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Introduction
So, what's the difference between watching a movie as complex as the Back To The Future Trilogy and writing a review for it?  Absolutely nothing. Each time you think you've thought of every possible factoid that warrants mentioning, something else always crops up that either you didn't realise was there before or you just plain forgot about it... therefore, I doubt if I'll ever have this review 100% completed.

And just like the events portrayed within the Back To The Future Trilogy, its eventual DVD release 10-15 years later has created a sort of "temporal paradox" all its own... how will these movies appeal to a whole new generation? I'm wondering if the kids of today will look upon this Trilogy with the same affection as us "oldies" did when it literally blasted onto our local cinema screens for the first time. I guess it depends if they are no longer interested in complex time-travel adventures or whether they'll be turned off by the 80s culture inherent... such as the tight jeans, rock n' roll, big hair and wholesome dating rituals (we never had sex on the first date in my day, did we?)

I assume that the young folk now have different kinds of interests these days, such as the current hip-hop style of music... although the changing hairstyles seem to come back on themselves nearly every other day. At least skateboards are still in vogue, so I guess there's still hope for the youngies!

Back To The Future
I have a great temptation to tell you some of the interesting facts about what went on behind the making of these films (and I actually know a lot of stuff that isn't even mentioned within the discs proper, which is a crying shame really). But I'll only mention a couple of them so that the mythology and mystery of this Trilogy is not forever ruined.

One factoid is what the alternative title to this movie might have ended up as if the studio executive in 1984 had his way over the creative team - Space Man From Pluto - god forbid! (you'll find out why within the extras). The other is that, regardless of the filmmakers' choice of ending for the first movie, there was never any intention to make a sequel. I totally agree that this ambiguous finale feels more like a sunset sendoff towards adventures unknown... and for the fact that it inevitably creates an instant logic flaw regarding how events could actually have occurred when... uh, maybe you should find out for yourselves (if you haven't already!)

But the best thing of all about this Trilogy is that nothing extra has been added to what we see or hear - no I don't mean additional scenes, but the image and soundtrack itself. Unlike the fearfully politically-correct ramblings of S. Spielberg and G. Lucas, R. Zemeckis has thankfully spared us the torture of unwanted additions and modifications to what is seen or being said onscreen - and that includes all the swearing, too. Could you imagine the phrase "Holy Shit" being changed to "Holy Alarm Clock, Batman!" or the entire cast of Indians and Cavalry being replaced by Ewoks and Stormtroopers? (Of course I'm being a little bit sarcastic here, but you get the idea).

Films
Just like all good Trilogies, you can't watch numbers 2 & 3 without having seen 1. Not only is it important to set yourself up with the characters portrayed in the original, but it is probably the best of the three movies in terms of comprehension and general enjoyment.

I personally feel that each movie injects their own unique sense of style and genre which ultimately becomes more than the sum of their parts. Some people may instantly classify the Back To The Future Trilogy as only science fiction, but the truth is that it's just the glue that holds all the disparate events together. Therefore this Trilogy becomes more of a comedy-suspense-thriller-romance-action adventure which I'm sure will appeal to all ages (except maybe for those who wear hipster jeans or baggy ankle-pants nowadays, I expect - *grin*).

Warning:- Some spoilers may ensue, so just set your clock ten minutes back if you don't want to remember what you've just read :-)

Back To The Future - It's just another day here at Hill Valley in good ol' 1985... the local kids are aspiring to rock n' roll stardom in vain, the local crackpot scientist is up to his neck in his self-inflicted hairbrained schemes, and the pecking order is still well and truly the same as it always has been since the birth of this town. However, nobody ever expected (or even knew) that future history was in the making when Saturday October 26 rolled around ... 1:20pm to be exact. Marty McFly (guitar-playing and skateboarding extraordinaire) is asked by close friend Doc Emmett Brown (local genius deemed nutbar) to meet him at the local shopping precinct known as Twin Pines Mall (or is that Lone Pine Mall?). Marty then sees Doc's new custom-built version of an already rare vehicle called the "DeLorean" with a few special add-ons (such as a plutonium-rod powerpack). Before Marty knows what's about to hit him (or not) Doc places his unsuspecting pet dog 'Einstein' into the DeLorean, hits the remote control and cranks the sucker up to 88mph whereby it unbelievably disappears right infront of them with only a pair of fire-trails skimming past between their legs.  The Doc is impressed but Marty is basically a nervous wreck (even after the Doc assures Marty that Einstein and the Delorean are completely intact) when exactly a minute later the Delorean explodes back to reality. The Doc then reveals what he has achieved by this experiment (you'll have to find out what this is for yourselves :-), but an unpredictable event transpires whereby Marty is catapulted back to 1955.  He soon discovers that his actions and interactions with everyone around him will have serious repercussions if things are not set back to what they once were. If it weren't bad enough for Marty having to fix his parents up for their first date, they all find themselves constantly in a battle of wills with the king bully of the school, Biff Tannen. If Marty can't repair the past now, then he most certainly will have no future and indeed will create a temporal paradox that will bring the entire universe crashing in on itself and ultimately destroying all existence - talk about pressure!

