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Introduction
At the time of writing, it’s been 17 years since we all went Back To The Future for the first time and indeed it’s high time that a whole new generation get to experience the time travelling trials and tribulations of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), the guitar playing, skateboarding, twentysomething high school kid that every young boy once wanted to be and ‘Doc’ Emmet Brown (Christopher Lloyd), a scientist grand on gestures and short on common sense.

The third highest grossing trilogy ever made, after little things like Indiana Jones and, oh, something called Star Wars, this is the first to make it onto DVD but quite a wait it has been. First touted to possibly emerge in 1999, it’s a long road to 2002 but with that nigh legendary Delorean literally burning up the roads once again you can guarantee that any number of crackpots and crazies will start fitting innumerable and inexplicable enhancements to a humble Ford Fiesta in an effort to emulate their silver screen heroes. So then, rather than banging your head against a brick wall to attain that elusive scientific breakthrough of the Flux capacitor to enable time travel, sit back and strap yourself in for one hell of a ride. Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads…

Movie
Back To The Future: Part One
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is one frustrated young man. His dreams of music stardom are being strangled by fear of rejection after his music teacher’s assertions that his band are just ‘too loud’, he’s labelled as a terminal slacker by his high school’s disciplinarian Mr Strickland (James Tolkan) and to top it all he can’t spend time with his girlfriend Jennifer (Claudia Wells) because Biff, (Thomas F. Wilson) the boorish boss of his put-upon father (Crispin Glover), has just totalled the family car.

Enter idiosyncratic ‘Doc’ Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Calling Marty to the Hill Valley car park in the middle of the night, Doc successfully demonstrates his latest, and greatest, invention: a time machine built from a Delorean. However, as time travel requires a substantial amount of plutonium, a rather angry group of terrorists rapidly arrive on the scene demanding the return of their radioactive material. When Doc is seemingly shot, Marty dives into the Delorean and, in trying to outrun the terrorists, hits the magical 88miles per hour mark and is transported back to 1955.

Back To The Future Trilogy
Now not only does Marty need to find a way to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of energy needed to get him back to 1985 but having accidentally interfered with his parents’ first meeting, he needs to ensure that his father George and mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) make it to the high school dance together or his own existence may never come to pass…

Back To The Future: Part Two
Suffice to say that Marty does make it back to 1985 but no sooner has he done this than Doc arrives with tales of impending trouble with Marty’s children. When he and girlfriend Jennifer (now played by Elizabeth Shue) are whisked into 2015, further complications ensue for Marty when a now very old Biff steals the Delorean and creates an alternative 1985.

In this parallel timeline, Biff is a casino magnate married to Lorraine and George is now six feet under. Marty must repair damage to the space/time continuum that he caused by appropriating a sports almanac for his own financial gain in order to transport himself and Jennifer back to the correct 1985…

Back To The Future: Part Three
With the correct 1985 restored, all should be well, right? Wrong! Having left Jennifer safely sleeping on her porch Marty is back in 1955 to discover that later in the timeline Doc travelled back to 1885 and hid the Delorean in order to be safe from disrupting the space/time continuum any further. This would not be a problem except that Marty discovers (with the 1955 version of Doc) that his great friend was killed in 1885 by wild west outlaw who was none other than Buford Tannen.

Patching together the Delorean with Doc’s help in 1955, Marty gets back to 1885 only to discover that the scientist does not want to leave that particular time, particularly not after falling in love at first sight with teacher Clara (Mary Steenburgen). However, after saving Clara from a long drop over the side of a ravine, Doc realises that he has interfered with the original timeline and the race is on to somehow repair the Delorean and head back to 1985. But can he leave his love back in 1885?

Back To The Future Trilogy
Video
To be entirely honest, I approached the DVD transfers of these three movies a more than a sense of trepidation. With such a demand from DVD disciples and casual viewers alike, Universal had their work cut out to sate both camps by offering a DTS track and extra features without sacrificing the image bitrate. Thankfully, I can say that the transfer process seems to have received the care and attention deserving such a series of fan favourite movies.

