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Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy - 4K Blu-ray Review

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Back to the Future: The Ultimate TrilogyBack to the Future (1985)

The product of two A-list protégés (at the time) floundering in their careers; a script deemed too dirty by Disney, and not dirty enough by other studios (this was era of sex comedies). Back to the Future, despite being one of the tightest screenplays ever written (then and now) just could not catch a break. Spielberg was on board from the moment he read it. But director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale had had two previous collaborations with him do nothing at the box office, and feared if there was a third they’d be out on their ear as far as Hollywood was concerned.

"speaks to how it is possible to have a breakneck pace AND a story without, in any way, sacrificing character."


Cut to a couple of years later and Zemeckis was now sitting on a mountain of praise (and cash) for his Michael Douglas led adventure comedy, Romancing the Stone. Now every studio was asking the two Bobs what they wanted to make next. They went back to Spielberg out of loyalty and gratitude for his belief in them, and the rest, as they say, is history.

1985 was no slouch for classics, with the likes of The Color Purple, Witness, sequels to Rambo and Rocky, Cocoon and The Goonies landing at the box office that year. But it would be Back to the Future that would best them all and be the number 1.

Telling the story of high school senior Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) getting unwittingly mixed up with Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in a black market science experiment. ‘Doc’, as Marty calls him, has conned a group of Libyan terrorist for plutonium to realize a 30-year vision and invent time travel. In a quite parking lot, in the dead of night, Marty witnesses Doc’s time machine—a delorean—jump one minute into the future. In the midst of celebration, the Libyans find them and murder Doc, but Marty manages to escape into the Delorean and accidently travels back to 1955 where stuff gets extra weird real quick. His arrival accidently interferes with his parents’ infamous first meeting, with his teen mother now hopelessly infatuated with him instead. Marty is forced to involve himself in their lives and refashion their now non-existent romance, before his actions eliminate him from ever existing, and he has one week to do it before his only chance of returning to his own time is gone.Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy

As previously mentioned, this script is one of the finest crafted in the medium. Everything in every scene adds complexity and enriches all the characters and the plot. NOTHING is superfluous, everything from a flyer, to an off the cuff comment comes to bear in brilliant, thrilling reveals throughout. Added to which, it’s damn funny, but not played for gags or set pieces. It’s accessible. Despite being removed from the 50s by several decades, all the characters have relatable arcs that speak to any generation. Even characters with a handful of lines have an arc and develop throughout. If you are ever going to study story construction or narrative, I highly recommend reading this script. And it all started from writer Gale’s personal pondering of his own parents. He saw an old high school year book and realized that had he gone to school with his folks, they wouldn’t have gelled.

This film also speaks to how it is possible to have a breakneck pace AND a story without, in any way, sacrificing character. You care about all these people, even minor characters, and are completely invested in everything that befalls them. Even the bad guy, Biff, has his dimwitted appeal. They’re just so damn watchable and perfectly cast.

Speaking of casting, this film’s was first rate. I wouldn’t be much of a reviewer if I didn’t mention that Michael J. Fox replaced Eric Stolz as Marty. However Fox had always been Zemeckis’s first choice, and after deciding to fire Stolz (deeming him an ill fit for the character) he was able to negotiate with Fox’s TV boss from Family Ties to shoot both his show and the movie at the same time. Fox and Lloyd, both seemingly without effort, organically create iconic characters that will live on long past their time on the earth—they’re amazing. Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, and James Tolkien all give pitch perfect and memorable performances as well. For me, though, Crispin Glover’s oddball turn as George McFly makes the movie. He allegedly was a bit of thorn in the sides of the two Bobs during production (a topic I’ll revisit in the sequel) but their pain was so worth it.

The effects for this hometown science fiction tale are subtle but also iconic. The use of a decidedly 80s car (every cool TV show had a car) to infuse some heightened cool into the production design is brilliant. The multiple uses of Universal’s back lot with new dressing are amazing, economical and continued throughout the series. The costumes, the editing, the Alan Silvestri score: all iconic and are the perfect ingredients.

I could gush on about this flick forever. It’s perfect. A perfect, perfect movie.

