I have to say, this is the most difficult section I have written since I started work for the site. So let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first. Each film is presented, of course, in a 1080P theatrically correct 1.85 : 1. Let’s also state for the record that this is easily the best these films have ever looked in the home. Upgrading, if you’re a fan, is a no-brainer. Or is it? Well, that depends on your tolerance of a certain technique. But more of that later.
Let’s start with some more facts. The transfers were produced with the participation of Bob Gale, and were made using a 2k resolution scan. As Bob Gale was involved, I suppose we can be sure that this was how he wanted the movies to look. As the films were shot so closely together, we are able to view all three films as a whole.
The sheer level of detail in the image when compared to the original DVD releases is captivating and surprising. The town square in the original really comes to life, showing attention to detail of the set designers which hadn’t really been clear before. True this may not be up to the standard of your modern blockbuster, but for a catalogue title of this age the results are breath-taking. I found my eyes really drinking in the detail of Hill Valley in the future in Back to the Future 2, noticing the great nods to the first film and the little details on signs and buildings. You can certainly attain even greater appreciation of the lengths that were gone to in order to create these environments.
Contrast is excellent, and the sense of depth is palpable. Colours are also far brighter than anything we have seen before. The colour in Marty’s shirt, and the surrounding architecture looks bright and vibrant. In the third film, the different shades of yellow and orange in the Wild West are brought vividly to life.
So why am I being slightly reserved about these transfers? Quite simply, it is the presence of DNR. Now, it is never as bad as some of the worst offenders out there, but particularly in the first film it is very prevalent. Waxy skin tones, and visible edge enhancement is clear and this spoils my enjoyment of the film. If you are one of those viewers who doesn’t particularly notice this effect then you will likely think these transfers are perfect. Those who do find their eyes sensitive to DNR should be aware though. It is not the worst I have seen, but it is certainly pretty bad.
The other problem, although there is no way this could be avoided considering the advantages in technology, is just how bad the special effects look on Blu-ray. Probably the worst example is the flames when the car time travels in the first movie. As we progress through the three movies, the special effects do improve somewhat – but the increase of resolution on Blu is always going to show up flaws in SFX from this period of time.
Ignore this, though, and the rest of the image is back to the positive. The level of grain has been reduced due to certain techniques, but is kept within the image giving it a nice organic quality.
So, when it comes to marking these – it is quite difficult to choose a mark. I have gone with an eight in the end, as a lot of effort has gone into these transfers, and they do represent the best the films have ever looked. However, depending on how sensitive you are to the effects of DNR you may want to mentally deduct a mark or even two.
What those who have never seen these films may be surprised at is that they are not the most aurally exciting trilogy ever committed to celluloid. They are surprisingly dialogue heavy, and tend to lack a vibrant sound mix. Nethertheless all the films are provided with a DTS-HD master audio soundtrack – and within the limitations of the source, the results are excellent.
The first thing to note is just how clear the dialogue is in the mix. Michael J. Fox has a very distinctive voice, and he uses inflections a lot to get the comedy of the moment across. Every nuance of his delivery is clearly rendered within the mix. Likewise with Christopher Lloyd who delivers a truly amazing vocal performance that is also captured well here.
The front sound field is wide, with the vocals well anchored to the center. The dynamic range of the soundtracks are also excellent, with the music soaring in the mix and the classic theme sounding superb.
When the surrounds are called into action, such as when the helicopter comes flying in at the end of the first film, or stampeding horses surround the viewer in the third, then they are impressively steered, with the action placed accurately. Sadly, though – apart from the showy scenes, there is very little ambience delivered from behind the viewer, and scenes where one might normally expect to hear subtle sounds (such as the under the sea ball) we hear nothing.
I should stress, again, that this is down to the original sound design and as such I am quite pleased that they haven’t gone back and artificially messed with the mix. However, those who are brought up on the more aggressive mixes that we see today need to be aware that this is an issue with this set.
