The movie critique portion of this review was written by my colleague Ben Belcher.
Part 1: The One That Started It All
If you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave somewhere since 1985 and are somehow not aware of the famous Back to the Future franchise, allow me to bring you into the fold. A young Michael J. Fox and a slightly less old Christopher Lloyd star in one of the best time travel comedies ever made. Not enough for you? Okay. How ‘bout a DeLorean that is also a time machine powered by stolen plutonium?!
Pardon my excitement. Back to the Future is just one of those series that defined huge chunks of my childhood. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) plays a young underdog trying to make his way in a town that pays him no mind at all. He’s got his sweet girlfriend Jennifer Parker (Claudia Wells), but even she can’t shake his angsty teen woes. Who can? Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) that’s who! Doc builds a time machine into a DeLorean, changing Marty’s life forever. After a tragedy at Twin Oaks mall, Marty is forced to retreat 30 years into the past to 1955…only now he’s stuck in the past!
What ensues is a wild ride through the young lives of the adults Marty knows as he attempts to make his way back home where he belongs before he doesn’t exist anymore! Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover work magic in their roles as both of Marty’s parents in the present and their own younger selves in 1955, and Thomas F. Wilson’s Biff makes for a truly great antagonist.
Spoiler alert, Marty does make it back to 1985…just in time for the sequel! (which in real time took 4 years, but I luckily did not have to wait that long)
Part 2: My Favorite One
Having managed to get back to 1985, Marty now finds himself in a slightly different world that he left in the previous film. Jennifer Parker (now played by Elizabeth Shue) is still by his side, but now his father is a successful writer and Biff is a bumbling auto mechanic. Doc Brown returns in glorious fashion in the famous DeLorean, which is now a flying DeLorean, and says that there is a problem in the future with their kids! McFly, Parker, and Doc make their way back to the future (get it?!) to 2015. The bumbling Biff sees all of this.
The future, as it would seem, has not been kind to poor Marty and it has had a similar effect on his future son. Doc enlists Marty’s help in preventing “a sequence of events that destroys [Marty’s] whole family!” The future treats us to an interesting redo of the Biff chase scene from the previous film, but this time with hoverboards!
Marty’s nemesis across the ages, Biff, steals the time machine in 2015 and gives his much younger self a sports almanac. Armed with future knowledge, Biff becomes inconceivably rich and somehow even worse than he already was, and becomes quite possibly my favorite movie villain of all time. He’s the type of villain that relishes in being evil, and it is a treat to watch his comeuppance in the end.
The resolution of everything is not only incredibly satisfying, but it also leads to a great setup for part 3!
Part 3: Even Further Back…To The Future!
Part 3 starts us off where the first film ended, with Doc Brown joyously running down the street at the success of his time machine…then Marty runs up on him again! After a short stint in 1955 with “young” Doc, Marty, nearly resigned to leaving his friend in the past, discovers not only the DeLorean but Doc’s grave with a date much earlier than anticipated. Cue our boy Marty making his way into the past to save Doc!
Everyone is in top form for the conclusion to this time travel epic, returning and new alike. Biff’s Old West ancestor Bufford “Mad Dog” Tannen, still portrayed by Thomas F. Wilson, is wonderful. He is so over the top that he manages to somehow fit perfectly into his surroundings while also being a great parody of it at the same time.
Mary Steenburgen plays Doc’s love interest, Clara, and she is an absolute delight. She’s witty, charming, and she makes an excellent companion for Doc. She’s brimming with positivity and curiosity, and she steals the show when she’s on screen.
After some literal Wild West shootouts, getting chased by Native Americans, and even a train rescue, Part 3 delivers a most satisfying conclusion…and a flying time-travelling train. What more can you really ask for?
First things first, all three films in Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy have been newly remastered and serve as a significant step up from their previous Blu-Ray releases. The previous releases were disappointments to various degrees, but Universal largely knocks the video portion of the disc out of the park this time around. There is also a new 4K UHD Blu-Ray set on the market that was not provided to me for review, but those who are 4K capable might want to consider springing for that one. In an effort to not duplicate descriptions, I will largely attempt to group the films together while pointing out noticeable differences.
