I was twelve years old when Back to the Future first hit theaters in 1985. It was two years after Return of the Jedi had been released, so the timing was right for a new trilogy of films to dig into America’s culture. Along with Indiana Jones and Star Wars, Back to the Future would do on to become one of the most popular movie trilogies of all time, and is now the first of those trilogies to appear on DVD. My fascination with BTTF started very early; I remember seeing the first film two or three times in the movie theater. Later, when the movies came out on home video, I really became infatuated with the trilogy. As a kid, I never noticed that Marty leaves the “Twin Pines Mall,” runs over a pine tree, and returns to the “Lone Pine Mall.” Once I discovered that, I became even more hooked. I must’ve watched the film 20 times on home video, trying to find different interesting things the writers had hidden in the scripts.
The Back to the Future trilogy has been one of the most anticipated DVD releases since the format was introduced. Rumors circulated that the movies were going to be released in 1998… and then, 1999. Then 2000. Then 2001. Finally, word hit the net that the elusive movies would appear for Christmas of 2002. After almost five years of waiting, the BTTF DVD box set appeared under my Christmas tree this year. After spending three days already knee deep in the extras in this box set, I can definitely say the DVDs were worth the wait.
Let’s talk about what you get right up front. All three Back to the Future flicks have been remastered here for 5.1 sound, and the movies sound great. Scenes with special effects, like the DeLorean jumping through time or lightning striking the clock tower really stand out. Films two and three take more advantage of the rear speakers, while the first mainly uses it for effects. The movies have also been reprinted, and are cleaner now than ever. The trilogy is available in either full screen or letterbox formats — and yes, for those who haven’t heard, movies two and three aren’t really in letterbox, they are just full screen versions with black bars matted over the top and bottom. Replacement discs will be available for free in February, so feel free to buy it now.
So, let’s talk about Disc 1 first, which contains the first film, Back to the Future. Christmas day, I watched the film. 90 minutes. Afterwards, I watched “The Making of Back to the Future”, a featurette from the 80’s, and “Making the Trilogy: Chapter One”. Both together lasted a little over an hour. Then I watched the film again, with the “Q&A” feature turned on. It’s basically like a commentary track, but with director Robert Zemeckis and producer Bob Gale answering questions in front of a college film audience. After that, I watched the film three more times — once with the “enhanced Michael J. Fox conversation” feature turned on (similar to the white rabbit option on The Matrix), once listening to the feature commentary with producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton, and once with the “Did You Know That?” feature turned on, which turns the movie into a “Pop Up Video”-like experience. For those of you keeping count, that’s approximately 8 and a half hours of video, which doesn’t include deleted scenes, outtakes, makeup tests, production picture archives, original screenplay excerpts, trailers, production notes, recommendations, and other small bits and pieces. You can easily kill half a day with this one disc.
If you have ever had any question about Back to the Future, it most likely is answered somewhere on this DVD. From “why did they use a DeLorean as a time travel machine” to “why are there two backwards 9’s in the air when the DeLorean gets hit by lightning and gets shot into the past,” every second of this film is covered in documentaries and commentaries. “Why was Eric Stoltz dropped and Michael J. Fox hired to replace him?” “Why did Crispin Glover not return for parts II and III?” Questions fans of the movies have been asking for years are all answered here in one nice little package.
Disc II of the boxset continues the time travel goodness with Back to the Future II, my favorite of the series. Again, aside from a new transfer and a 5.1 remix, viewers get even more “making of” documentaries, another Q&A commentary, another feature length commentary, another pop-up video sttle anecdote feature, PLUS production designs, storyboards, “Designing the DeLorean,” “Designing Time Travel,” hoverboard test footage, evolution of visual effect shots, production archives, trailers, production notes, recommendations, a Huey Lewis & the News video, and more. Some information from some of the sources overlap each other, but as with the first disc, no stone is left unturned on this DVD.
Back to the Future II had some awesome special effects, particularly ones that included several Michael J. Foxs on screen at the same time. In the “Evolution of Special Effects” feature, you can see several scenes without the special effects, and then watch them slowly be added. With this, plus all the little (and big) extras tucked away on this DVD, you can easily kill a second day with this one. Even non-fans of the film will find themselves peeking around and checking out features. The hoverboard test footage is awesome, as stunt doubles “fly” around the California desert as they work the kinks out of the system. You can see the harnesses and the rigs holding the actors, and it still somehow seems like magic.
Disc III contains Back to the Future III. Again, we’re treated to the two different commentary tracks as well as all the other extra segments. A ZZ Top music video appears, as well as two other cool features. One is “The Secrets Behind Back to the Future”, an old telelvision program starring Kirk Cameron, reading questions written in by fans and answering them on screen. The other feature I liked was the “Back to the Future FAQ”, which answers the most asked questions about the trilogy. By this time in the viewing, most of these questions have been answered elsewhere, but it was still interesting to read. One of the questions is, “are hoverboards real?” and the producers answer that this is one of the most common questions they get asked, still to this day.
It would take you basically twelve hours to watch all the extras on each disc. At three discs, that’s a day and a half straight of watching Back to the Future. Besides all that extra goodness, you also get THE MOVIES! Even without all the extras piled on, $40 for 3 classic films is an awesome deal — hell, I’ve paid more for bad movies in the used bin. More than once. Plus, as I said, on TOP of the movies, you get every possible Back to the Future factoid known to man. Did you know the amplifier Marty McFly plugs his guitar into in Doc Brown’s lab is labeled “CRM-114”, which is also the name of the decoder in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, as well as the serial number of the Jupiter explorer in 2001: A Space Odyssey?
This is the Back to the Future collection. Every extra, every cut scene, every tidbit of information is preserved here, all in one nice, complete box set. I don’t see how they can release a special edition after this one, folks, everything you could possibly want is here. I hope those responsible for the eventual Star Wars and Indiana Jones DVD boxsets take note — Universal has set the bar pretty high with this one.