There is a surprising amount of extra material provided in this box set. It may not quite challenge the behemoth that is the Alien Anthology but there is more than enough to keep any self-respecting Back to the Future fan happy. Everything from the previous DVD release is included, and then plenty of HD exclusives which you wont have seen before.
We will start by looking at Disc One.
The first extra that is found here is an Audio Commentary with Bob Gale, Neil Canton – the producers. At times it is hard to believe that Canton is present, so dominant is Gale. The track is very technical, and as such will probably only appeal to the hardiest of fans – but those will get much out of this commentary. Another Audio Commentary is a Q and A session recorded in front of an audience. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale feature here, and the chat is moderated by Laurent Bouzerau. This approach is novel, but I am not convinced it entirely works as it is not exactly scene specific. A lot of information presented here is repeated from the documentaries so this is not essential. It would have been nice if this extra could have been presented in some other way, but how I am not entirely sure.
Across all three discs is a new documentary filmed especially for this release and presented in HD. The First part is Tales from the Future : In the Beginning which lasts 27 minutes. Even Spielberg pops up here, with some amusing anecdotes – which is most pleasing. However, the main focus is on Zemeckis and Gale, as well as the cast and crew. The doc covers the origins of the story and how the screenplay was developed, as well as the challenges of filming. Full of fascinating insight, but never dry this is excellent – as is the second part Tales from the Future : Time to Go which lasts 30 minutes. This focuses more on the problems that occurred during filming, and is followed by Tales from the Future : Keeping Time which talks about the music.
Then there is an Archival Featurettes section. This starts off with the 27 minute Back to the Future Night. When the film was originally broadcast on TV stateside, it was preceded by this special, hosted by Leslie Nielson. It is PR fluff, focussing on the making of the film and also featuring a sneak peek from the sequel. More PR fluff is presented with The Making of “Back to the Future”. Lasting 15 minutes, it contains a few interviews but tends to cover material that is better presented elsewhere.
Another multi-part documentary is also included across the whole set, and the first part is on disc one. Making the Trilogy : Chapter One is a sixteen minute featurette which looks at the genesis of the story – something which is better covered elsewhere in the extras. On the original DVD box set, there was a PiP feature which included an interview with Michael J. Fox. There may be no PiP on the Blu-ray, but this material is still included as a Michael J Fox Q&A. There were eight parts originally and these are watchable individually or together in one chunk.
More material from the original DVD set is included in Behind the Scenes, which includes some original make-up tests for the aging work done on the main actors, some comedic outtakes, Photo Galleries, and the original storyboard for the original Nuclear test site ending, complete with optional commentary. I enjoyed the outtakes and the make-up tests most of all, even if the make-up looks particularly poor in HD.
Rounding out the package are 11 minutes of deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer, and one of the most bizarre music videos I have ever seen – for Huey Lewis and The News The Power of Love. The band perform live, plug the film for all they are worth, Christopher Lloyd turns up at the gig, turns around, walks out the door, and then disappears for the rest of the video. Strange.
And now on to Disc Two.
Like the Alien Anthology that I recently reviewed, the extras on Back to the Future tend to mirror themselves across the discs. Thus, Back to the Future II is blessed with two audio commentaries. The first is by Producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton and again is very technical, with lots of pauses. Not the best example of the genre. The second one is another Q&A commentary moderated by Laurent Bouzerau. I must say that until I got this set I always thought that the trilogy was planned from the start – so it is interesting hearing that this wasn’t the case.
Tales from the Future now continues, with another three parts included here. The first is called Time Flies and focuses on the creative team’s ideas when approached for a sequel – and also fully explains the Crispin Glover situation. Less substantial but still involving and entertaining is the second part The Physics of Back to the Future, and the final part is Keeping Time.
Now the set moves on to the archival section, which starts with The Making of Back to the Future Part II. Even less substantial than the first part, and lasting only 7 minutes, this is standard EPK material. Slightly longer, but not that much more substantial is the 16 minute Making the Trilogy: Chapter Two. Again this is primarily promotional stuff but does contain snippets of interesting interviews.