Anamorphically enhanced at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, colour fidelity is sharp while never resorting to bleeding or smearing. The transfer captures Zemeckis’ palette of the strong blues and reds on Part 1 with great detail; just note the clearly defined contrast between Marty’s red ‘life preserver’ with the blue of his denim jacket. Shadow detail and contrast levels are up to the job too; my fear that the heavy use of silhouette and dark cityscape architecture in the alternative 1985 of Part 2 would cause murkiness and pixellation proved unfounded with deep blacks all round. The almost sepia-like treatment applied to Part 3 is handled admirably also; skin tones are always natural and the sharpness of the image means that the flesh colour of skin and the light browns and greens of the wild west environment is strongly delineated. The intensive use of smoke and dry ice provides few headaches either with very few instances of macro-blocking during the frequent times the Delorean successfully negotiates time travel.

Okay, so none of the three prints here are reference material but they are mighty impressive considering the age of the original prints, not to mention the weight of extra features and audio tracks available for each disc.

Audio
Likewise, the audio hits all the right notes. Channel separation is well defined, you can really get a feel of the sparks flying from each corner of the Delorean once the sleek silver machine is cranked up to 88 miles per hour. Dialogue is always clear from the centre speaker being fairly high in the mix, something of a godsend considering Alan Silvestri’s exhilarating but, at times, overwhelming score.

The only slight fly in the ointment is the lack of a really thumping use of the subwoofer. Admittedly there are few explosions to give the sub a good going over but to me it just seemed a little tame, particularly when Marty is gunning the Delorean as he hurtles his way down to the clocktower at the end of Part 1. Much better use may be demonstrated in the train sequence which concludes the trilogy.

It should be conceded that I was unable to test the DTS track on these discs but I believe this component is exactly the same on both R2 and R4 releases and a thorough critique of the DTS capabilities can be found in Warwick’s excellent R4 review on this site.

Back To The Future Trilogy
Extras
Disc 1
Kicking off with a 14 minute ‘Making Of’ featurette, produced at the time of shooting in 1985, there’s an illustration of the large coiffured hairdos and even larger eyewear that was de rigeur at the time (Spielberg wins hands down on this one) in this entertaining piece of fluff. While the short duration never permits members of the cast and crew time to go into any great depth, there are glimpses of the enormity of the undertaking involved. Michael J. Fox snatches a few lines to an interview on the pressures of working on a successfully syndicated TV show like Family Ties and a Hollywood movie like Back To The Future simultaneously.  There’s a brief snippet of the ageing prosthetic make-up used by Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover to render them believable portraying characters 30 years older than themselves and a peek at the Universal backlot that would form the basis of the Hill Valley town for the first two movies. Perhaps most of note is the highlighting of Alan Silvestri’s ridiculously rousing orchestral score, facilitated by the largest cinematic orchestra (as many as 100 musicians) ever used by a Universal production. Tellingly, Zemeckis professes that he instructed Silvestri to make the score as bombastic as possible in order to make the initial movie appear much bigger than its budget would allow to be demonstrated on celluloid.

‘Making The Trilogy – Chapter 1’ comes next on the agenda, a retrospective look from writer/producer Gale and writer/director Zemeckis that opens with the very genesis of the whole project. From the basic blueprint of Gale’s that ‘it would be cool to have gone to high school with your parents to see what they were really like’, the 15 minute section explores the tension between good friends Zemeckis and Spielberg when Zemeckis was trying to get the project off the ground after three previous successive cinematic duds, the under-rated Kurt Russell vehicle Used Cars among them, with Spielberg on board as producer. Fact fans will be most interested to skip to the end of this section as Zemeckis, with the utmost Hollywood diplomacy that reels off the clichés in rapid succession, tackles the issue of Eric Stoltz’s hiring and subsequent removal from the project which prompted Fox’s big break. While no footage of Stoltz’s involvement is included, there are several valuable stills where you can see the unfortunate actor playing opposite Christopher Lloyd in the opening car park sequence.