As the series progresses, the video quality gets stronger, but the initial installment is no slouch. Colors pop off the screen with an impressive vibrancy that make this set a real visual treat. Part II, in particular, brings a tear to your eyes with the vibrant interiors and vivid colors in the costumes and production design. The filmic quality is preserved for all the movies in the set with natural grain that yields a pleasing amount of detail. There does appear to be some artificial sharpening that results in some occasional lost detail, but it does not take away from the overall giant leap in quality. Skin tones look nice and natural throughout with an impressive amount of detail on display from the normal faces, as well as those covered in prosthetics. Black levels are incredibly deep without giving way to any unwanted crush. There is no hint of compression artifacts or banding to be found. This transfer allows a lot of texture and depth to shine through in the production design. These new discs are by far the best the series has ever looked on Blu-Ray.
This Blu-Ray set comes with incredibly active DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks for all three films that create a truly enveloping world. Dialogue always comes through crisp and clear without being stepped on by the soaring score or any sound effects. Action sequences and more kinetic moments are given the appropriate power in the mix with a forceful showing in the low end. Ambient sounds are also precisely placed in the rear channels. The spatial awareness of the track is pretty insane at times, and the panning techniques are used to great effect. The differing time periods also yield different environments for the tracks to convey, and none of them ever fail to bring their world to life with the appropriate sounds. The audio presentations here are fantastic on all levels. It is worth noting that those who purchase the 4K UHD Blu-Ray set will be greeted with new Dolby Atmos tracks on the 4K discs that should be quite a ride. It is a shame that Universal could not have included the new audio track on the Blu-Ray discs, as well.
Back To The Future
- Audio Commentary #1: A Q&A commentary hosted by USC with Director Robert Zemeckis and Producer Bob Gale in which the moderator asks some worthwhile questions that get the fun anecdotes flowing including where certain character names originated, how the design of the DeLorean evolved to fit the narrative needs, disagreements they had with the studio and more. This format keeps the information flowing where you are not left with a lot of dead air, which is appreciated.
- Audio Commentary #2: Co-Producer and Co-Screenwriters Bob Gale and Neil Canton give scene-specific commentary in which they purposefully try to avoid repeating stories that can be found in the other commentary or elsewhere on the disc. They most succeed, so I would say this one is worth listening to if you are a fan of the film and want more granular thoughts on the production.
- Deleted Scenes: Eight scenes totaling eleven minutes of unused footage are provided here including additional scenes of George being a pushover, an extended Darth Vader sequence, Doc acclimating to the time change and more. Most of these are in pretty rough shape with print damage and other instances of poor source material abound. There is an option to watch these with commentary from Producer Bob Gale.
- Tales From The Future – In The Beginning: A 27-minute look at the development of the film from the initial idea to fleshing out the details to make sure the film makes sense. The creative team discusses the rejection before meeting with Spielberg, the failure in casting Marty the first time around, finding the right actors for the supporting roles and more. There are some truly wonderful interviews with all of the main participants that are a joy to witness.
- Tales From The Future – Time To Go: A 30-minute look at the production of the film including the debate about the title, the narrative breadcrumbs that left throughout the film, getting the production design time period accurate, nailing the emotional character beats and more. This also offers up a lot of fun stories about the initial reaction to the film, as well.
- Tales From The Future – Keeping Time: A 6-minute look at the iconic music from the film complete with vintage interviews with composer Alan Silvestri. The piece also delves a bit into how the theme was utilized in the sequels to great effect.
- Archival Featurettes
- The Making of Back to the Future: A 14-minute vintage piece which offers up interviews from the set including Fox discussing balancing his schedule with Family Ties, how the team developed the ideas of a mobile time machine, the makeup process and more. It is so trippy to see people like Spielberg so young and discussing the film without knowing how huge it is going to be.
- Making the Trilogy – Chapter One: A nearly 16-minute look at the franchise that delves into tackling the time travel concept, why they chose to use the DeLorean in the film, abandoned ideas, why the studios were hesitant to come on board, among other topics.