The Behind the Scenes section on the second disc is far longer than the first, lasting over an hour. There are more Outtakes here, as well as various sections on Production Design and storyboarding. We then get a much needed look at the time travel aspect of the series, which really wasn’t covered, in-depth on the first disc. We look at Designing the Delorean and also Designing Time Travel, which both look at how the car was designed for the film, and the different concepts the car went through. The Hoverboard Test section takes us behind the scenes, and shows us how the scenes were filmed, and the other special effects are covered in Evolution of Visual Effects Shots including some early computer generated shots. Photo Galleries make up this section.
The second disc is rounded out by some more deleted scenes and a Theatrical Trailer.
Finally, we move on to Disc Three.
Again, the two Audio Commentaries follow the same format as the first two discs – and have the same advantages and flaws.
Tales from the Future concludes on this disc with parts six and seven. The sixth part is Third Time’s the Charm, and looks at just how much fun was had filming a Western and the decision to give Doc a more interesting character arc and a love interest. The documentary concludes with The Test of Time, which looks at the legacy of the series.
Up to now, I have always looked at people who have D-Box motion equipment and thought “Why?”. Now, I finally understand. The next featurette on the disc is Back to the Future : The Ride which basically puts the viewer through the ride. It starts with the video that people watched as they queued, and then shows you the ride itself. If you have the D-Box equipment you can actually rock and roll as if you are sitting on the ride itself.
Then, The Making of Back to the Future Part III is another EPK piece, which deals with the third movie in a shallow eight minutes. Slightly more involved is Making the Trilogy : Chapter Three, which lasts 16 minutes and has some interesting insights into the reasons for making the third a western. Another featurette is The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy which was a half hour special aired on television just after the cinema release of the final instalment.
Again, on the third disc, the Behind-the-Scenes section contains multiple extras. There are some outtakes here as well, and also a look at Hill Valley over all three films in Designing the Town of Hill Valley. There are also some photo galleries, and a look at the promo artwork in designing the campaign.
An interesting little extra follows – the twenty minute FAQs about the Trilogy. This isn’t as in depth as you might expect but is a lot of fun. The awesome ZZ Top then make an appearance in the music video Doubleback, and the package is rounded out with one deleted scene, and a trailer.
The Back to the Future trilogy has sadly been rather eclipsed by the behemoth of an Alien set, and this is a shame because at any other time of the year this release would have been even more heralded than it has been. The set contains three films. The first is an absolute bona fide modern classic that deserves a place in every film fans collection. The second film is a bit of a curate’s egg. It is wildly inventive and has some excellent set pieces, but ends up being just a tiny bit too complicated for its own good. As the first film is a love letter to 50’s high school movies, so the third is a love letter to the Western, and as such is much closer in spirit to the first film. It may not quite have the timeless nature of the franchise starter but it is not far off, and it rounds off the trilogy perfectly.
The set has an AV quality that is very difficult to quantify. As all the films were shot so close together, and by the same team, there is not a massive amount to choose between them. I am afraid that I was not as sold on the picture as I might have been. To me, there was just too much evidence of artificial tampering which spoilt things. Waxiness in facial textures, and a lack of detail in places really dragged the mark down. This is not to say that the films are not presented in a better way than they ever did before – they look far better than their DVD companions ever did. It is just a shame that DNR has reared its ugly head. I should qualify this by stating that as always there will be some who don’t notice this technique. If you are one of them you can probably add another mark to my score.
The sound is a similarly mixed bag. Each film has been given a DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The second and third do benefit more from this, showing some nice directionality in places. The first doesn’t really have that dynamic a soundtrack to begin with, so this perhaps sounds a little less impressive.
For extras, Universal have included all the extras from the original DVD releases, and have added some more HD exclusive extras. The package is comprehensive and continuously interesting, without ever being too showy. The commentaries are disappointing however. It is also about time that Universal ditched their appalling menu system.
Overall, then Back to the Future can only ever be a recommendation from me. The first is a classic, the third is excellent, and the second is very good. The extras package is comprehensive and although the picture loses a few marks fans and newcomers alike should not hesitate to add this set to their shelf.
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