Speaking of deletions, there are 7 omitted or extended scenes on offer here. It’s easy to grasp why most hit the cutting room floor for reasons of screen time or thematic fluency (some sections quite clearly stray from the feelgood ‘nice’ atmosphere of 1950’s Hill Valley in order to get a laugh) but the full sequence of Marty’s famous appearance as ‘Darth Vader’ does explain why his heat ray (hair dryer) keeps appearing and disappearing from his belt in the shorter scene.

Expanding on elements in the opening featurette, the original make up tests for the characters of Doc Brown, Biff and Lorraine are included. Shy of three minutes, it’s an intriguing look at the evolution of the hair and prosthetic facial designs.

Two ‘Storyboard To Film Comparison’ sequences make it onto the first disc, featuring Marty’s Hill Valley skateboard chase from Biff and the final frantic clocktower sequence as Doc tries to connect the cable atop the building. Here you can choose to run each sequence as is, with the storyboard only, or both together. Somewhat annoyingly, it’s not possible to switch in between modes on the fly but they’re worth their inclusion if only to see Doc dangling from the hands of the Hill Valley clock face is closely modelled on a certain famous Buster Keaton routine.

‘Production Archives’ is a small collection of stills divided into four sections and the evolution of the Delorean designs is worth a look.

Aside from the obligatory inclusion of the original trailer, an audio commentary from Zemeckis and Gale rounds out the initial disc. Taking the form of a Q & A session at the University of California and moderated by Laurent Bouzerau, it’s an interesting listen, if on the dry side and it does retread much of the same ground covered by the ‘Making Of’ materials. Having previously screened the film for the students and then hosting the Q & A afterwards, the commentary differs from most in that Gale and/or Zemeckis can be talking about events which bear no relation to the current action on screen. Thus, despite being well structured, it’s better as a purely audio experience rather than one successfully incorporates audio and visual stimuli. Again, a little infuriatingly, it’s not possible to switch audio streams on the fly which means that you’ll be seeing the nicely designed menu system rather more often than you should…

Back To The Future Trilogy
Disc 2
Opening again with a short ‘Making Of’ featurette, clocking in at 6 minutes, this is more promotional nonsense that feels half-finished. However, it does impart that all the original sets had to be completely rebuilt having been recycled for other Universal productions in the intervening 4 four years and that a team of futurists toiled for two whole years in planning just what 2015 would be like.

‘Making The Trilogy – Chapter 2’ is very much in keeping with the subject matter of the second instalment of the trio of films in that it revisits much of the material of its immediate predecessor while highlighting the changes necessitated by exterior forces. This refers to Crispin Glover’s refusal to reappear as George McFly without the granting of certain exorbitant conditions (Zemeckis, again, diplomatically refuses to divulge what these demands were) which actually offered Gale and Zemeckis the unique opportunity to revisit and subvert their first movie within the framework of the second.

Also of note is the pioneering use of Industrial Light and Magic’s ‘Vistaglide’ camera which permitted the combination of several characters played by the same actor to appear in the same scene in the days before digital photography. A prime example of this is the evening meal scene where Michael J. Fox simultaneously appears as Marty McFly, his son and his daughter! Key to this section is Zemeckis’ admission that he opted for a more joke-led approach to the sequel as, in his words, ‘the future on screen is always wrong’.

Outtakes on Disc 2 run the course of merely a minute and comprise mostly of various actors fluffing their lines whereas the deleted scenes run for 3 minutes and focus on abandoned material from the alternative 1985. Here Marty meets his brother Dave, who’s now a drunk and it’s simple to see why, even in this darker thematic environment, that the scene is unnecessary.

Footage of the hoverboard testing process has been uncovered here and once the group of stunt performers gets the hang of close co-ordination using harnesses it’s pretty impressive stuff considering digital wire removal was not yet an option. A second ‘Storyboard To Film Comparison’ references and complements the skateboard chase featured on the first disc, detailing as it does the hoverboard sequence which takes place in the 2015 version of Hill Valley.

