One of the most beloved films of the 1980s, "Back to the Future" was one of the films I remember most from my childhood. While the second and third films were not quite as memorable, all three were compelling adventures for all ages - really the kind of upbeat, entertaining films that aren't made much anymore (see also "The Goonies", which came out the same year).
Although I doubt there are many who haven't seen this picture already, but to discuss the story: Fox stars as Marty McFly, a teenager (I bought Fox as a teenager when I first saw this film, I don't think I really do watching it again after all these years) who is friends with the town's crazy inventor, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd, in his best performance). Brown requests his presence in the local mall parking lot at 1:15 in the morning. Once there, Doc reveals what he's been working on recently - a time machine that happens to be made out of a De Lorean.
After a test run with the Doc's dog as the sole passenger, Marty finds himself jumping into the vehicle to escape the terrorists who Doc tricked to get the radioactive fuel for his machine. Once Marty hits the gas and reaches 88, he finds himself in November of 1955, with no way to get home. Unfortunately for Marty, he's got other problems: he finds that he's got to be the one who causes his parents to meet, which won't be easy - it's not long into the past before he accidentially breaks up a potential meet. Of course, if he parents never meet, he can never be born - a fact that he's reminded of constantly as a photograph of his brother, his sister and himself is becoming progessively less populated.
The film works as well as it does because of several reasons. The time travel concept has been covered in film before ("The Time Machine"), but the film's twists and turns once Marty confronts elements of his present in the past are highly entertaining and surprising. Even if the film kind of presents a lot of story points within the early moments, the film still heads off in unexpected directions, while Fox makes for a classic hero racing against the clock to get himself out of a potentially terrible situation. It's also one of those rare pictures to cross genres with remarkable success: the film incorporates elements of action, sci-fi, comedy, drama and more smoothly into one entertaining whole. Composer Alan Silvestri's wonderful score also keeps up quite beautifully, adding to the suspense, comedy and adventure without underlining it. Supporting performances from Lloyd, Lea Thompson and others are also superb. The second and third films don't quite capture the same magic as the original, but they still make for enjoyable entertainment.
VIDEO: "Back to the Future" is presented by Universal in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. There has been a great deal of discussion on various internet sites about mis-framing issues with the second and third films of the trilogy. The first film appears to be fine. Personally, I do not have the widescreen laserdiscs of any of the films to make comparisons of the second and third films accurately, but will discuss if the framing of those two films appears to be noticably visually inaccurate when I review both of those films shortly.
As for the first film, "Back to the Future" doesn't look stunning, but it is visually an improvement over past editions of the film that I've viewed. BTTF Trilogy cinematographer Dean Cundey's work here appears particularly good looking, with fine sharpness and detail aside from a few slightly murky dimly-lit moments.
Flaws appeared here and there throughout the picture, but nothing terribly bothersome was spotted. Grain is present throughout many scenes in the picture, but the minor amounts of grain seemed intentional and remained fairly light. Specks, marks and scratches weren't seen, but a little bit of dirt was noticed on occasion. Edge enhancement was present in light amounts in a few scenes, but I didn't find this to be much of a concern.
The first film doesn't have a particularly lively color palette, but its natural colors appeared bright and vivid, with no smearing or other faults. Black level was solid, too, while flesh tones looked accurate. While not flawless (and certainly a bit dated looking at this point), this is a very nice effort.
SOUND: "Back to the Future" is presented by Universal with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 remixed soundtrack. Producer Bob Gale auditioned a DTS edition of a remixed soundtrack, but reportedly felt that the differences in the soundtracks were too minimal and instead had more space devoted to features. The set in most other regions, however, reportedly does offer a DTS soundtrack. Oh well. In terms of the Dolby Digital presentation, it's not half bad, considering the soundtrack is a repurposed edition of a mid-budget 80's picture. In general, there's not a great deal of surround use, although the rear speakers occasionally kick in during some of the action scenes. Alan Silvestri's outstanding and very memorable score could certainly have used a bit more presence in the soundtrack, as it largely stays in the front, with not enough reinforcement from the surrounds.
Audio quality is fine and probably better than most films of the age, but the majority of the soundtrack does seem fairly restrained, with fairly little in the way of bass and the occasional cheesy sound effect. Dialogue is consistently clear and clean, however. As with the video quality for this film, audio quality isn't quite flawless or entirely what I'd expected, but the presentation was still fine.
EXTRAS: The extras that are available on this presentation are quite nice. However, it would have been really nice if Universal had offered a better case - all three in the films are included in a triple-case (instead of their own cases) in a slip-cover. Furthermore, the opening of the slip-cover is at the bottom instead of the side.
Commentary: The first commentary is a Q & A session with director Robert Zemeckis and producer Bob Gale. Zemeckis has done this format once before with the "Cast Away" commentary and, quite honestly, I find this a bit preferable, especially in comparison to the running commentary by Zemeckis for "What Lies Beneath", which was not terribly interesting. Once again, the Q & A format allows Zemeckis (accompanied by Gale) to get right to the point, delivering some very informative and often fascinating tidbits of information about the entire production process and experience of "Back to the Future". There's a great deal of topics covered, as Zemeckis and Gale discuss trying to work around-the-clock when the testing process revealed that the studio had a potentially big hit on their hands, stories from the production and how careers changed after the film became an enormous hit. It's a very enjoyable track that fans should certainly spend some time listening to. Note: this commentary lasts throughout most of the film, ending at about 1:40 into the picture.
Commentary: This is a commentary with producers Neil Canton and Bob Gale. Unlike the other commentary track, these two are actually watching the film as they discuss details about the production. This commentary is a little more detailed and unfortunately, a little less focused. While there are many interesting tidbits included - such as the fact that Michael J. Fox had to record PSAs for Australian TV to try and get kids not to ride skateboards by grabing on the back of cars. This track isn't quite as good as the Q & A session, but it's still a decent listen.
Deleted Scenes: 8 deleted scenes are included on this DVD, with audio commentary from producer Bob Gale. The scenes are generally pretty amusing, although they either don't seem necessary to advance the plot or cover material already covered enough in other parts of the film.
Outtakes: A couple of minutes of mildly funny screw-ups and jokes.
In-Movie Supplements: The "In-Movie" supplements include an "Enhanced Conversation with Michael J. Fox", where the actor speaks once a logo that pops up in the film is clicked on (optional) and "Did You Know That?", which is a subtitle fact-track.
Featurettes: There's two featurettes included, each running about fifteen minutes. The first is the film's original promotional featurette, which is somewhat interesting, but not terribly involving or does it hold any repeat value. Better is a newly produced documentary, which offers comments from Zemeckis and Gale. While informative (we hear about concepts for the time machine), there are still a few too many clips from the film here.
Also: The original make-up tests, production archives (a wealth of concept art, behind-the-scenes pictures and other stills), excerpts from the original screenplay, the film's teaser trailer, bios, production notes and DVD-ROM Total Axcess features.
Final Thoughts: Certainly a classic that stands out in the hearts and minds of many, "Back to the Future" seemed a little dated to me, but remained no less entertaining or fun. While I haven't investigated the reported issues with the second and third films yet, the first film looks and sounds quite nice, while the supplements are well-produced and generally quite informative.
The Film *** 1/2