5/5 stars


Back to the Future: The Ultimate TrilogyBack to the Future Part II (1989)

After the massive success of the first film, it was inevitable that a sequel would be asked for. But the two Bobs were in no rush, and wouldn’t even consider it without the commitment of both Fox and Lloyd to return. They still insist, despite the ending of the first film, that no sequel was ever intended, with Zemeckis saying ‘we’d never have had the girl on the car if we intended to do another one’. I’m calling bullshit on this one. It mattered not. Fox and Lloyd readily agreed and the Bobs set to work on not one, but two, new entries.

"there are so many wonderful moments within that revisiting it is an easy yes."


They wrote part for all the original actors to return, but fell into trouble when Claudia Wells and Crispin Glover refused to return. Wells had left acting at the time to look after her ailing mother and was replaced with Elizabeth Shue. Glover, on the other hand, came immediately into conflict with the producers by asking for, in the words of Bob Gale, a payday well above his station in the industry. Glover counters that he didn’t like the message of the stories they wanted to tell. What isn’t open for interpretation is that the Bob’s essentially wrote George McFly out of the sequels and then only used existing footage of Glover’s performance, and stand in actor Jeffrey Weissman, to get what minimal involvement they needed from the character. Crispin successfully sued them for using his performance from the first film this way and it changed entertainment law thereafter.

2 years would be spent prepping, rewriting, and building sets, before cameras rolled on the first of the two sequels, to be filmed back to back (a rarity back then).

Back to the Future Part Two starts with the last scene of the first movie, with Marty and Jennifer being whisked away by the Doc, due his concerns over the direction of their lives. He takes them to the year 2015, where Marty’s son is about to make a mistake that will unravel both his, and the family’s lives. Marty, while waiting to impersonate his boy—who is conveniently a dead ringer for him—comes across a sports statistics book and strikes upon an idea to get rich with it. After successfully thwarting his son’s descent into prison, Doc discovers Marty’s greedy plan and throws the book in the trash. Little do they know that old man Biff has been eavesdropping and managing to steal both the Delorean and Marty’s idea. When Doc and Marty return to 1985, everything has become a hellish alternate reality where Biff is rich and all powerful and Hill Valley is dilapidated. They are forced to escape Biff and his goons and travel back to 1955 and retrieve the book before young Biff can rise to power. Not everything goes to plan and by the cliffhanger finale, Marty and Doc are separating by 70 years with a whole new set of problems.Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy Though not as favorably reviewed as the first film back in 1989, Back to the Future 2 has since risen in appreciation over the decades, and earned Universal plenty of bread. It isn’t as tightly plotted as the first one and decidedly darker, but it’s still a rollicking good time. Characterization somewhat descends into slapstick this time out and become more caricature than character (to perfectly illustrate this, compare Fox, Lloyd and Wells against Fox, Lloyd and Shue in the exact same scene: same camera blocking, same dialogue but played in a completely different tone). The film is challenged with a much more complex narrative this time out, but adequately and cleverly pulls it off for the most part. The whimsical piss take of what 2015 would look like has gone on to have a new appeal now we’re past it (still no flying cars about).

Performances by all the actors, by and large, favor gag comedic in place of natural comedic turns from the first film, and I think it, with this narratives many disparate set-pieces, it really had to be played that way. It just isn’t as enjoyable for this reviewer. Thomas F. Wilson’s turn in this film stood out for me as Biff. In this one he stretches his range and makes for a compelling antagonist in many scenes.

The effects up the ante in this one, with the future and flying cars, holograms, age make-ups, multiple characters (played by the same actor) in several scenes—till firmly in the era of compositing special effects, its dated but still very impressive.

Of course this was the first of two sequels made to deliberately round out the Bobs story and by design ends without resolution. Had Marty and Doc succeeded in restoring their 1985 present to the way it was? Would Marty follow Doc’s letter from the Old West to not come after him? We would only have to wait a year to find out…

I always liked this movie. I acknowledge it’s not an Empire Strikes Back level follow up, but there are so many wonderful moments within that revisiting it is an easy yes. The Bobs didn’t rest on the laurels and just spew out the same thing and made a follow up worth their efforts.

3/5 stars


Back to the Future: The Ultimate TrilogyBack to the Future Part III

Having spent two movies worth of time flittering about through three disparate eras of Hill Valley, it would be an off-handed comment by Michael J. Fox on the first film that would plant the seed of the Old West in the Bobs minds for the third movie (another reason I call BS on the idea that they never intended sequels).

"Part Three is a remarkable bookend, sweet and soothing in some ways. It leaves one totally satisfied."