Back To The Future
Back To The Future II - After everything has returned back to normal (or at least to everyone except Marty McFly) he finds that all his dreams in life have come true... only to work out that his nightmares are about to begin (again). Doc Brown has just come back from the future to tell him that there's a slight problem with his offspring.  Marty's girlfriend (and future wife) witnesses this confusing conversation and becomes entangled in an adventure of temporal proportions whereby they land 30 years later in the year 2015. It seems that even in the future you can still affect the past, which is exactly what happens when the now 60-year-older Biff Tannen gets wind of what the Doc has managed to achieve with a flying Delorean. From here-on-in things get a liiiiiiiittle bit confusing... so if you can follow what happens in this adventure then you're definately in line for the presidency at the Time Travellers Appreciation Society! Anyway, an alternate 1985 results from the deliberate temporal interference of old-man Tannen and only Marty and Doc realise that this is not how things are meant to be. Their only hope is to go back to where it all began and set things right (again!)... but without running into their "other selves" else they create one of those "paradox things" that Doc Brown keeps talking about. Do they succeed?  Only time will tell...

Back To The Future III - At the end of their previous tale of temporal shenanigans, an Act of God happens to throw Doc back into his favourite period in American history ... the old west (late 19th century to be exact). He quite cleverly lets his good friend Marty know that he is alright by way of registered mail and urges Marty to seek the Doc's 1955 counterpart to help send him back home (again!). However, Marty sees something very disturbing that makes him go back in time to help his friend trapped in the past, even though he is going against Doc Brown's desire for Marty not to risk further disruption to the space-time continuum. Once Marty speeds back to literally 100 years before his own time, Marty finds himself trying to make sense of this strange burgeoning town called Hill Valley (even though it's where he's lived all his life) and help the Doc get back to his rightful place in time. But as usual, people and events transpire to prevent Doc and Marty from ever getting back home and they must search their hearts and souls to understand what must be done to save themselves (and the universe in general).

I'm sure if I was either Doc Brown or Marty McFly, I'd be setting time aside for some serious psychological counselling (yes, that was a time-travel joke, as were the last umpteen of them :-).

Video
The image quality throughout all three of these films is quite impressive given the number of years that have passed since the initial production, although I do believe that much of this is due to the improving DVD encoding technology that has evolved since its original incarnation over five years ago.

One thing which should be noted is that (unlike George Lucas' Star Wars CGI-Enhanced Trilogy), Robert Zemeckis' Back To The Future Trilogy on DVD has had absolutely no redone SFX or extra screen activity added to the original negative - these films are exactly as the filmmakers produced. There was also no attempt made to remove any visible wires or correct any of the split-screen (rotoscoping) effects - which really makes us appreciate how difficult it was to have achieved the effect of multiple actors interacting with themselves and sometimes even making contact with (if not passing an object to) each other. Keeping these inconsistencies intact helps to retain all of the charm, if not emotional connection, which won over an intelligent movie-going public.

I'm sure that any digital remastering which took place here was only to ensure a correct balance for the black levels, contrast and colour-hues so that the same meaty, gritty feel was given back to the image which made the films such a memorable experience to begin with. To this end, there are both great and not-so-desirable qualities to the image that wouldn't fit everyone's ideal of the "perfect picture"... but as I mentioned before, they weren't trying to enhance the lighting levels or boost the colour saturation to unrealistic levels - and for this I am very thankful.

