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Back to the Future (from the Complete Trilogy) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 25 January 2005

Back To The Future (From The Complete Trilogy)

Universal Studios Home VideUniversal Studios Home Video
MPAA rating: PG
starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover
release year: 1985
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

“Back to the Future” is a quintessential ‘80s fantasy film. It’s almost impeccably constructed from a story standpoint, bright, cheery – and manages to be pretty charming despite a kind of chipper pop culture generic nature that can make it slightly rough going for those who never took to, say, “Happy Days” and “Grease.”

“Back to the Future” follows the adventures of teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), who suffers from a slight lack of self-confidence due in part to his home life, where his under-achiever, cowed father George (Crispin Glover) and alcoholic, prim mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) ineffectually watch Marty and their other two kids (Marc McClure and Wendy Jo Sperber) drift unhappily. Marty gets a lift from hanging out with his eccentric inventor pal Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), who as it happens has just invented a time machine made from a DeLorean. Marty winds up back in 1955 and meets his own parents as the high school students they were at the time. Marty sees an opportunity to improve their futures – but first he’s got to find a remedy for the fact that his appearance changed George and Lorraine’s initial meeting and now Lorraine seems to be falling for Marty. If Marty can’t get George and Lorraine to hook up, his very existence will never come to pass and he will disappear.

The screenplay by Robert Zemeckis, who also directs, & Bob Gale finds plenty of humor and zip in confronting the time travel conundrum head-on, and they also have a great time with jokes about anachronisms – when Marty has to pretend he’s an alien, the first things that pop into his head are references to “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.” The filmmaking is extremely smooth and slick, with good albeit (as the commentaries point out) infrequent special effects and fine comedic timing.

The actors are wholehearted in their work, even if their characters are broadly drawn. Fox is bright and quizzical and Lloyd is genuinely droll, with Glover finding some real panic in George’s reluctance to assert himself.

The imagery on the DVD transfer is extraordinarily clear and sharp. For proof, look no further than the hound’s-tooth-print jacket Marty wears in Chapter 16. The checked pattern can drive a monitor picture insane, but here the edge of each square stays just where it’s supposed to be, moving when Marty moves without any independent shimmer. Colors are nice and bright, albeit they have a bit of the glare common to ‘80s comedies – which speaks to accurate reproduction of hues from the original.

Sound is pretty good, though there are one or two awkward moments and unless you want to crank up your volume, a number of effects aren’t as loud as advertised (characters onscreen comment about noise that won’t strike most listeners as exceptional). An example of this comes early on, when 1985 Marty plugs his guitar into a giant amplifier that comes to life with a blast that blows him across the room – cute gag, but the sound comes nowhere close to blowing us anywhere. Chapter 5 has some nice whooshes and squeals as the time-traveling DeLorean hits the blacktop. Chapter 7 has some gunshots that have dimension, livening up the rears on a soundtrack that tends to be front-heavy (there is no effort to provide speaker-discrete effects on the 5.1 audio). Chapters 17 and 18 have impressively huge, full storm effects, though there’s a bit of buzz from the sax in an onscreen jazz/rock combo.

“Back to the Future” is available as part of a three-disc boxed set of the “Back to the Future” trilogy (Parts I, II and III will soon available singly in stores). The “Back to the Future” disc that’s part of the trilogy has a new documentary that is intended to be viewed as the first part of three (the other two installments are, unsurprisingly, on the next two discs). The new making-of featurette makes for an interesting contrast with the also-included featurette made at the time of the film’s release, as the filmmakers have a good deal more perspective (and a bit less innocence) in the contemporary edition. Writer/producer Gale and producer Neil Canton provide an audio commentary track in the center channel (the regular soundtrack is played softly through the other four speakers) on which Gale considerately advises his listeners to first check out all of the other supplemental materials on the DVD, so that they’ll better understand what he’s talking about. There’s also a partial commentary by actor Fox that needs to be activated segment by segment by the viewer – a clock icon appears whenever there’s another installment – with the actor appearing in an inset box on one side of the frame with his observations. Rather disconcertingly, if you’re watching the full-screen version (this would be yet another argument in favor of widescreen), the image expands to widescreen to accommodate Fox’s inset when he’s on, then snaps back to 1.33:1 when he finishes. The disc also includes a University of Southern California Q&A session, with very crisp two-channel sound (the film’s audio track is totally disabled on this feature), with director Zemeckis and his co-writer/producer Gale, moderated by Laurent Bouzereau, applied like a commentary track over the film itself. As the flow of conversation isn’t specific to the onscreen events, the effect is a little peculiar, but big “Future” fans will still be edified by the overall presentation.

The bonus features also include a fairly short and conventional outtake reel (the best gag is a practical joke played on Fox by the crew) and eight deleted scenes, all agreeable but minor, with optional commentary by Gale.

“Back to the Future” should make fans of the film very happy with its sharp visual reproduction and its multitude of extra features. The boxed set will be more pleasing still.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby 5.1 Surround; French Dolby 5.1 Surround
aspect ratio(s):
1.85:1 (Widescreen), 1.33:1 (Fullscreen)
special features: Audio Commentary by Writer/Producer Bob Gale and Producer Neil Canton; Q&A Session with Director/Writer/Producer Robert Zemeckis and Writer/Producer Bob Gale; Scene-Specific Inset Onscreen Commentary by Michael J. Fox; Original Making-Of Featurette; New Making-Of Featurette (Pt. 1 of Making-Of Trilogy); Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary by Writer/Producer Gale; Outtakes; Spanish Subtitles
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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