After leaving Marty stranded in 1955 and Doc blasted back into the Old West, Part Three would quickly add a new quandary for Marty to struggle with. Even though Doc had written down the means for Marty to get back to 1985 and warned him not to come get him, Marty discovers that his mentor had been murdered shortly after arriving in 1885 by Buford ‘Mad dog’ Tannen (Biff’s distant relation), with his tombstone mysteriously foot noted ‘by his beloved Clara’. Marty, of course, disobeys Doc’s instructions and arrives in the Old West instantly damaging the delorean’s fuel line. When he reaches Doc in Hill Valley—nothing more than an 1885 ramshackle town in its infancy—they both come afoul of Tannen almost immediately. They have but a week to find a way to get the delorean (which has no gas left thanks to the broken fuel line) up to 88 miles per hour before Doc’s (and subsequently Marty’s) tombstone becomes reality. Then they save schoolteacher Clara (Mary Steenburgen) from a bolting horse and another major hurdle lands: Doc falls hard for her and doesn’t want to leave.

This is simpler and much sweeter entry than its predecessor. Gone are very 1980’s concepts a material happiness, replaced with a simple love story and a strong sense of family and loyalty. Marty has some character growth in this one, bringing resolution to his character’s ego flaws, but Fox takes the reactionary role for the most part in this one. Lloyd’s ‘Doc’ takes to the fore (essentially the lead) with his romance, which displays a range and appeal within the character not seen in the other films. Steenburgen is pitch-perfect in her role as Clara (apparently written for her by the Bobs). Supporting characters in this one are the weakest of the three films but still very watchable. Buford Tannen falls more on the buffoon side of things than Wilson’s nefarious and powerful presence as Biff in Part Two. He’s too stupid to feel like an actual threat. Lea Thompson and Micheal J. Fox do the clichéd Irish imitation with Mary and Seamus McFly that are okay, but not very interesting or intrinsic to the plot (they’re frankly underwritten). And Shue as Jennifer is a wasted resource in this one, given nothing of value to do.Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy The Vistas, as one might come to expect from an Old West set film, are amazing. The custom built Hill Valley is a nod to the film’s of old, and beautifully done. Effects in this one are more sparing. Unburdened with the demands of the more science fiction elements of Part Two, Part Three is a simpler looking film but beautifully photographed. With the exception of the finale which is rife with spectacular set pieces and white knuckle moments: calling that simple would be insulting.

Silvestri again delivered a marvelously nuanced score that perfectly encapsulates the varying emotions this film elicits.

All in all this rounded out that rare and precious gift: a trilogy to be proud of. The two Bobs never rested too heavily on old successes. Each of the Back to the Futures have their own unique identity and fulfill their own place in the story of Marty and Doc. Part Three is a remarkable bookend, sweet and soothing in some ways. It leaves one totally satisfied. It kind of doubles down on this open ending from the first film that I still doubt was intended ;) But you leave this one saying ‘I’m good. Marty and Doc will now live happily ever after. Who could ask for more than that? (The Bobs insist, as long as they breathe, there will not be another).

4/5 stars

 


Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy

4K UHD

4K UHD Details:

Back to the Future (1985)

Home Video Distributor: Universal Studios
Available on Blu-ray
- October 20, 2020
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio:
English: Dolby Atmos; Dolby TrueHD 7.1; Dolby Digital 2.0; French: DTS 5.1Spanish: DTS 5.1
Discs: K Ultra HD Blu-ray DiscSeven-disc set
Region Encoding: 4K Blu-ray: Region free2K Blu-ray: Region A, B

VIDEO:

Oh yes! It’s time for me to gush some more. Happy days. This masterful Dolby Vision/HDR10+ native scan present the original camera negatives as we’ve never seen before. First marred by lower resolution, then a heavy handed Universal digital scrubbing on their blu-rays, this film looks almost perfect. The inky blacks are sublime, the mostly subtle and complimentary HDR really pops the effects, like lightning strikes, and the delorean’s flux capaciting (is that a word?) They effectively blaze off the screen and light up the room. Fine detail is eye popping and grain is organic and seldom intrusive. Only video-philes are going to pick up its weaknesses in darker scenes, but since my old eyes are getting on, this is mention by proxy only—I didn’t notice it really. Skin tones are more natural and far more detailed than previous releases, really coming to the fore when watching Lea Thompson. This is a knock out job visually for its 35th Anniversary release.