Back To The Future
Firstly, the image throughout all three films retains a sharpness of detail that withstands multiple viewings to pick out all those little injokes and visual references that might have otherwise been missed on the first hundred viewings on VHS - and because it's sharp, this also means there is no colour-bleeding either. The black levels are indeed deep without losing detail entirely, but at the same time it may give the impression of a dank and murky darkness - especially with the indoor scenes and particularly those taking place at the Saloon interior settings of Back To The Future 3 (but I'd be guessing they never had fluorescent lighting in those days). The colour hues are again not the most vibrant ever seen on a DVD but the skintones especially are definately correct - and even the very "loud" futuristic colour scheme in Back To The Future 2 still retains that "earthy" feel to it. The brightness levels shown in even the outdoor scenes are somewhat subdued and (dare I say it) almost gloomy in some respects, but they seem to lighten up in the last chapter of the Trilogy (which might have been a creative choice by the filmmakers, but I couldn't be sure of this).

Now on to the artifacts, or what's left of them. Film grain is variable from virtually nil to somewhat noticable, but it ironically tends to be most prevelant at nighttime and in low-lit scenes (which ends up being pretty hard to notice being in the dark anyway). I wouldn't be calling this print entirely blemish-free as there are very subtle light/dark patches which aren't always the result of just simple gradual colour grading. Even with this in mind, there is little or no resultant MPEG macro-blocking anywhere. Any speckles and dust could probably be counted on one hand - even the gritty location work held in Back To The Future 3 would have proved the most challenging for providing a clean print and this film holds up to the test extremely well. Any aliasing (or shimmer) to grill-like patterns such as chequered suits virtually does not show up at all, but there's not many of these instances to make much of an example with it anyway.

Essentially, I attribute the look of this film-negative to what I came across recently in the Speed S.E. DVD.

Audio
It looks like we'll have one-up on the R1 U.S. DVD... we have the DTS soundmix and they don't... but trying to justify whether there is a real difference between the DTS and DD soundtracks is truly a matter of personal opinion. If I were in my shoes (which I am) then I'd have to say that the Dolby Digital soundtrack has that kind of "impact" for inviting your friends over and experiencing the films all over again ... whereas the DTS mix has an almost "intimate" feel where you can just settle back and enjoy the Trilogy at your own leisure. The main differences here are basically that the DTS mix has slightly less punch (and volume level) than the Dolby Digital mix, but this also translates to a smoother if not warmer aural experience for those gifted with an updated dual 5.1 audio system.

If you're looking to give your rear speakers and sub-woofer an aerobic workout, then I'm sure they'll be glad to hear that they're going to get a much-needed break this time over and will only have to get up every once in a while to push the Delorean and other onscreen stuff around. The original soundmixes produced in '85 and '89 were originally produced in Dolby Surround at best so the majority of these new 5.1 mixes are still effectively frontstage driven, which is not a bad thing really as this Trilogy is mostly a dialogue-only movie anyway. Dialogue is of course intelligible throughout and is even sometimes purposely hard-to-hear when the story needs it (such as the climactic train sequence near the end of Back To The Future 3).

Whenever the action scenes kick in we are constantly treated to a lush and detailed mix of music and sound effects throughout all three of the front speakers.  But on occasion we are served desert in the way of icecream for the rear speakers and pudding for the sub-woofer - any more than this and we could get sick from sugar-overload with an overly enhanced surround stage. The rear speakers maintain a subtle presence of ambience throughout the film but they also surprise us with the occasional front-to-back or split-rear FX activity as well as an enveloping orchestral score. The sub-woofer gives us a richness to the sound rather than a constant whammy of thumps, so even though it would have been nice to hear more grunt coming from the Delorean etc, it's also a welcome change not to be bombarded with unnecessarily excessive booming just for the sake of it.

Back To The Future
Extras
Each of the three discs contains the movie and their own relevant supplemental material, or at least this is what we're lead to believe. For instance, there was some information on the BTTF2 which only had relevance to its original incarnation of BTTF1 and so on. And the length on some of these extras will leave you begging for more, but what we have been provided with is very welcome nevertheless. Only the first disc contains an audio commentary and animated anecdotes, but nearly all of the other types of extras are to be found on all three discs. Let's take a look at them now...