The ‘Production Archive’ is a relatively spartan affair, divided into four portions with 5 or less stills in each. Another theatrical trailer tops off this disc.

Disc 3
‘Making The Trilogy – Chapter 3’ begins the final leg of special features package and is perhaps the most substantial part of this retrospective featurette. Here Zemeckis deals directly with the dual difficulties of shooting Part 2 and Part 3 back to back (Fox notes that his son was born and his father died during the mammoth 40 week shoot) and even offers a hint of regret that editing the second instalment while trying to shoot the third in order to hit specific theatrical release dates may not have been in the best interests of either.

Tied in with this, Zemeckis discusses the problems associated with sequels, articulating that with the knowledgeable and loyal audience following built by the first film, allied to the four year hiatus in between productions, each viewer had his or her own ideas as to exactly how the future of the trilogy should pan out. Sound familiar, Mr Lucas?

The outtakes on offer here span 90 seconds, consisting of the usual on set gaffes and goofs. There’s only 1 deleted scene available here too and it’s simple to see why this piece of unnecessary exposition involving the Buford Tannen character has been excised.

Three extensive ‘Storyboard To Film Comparisons’ are crammed onto disc 3, involving the Indian chase when Marty arrives in 1885 in the Delorean, the climactic showdown at Hill Valley between Buford and Marty (clear echoes of Leone in the way the sketches conceive the required angles) and the final breathless train sequence.

Back To The Future Trilogy
The closing ‘Production Archive’ is again divided into four criteria, perhaps the most interesting being the poster concept artwork which illustrates how the trilogy’s recycled visual motifs have been extended to even the promotional material.

As for promotional material, there’s ZZ Top’s Doubleback music video, an insanely cheesy early 1990’s effort which splices footage from the movie into an existing sequence where the big bearded behemoths set a wild west saloon alight with their unique brand of three chord based rock n’ roll. To see images of Fox moonwalking superimposed over film of the trio chugging away is quite something…

Lastly, and perhaps least, come the final Back To The Future trailer and, perhaps unsurprisingly given Spielberg’s close relationship with Zemeckis and Universal’s ownership of distribution rights, a trailer for the 2002 re-issue of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Overall
Phew! Revisiting this trilogy is rather like dropping in on some old friends. I can’t think of many (if any) of my male friends who didn’t want to swing from the tailgate of one car to the next while riding their skateboard or who dreamed of blowing themselves across the room after turning his amplifier up to max and hitting that first power chord. To put it simply, these three films have entered the annals of popular culture. The very phrase Back To The Future has entered the Oxford English Volume of Quotations and was even used by Reagan in a political campaign.

Universal have come up trumps with this trilogy package. Granted, the hashed narrative ending of Part 2 still rankles although it’s refreshing to hear from Zemeckis himself in the ‘Making Of’ featurette included here that he was especially unhappy how this portion of the trilogy turned out. Speaking of special features, there is a generous selection on offer, and for those who were hoping for more, I guess the inclusion of DTS track plays a part in the allocation of available space. All in all, it’s a release that’s thoroughly recommended.

Three of the best family sci-fi/action/adventure/comedy films back to back is nothing to be sniffed at and certainly not at the price for which this triple disc is being offered in the R2 market. A couple of provisos should be observed. Firstly, it is quite possible, as Warwick states in his sister review, that the R4 version is dual coded so some savings may be made online when having a look at our antipodean retail cousins. Secondly, at the time of writing, rumours persist that the lack of a DTS track on the R1 version will permit space for plenty of extra features not included in this release. Therefore, if you simply can’t do without a DTS track for your classic movies, you won’t go wrong with this R2 edition. Yet, if you can make do with simple DD5.1 and are hoping for more features, it might be worth holding on that little bit longer as sometimes the best things come to he who waits. Then again, time waits for no man...


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