AUDIO:

I could so drop some colorful adjectives to describe this gem of a 7.1 Dolby Atmos, but I’ll try to contain my potty mouth. It’s a thing of F-ing beauty. There is such heft and complexity in this mix that makes it more immersive than ever before. A lot of mixes spout 7.1 on their covers and barely work out the secondary and overhead channels. Back to the Future challenges every channel and is one of the best directional sound mixes ever created. Opening scene, where Marty blows the tyrannosaurus Amp, should frighten all the neighbors 3 blocks away.

Supplements:

Special Features:

Back to the Future’s previously releases were rather generous and expansive in terms of supplementary materials. It feels unjust and ungrateful to say there’s nothing new here, but there is nothing new. You are getting the excellent documentaries, commentaries, and featurettes from previously releases, so there’s that. But I will not mark up a brand new set for providing archival and previously offered material. The reason to buy this is the restoration on the movies; they couldn’t have made a doco on that?

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 4/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

4/5 stars


Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy

Blu-ray

4K UHD Details:

Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Home Video Distributor: Universal Studios
Available on Blu-ray
- October 20, 2020
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio:
English: Dolby Atmos; Dolby TrueHD 7.1; Dolby Digital 2.0; French: DTS 5.1Spanish: DTS 5.1
Discs: K Ultra HD Blu-ray DiscSeven-disc set
Region Encoding: 4K Blu-ray: Region free2K Blu-ray: Region A, B

VIDEO:

Once again, Universal pulled out all stops to make this native 4K scan/restoration a no brainer for an upgrade. This is, by a long stretch, the best this movie has ever looked on home media. The Dolby Vision/HDR10+ additives really raised the bar on this film’s effects. The darker tones of this film are inky black and contrast beautifully with some truly spectacular light shows (the delorean effects, neon signs) Marty’s deep red jacket, the bold skies of Hill Valley.) SO GOOD. Grain is natural and unobtrusive, with a small ( and unavoidable) caveat being the heavy compositing done to achieve the skyways at the start of the flick. Flesh tones are rich and layered and natural, from Doc’s various ages to Lorraine’s pancake make-up boob job glory wife. Astounding in every way.

AUDIO:

GUSH TIME AGAIN: the narrative and set pieces of Back to the Future 2 is choked to brim and required an equally choked and complex sound design to pull it off. It’s delivered here in a Dolby Atmos 7.1 mix that will knock your speakers socks off. So richly and specifically targeted to be one of the finest examples of LFE and specified directionality I have even heard. They have done a John Hammond and ‘spared no expense’ in super charging this sound mix. It is reference quality and worth the cost of a re-buy alone.

Supplements:

Special Features:

Again, it’s rich with archive special features but with no new content I won’t award any higher then 3, nor bother to write about it.

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 4/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 4/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

4/5 stars


Back to the Future: The Ultimate TrilogyBlu-ray

 

Blu-ray Details:

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Home Video Distributor: Universal Studios
Available on Blu-ray
- October 20, 2020
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio:
English: Dolby Atmos; Dolby TrueHD 7.1; Dolby Digital 2.0; French: DTS 5.1Spanish: DTS 5.1
Discs: K Ultra HD Blu-ray DiscSeven-disc set
Region Encoding: 4K Blu-ray: Region free2K Blu-ray: Region A, B

VIDEO:

GAWD I’m so boring: time to GUSH again. Okay this time it is gonna sound like hyperbole but I assure you it isn’t. I’ve pretty much drooled over the first two discs, well let me tell ya: THREE IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS. Yes individuals, that’s right, this one’s Dolby VISION/HDR10+ compatible 4K native scan is stuff of dreams. Maybe it’s the bright settings of the Old West, but the colors leap off your display in blazing blues and deep reds. Gob smacking clarity awaits you in the skin tones, the costumes, the patinas on the sets, the crisp starlit night scenes, and the spectacular train sequence at the end. Zero crush, zero signs of DNR, and just amazing work.

AUDIO:

Perfect again. Dolby Atmos 7.1 mix again. Some of the finest directional mixing on a track I’ve even experienced… again. I can’t think of anymore adjectives to convey just how good the mix on the entire trilogy is.

Supplements:

Special Features:

Copious archival stuff from previously releases but nothing new.

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 4/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 3/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

4/5 stars

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