Release Date(s)1985-1990 (October 26, 2010)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: A
- Overall Grade: B
Watching Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future Trilogy on Blu-ray has been an interesting experience for me. It’s been a long time since I revisited these films, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the original Back to the Future back in the day. Marty McFly and old Doc Brown’s big time travel adventure is surprising edgy and abundantly clever. The film holds up quite well after 25 years.
Conversely, I’d also forgotten how much less I liked the two sequels, Back to the Future II and III. Now... I wouldn’t say they’re bad, per se, and I think the trilogy as a whole works together fairly well. But the sequels remind me somewhat of the Matrix films: You have a terrific and original first film, followed by a pair of simultaneously-filmed sequels that just don’t have quite the same magic, tread too much familiar ground and get just a little too complicated for their own good. Don’t get me wrong – I certainly enjoy these films and I absolutely understand why they’ve developed such a strong and loyal following over the years. It’s just that, for me, it’s almost impossible to top that original experience.
Universal has obviously released the trilogy on DVD a couple of times previously, but each time they upgraded the quality and added great new content – enough to make fans largely willing to tolerate the double-dip. Well, Universal’s now reached the dreaded triple-dip with this long-awaited Blu-ray release... but, dare I say that the third time’s the charm? Yes, I think I do...
Producer Bob Gale was closely involved with the HD mastering process of these films, and I think fans will mostly be very pleased with the results. Presented in 1080p in their proper 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, all three films look quite good – certainly better than we’ve ever seen them at home – and the original film in particular is very impressive. Gale has made sure that the original film has much less digital noise reduction applied, so the detail is crisp and textures are wonderfully visible throughout. Now... you’re also going to see moderate film grain through the whole film, and that’s by design. I’m sure some younger viewers will call it noise and find it annoying, but longtime fans of these films should be quite pleased by the fact that the original film look has been preserved. Films II and III, however, aren’t quite as well presented. Detail is generally good at all times, but there does seem to be a little bit more noise reduction applied to the sequels, and the application is a bit uneven, probably having to do with the optical compositing used in the visual effects work. Some shots are crisp, while some look overly soft. It’s rarely distracting, but if you look you will notice it. All three films feature excellent contrast with deep, detailed blacks. Occasionally, the brightest areas of the image are a little hot looking, but again it’s not distracting. Thankfully, the colors on all three films are vibrant and accurate – which is good, as these films are nothing if not colorful. Audio-wise, each film is presented with 5.1 lossless mixes in DTS-HD MA format. All three sound good, with active surround play and good bass, but they are a little bit flat sounding – a little too biased to the front half of the soundstage to sound truly smooth and natural. Each film sounds a bit more natural than the last, and III is actually the best of the bunch. The mixes are in no way bad – all have clear dialogue and well mixed musical scores. It’s just that they do reveal their age a bit when compared to modern surround mixes. However, the improvement here over the DVDs in both picture and sound is nothing short of dramatic, resulting in a very enjoyable home viewing experience.
I am especially pleased to say that this is absolutely the best batch of extras that have ever accompanied these films on disc. First of all, it’s important to let you know that virtually all of the previously-released DVD extras have carried over here. Other than ROM content, the only things that are missing on the Blu-rays from the last DVD release (which itself included everything from the original DVDs) are the text excepts from the original film’s script and the 45-minute Looking Back to the Future documentary. The former is a very minor omission, and the latter is essentially replaced by the new 6-part Tales from the Future documentary on the Blu-rays, which covers much the same ground and more. All of the other previous featurettes, commentaries, trivia tracks, interviews, image and artwork galleries, trailers, outtake reels, music videos and deleted scenes are here – many hours worth of material. Some of this has actually been enhanced – the outtakes are in HD now, and the image galleries contain even more content than before. The films also now include a PiP storyboard viewing option, as well as something called Setups & Payoffs, which points out all of the little clues and visual hints in the film that become important to the story later. And yes, the Back to the Future: The Ride footage from the last DVD release has been included here too... AND the actual simulator portion is now enhanced with D-Box motion code (as are the films themselves), usable if you have D-Box-equipped seating – a pretty clever touch!
But the real gem of this Blu-ray special edition is the new Tales from the Future HD documentary, which (as I mentioned before) appears in 6 parts over the three Blu-rays. The complete documentary runs for over 2 hours, and features new interviews with almost everyone involved in the making of these films, including Zemeckis, Gale, producers Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, stars Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, and many, many more. It also includes tons of behind-the-scenes footage, photos and artwork, and... as you’ve no doubt heard by now... a little bit of never-before-seen footage of actor Eric Stoltz, who was originally cast as Marty, and actually worked on the film for some 5 weeks before the decision was made to replace him with Fox. To be fair, you don’t get to see much of the Stoltz footage – it’s essentially just 3 shots that run less than 30 seconds in all, with no on-set dialogue (Zemeckis and others talk over it). But as this is the first time fans have ever gotten to see a glimpse of Stoltz in the role, it’s still very cool to see. Also newly included here on Blu-ray is a featurette on the physics of time travel with Dr. Michio Kaku, as well as an HD-animated storyboard of the first film’s original “Nuclear Test Site” ending, presented like a motion-comic. It’s pretty neat to see.
Your decision to upgrade to this Blu-ray set... or not... will obviously depend on just how much you love these films. But there’s no doubt that Universal’s upgrade – both to the A/V quality and extras – is significant. The quality isn’t perfect, but I suspect that serious fans of these films will be very pleased, and all but the most picky A/V enthusiasts should really enjoy and appreciate this presentation. And the studio has definitely gone the extra mile to create worthy new bonus content for HD. Other than more Stoltz footage... and maybe a ride in the DeLorean itself... it’s hard to imagine what more Back to the Future Trilogy fans could possibly want that’s not included here. Whether it’s an immediate purchase or you choose to wait for a good sale price, this is a Blu-ray release I’m quite happy to recommend.
Film Ratings (I/II/III): A/B/C+
Video (I/II/III): B+/B/B
Audio (I/II/III): C+/C+/B-
- Bill Hunt