Disc 1 - contains the original movie that started the phenomenon... Back To The Future. There is an audio commentary of sorts here, although it's not your usual "run-the-film-while-we-record-our-comments" kind - it's actually a post-Q&A session recording that was taped straight after an exclusive screening of Back To The Future held for the students of a Californian University. This audio track may cause some confusion when hearing it alongside the film proper, but it's definately an entertaining insight inside the minds of "The Two Bobs" (director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Bob Gale). Here they come up with some little known facts about what could have been as well as what they're experiences were like when working with props, crew and cast (I can't quite tell if they had a lot of admiration for Crispin Glover or not, the actor who plays George McFly). Next on the list are the animated anecdotes in which we are meant to "learn more intesting facts" about the movie - personally, I found any information sincerely lacking in anything substantial that wasn't already obvious onscreen or common sensical in general (eg  Doc Brown's dog was named after the scientist Albert Einstein ... I mean, really!  I hope they improve on this feature in the future R1 DVD version). There are the original 1985 and current retrospective featurettes; an interesting makeup test film archive;  hilarious outtakes;   production archives containing various photographs of onset goings-on and artistic designs (which is severly lacking in content); storyboards to final feature comparisons; and finally the theatrical trailer (which is actually a teaser of a single scene with Michael J Fox inside the DeLorean, which was filmed purely for promotional purposes).

Disc 2 - contains the first sequel that continued the phenomenon ... Back To The Future II. There are the original 1989 and current retrospective featurettes; an interesting (but if all too short) hoverboard test on location clip which is a rough cut of footage following in the vein of the said sequence in this movie (although I wish we had a wholly dedicated featurette to cover how this was actually achieved); hilarious outtakes; production archives (severly lacking); storyboards to final feature comparisons; and the theatrical trailer (which thankfully only whets the appetite for those who haven't seen it and does not give away many spoilers as a result).

Disc 3 - contains the second sequel that concluded the phenomenon... Back To The Future III. Unfortunately, there is no original 1989 making-of but we still get the retrospective featurette; hilarious outtakes; production archives (severly lacking); storyboards to final feature comparisons; the theatrical trailer (which only contains on-set production sound and no extra FX or music, since it was still being filmed and/or in post-production); and a music video from ZZ Top for the rock song "Double Back" in which some of the filmmaking technology developed for BTTF2/3 is used to show multiple 'copies' of the same persons onscreen (although I wish they would have made a music video for the old-fashioned song that plays within the movie's "Hill Valley Festival" scene sequence). And just to prove that Steven Spielberg was involved in these three movies, there is also an added promotional trailer for the upcoming DVD release of E.T.: The 20th Anniversary (which goes to prove how off-putting additional CGI can be to a film that's never heard of CGI before). Thankfully, Spielberg respected the wishes of Zemeckis not to modify his "babies" in any way (either that or they figured that it wasn't worth the cost of modifying anything).

As appealing as these extras are, the supplemental material is not as extensive as what the overseas R1 U.S. version will be like in the future (the list of which has not been written yet, sounds like the ending of BTTF3, hehe) - the reasons are mainly that Universal are still hunting through the archives for more of the relevant material for this Trilogy. I'm quite sure that with a little more pre-planning for the R4 DVDs they could have come up with some mega-fascinating inside info into the creation of the movies. What we have here at the moment is certainly informative, but much of it is repeated within nearly every supplement provided and it would have been great to learn about something else not already covered previously. Maybe this will be improved upon in the upcoming R1 release... however I wish we wouldn't have a repeat of what was experienced earlier with the R4/R1 DVDs of The Terminator.

On a final note, there is something to be said for the packaging of this 3-disc DVD set. It's very stylish throughout and opens up like a centrefold page (yummy!).  To hold the discs inside, it contains an uncommon spindle release mechanism that makes it much easier to access the DVDs without the difficulty of accidental scratching when attempting to remove them.  However, there is one annoying quirk with a part of the design and that is the holder for the information booklet - for some reason, one side of this pocket is completely open which always (and I mean always) makes the booklet fall from the pack whenever you have to open it up to access the DVDs - this proves to be a continual frustration IMHO.

Back To The Future
Summary
Well, until the Star Wars or Indiana Jones Trilogies poke their little noses into the DVD trough, we'll just have put up with having the 3rd most popular movie-franchise of all time on our little golden platters instead. At less than $20 for each movie, this is way and beyond the best value ever for DVD since the inception of the format itself. And even though it lacks somewhat in the outstanding extras department, it sure makes up for in price.

I guess I should at least point out what the main differences will be between the Oz and U.S. DVDs... the R1 (domestic version) will be ditching the DTS sound mixes found in the R4 (international version) in favour of about 30 minutes of extra extras on each disc (and no, that's not a typo). If you want more info, please visit the www.bttf.com fansite weblink.

If only I had myself a Delorean so I could import the R1 DVDs right now... I doubt I'll get one before then, so the R4 Back To The Future Trilogy DVD Box Set is more than a worthy purchase for that ever increasing DVD collection I just can't do without (and it will be the cheapest Back To The Future DVD Collection in the world, too).


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