collection. You might want to hold off until after Feb 2003 when the fixed copies are due to arrive. Shame on Universal for releasing a defective product after it was uncovered.
I loved seeing these films again. I originally disliked the sequels but they seem to view stronger now than they did a decade ago. One of the simple joys of Back to the Future is the attention to detail and subtleties. Even after nearly 20 years I still notice little things in the first film. Look for the hundreds of hidden jokes and timeline changes throughout the trilogy. It’s like a treasure hunt. The jokes still work and “When this sucker gets to 88 miles an hour you’re going to see some serious shit”.