- Back to the Future Night: A 27-minute special that aired on NBC that was hosted by Leslie Nielsen (Airplane!) as a part of a television screening of the film prior to Back to the Future Part II. There are some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits in here that have not been touched on in other supplements, but the real reason to watch this is for Nielsen.
- Michael J. Fox Q&A: A 10-minute Q&A with Fox in which he talks longing to be a part of the project on the set of Teen Wolf, how Doc Brown was the perfect vessel for exposition, juggling his work schedule, working on the sequels and more. Any chance to hear Fox talk more in-depth is always appreciated.
- Behind the Scenes: In this section you can take a look at the original makeup tests, some hilarious outtakes, take a look at a storyboard for an unused nuclear test site sequence with optional commentary from Bob Gale, and look at some photo galleries.
- Huey Lewis and The New “The Power of Love” Music Video: The nearly seven-minute video for the hit song which features an appearance from Doc and Marty in the DeLorean.
- Theatrical Teaser Trailer: The minute-and-a-half long teaser is included here which features no actual footage from the film, but does an excellent job of building your interest.
- Join Team Fox: A six-minute featurette that highlights the charitable efforts of Michael J. Fox through his foundation to raise funds to combat Parkinson’s disease.
Back To The Future Part II
- Audio Commentary #1: Another Q&A commentary hosted by USC with Director Robert Zemeckis and Producer Bob Gale in which the subjects discuss how the sequels were developed, why Crispin Glover was not in the film, getting the studio on board with shooting the films back to back, and many more anecdotes.
- Audio Commentary #2: Co-Producer and Co-Screenwriters Bob Gale and Neil Canton once again give scene-specific commentary in which they discuss playing hardball with the studio executives on salaries, stunts that went awry, developing their vision for the future, some flaws in logic throughout the film and more. They are a wealth of knowledge and worth spending a couple of hours listening to.
- Deleted Scenes: Seven scenes totaling six minutes of unused footage including scenes of Terry and Biff bickering, an extended scene of the family eating pizza with Michael J. Fox playing multiple roles, a look at a burned up version of the school and more.
- Tales From The Future – Time Flies: A 29-minute look at the next chapter in the franchise in which the participants discuss why certain cast members did not return for the sequel, how they got around not having Crispin Glover in the film, how they pulled off some of the special effects, why they felt they needed to go darker in the second film and more. This installment in the multi-part documentary keeps up the high quality.
- The Physics of Back to the Future: An eight-minute in which physicist Michio Kaku discusses what the film gets right about time travel. He responds really positively to the film compared to other movies he has major issues with. This is a fun one to dive into.
- Archival Featurettes
- The Making of Back to the Future Part II: A seven-minute featurette which briefly goes over who was returning for this installment and how the story continues from the first film. You do not get too much information that you cannot hear in other features, but some of the vintage interviews are fun to check out.
- Making the Trilogy – Part Two: A nearly 16-minute featurette that is a bit more comprehensive in which the creative team discusses the differing perspectives on the first film, how they used the first film to inform the events of the second one, how they leaned into the unpredictability of the future and more.
- Behind the Scenes: In this section you can take a look at outtakes from the film, storyboards, some of the special effects designs, photo galleries and more.
- Theatrical Trailer: The two-minute trailer is presented in standard definition and provides a good overview of the film.
Back To The Future Part III
- Audio Commentary #1: One final Q&A commentary hosted by USC with Director Robert Zemeckis and Producer Bob Gale in which the subjects discuss the fun they had shooting a western, some of the horse stunts they pulled off, the new faces in this installment and more. After three tracks like this, the periods of silence start to grow longer and the track eventually ends long before the end of the film.
- Audio Commentary #2: Co-Producer and Co-Screenwriters Bob Gale and Neil Canton return once more to give scene-specific commentary in which they discuss including a new Universal logo before the film, the initial screenings of the film, experiences shooting in specific locations, what it was like to shoot with the horses and more.
- Deleted Scenes: One unused minute-long scene is included hear which features the Tannen gang killing Marshal Strickland. There is an option to view this scene with optional commentary by producer Bob Gale.
- Tales From The Future – Third Time’s The Charm: A 17-minute featurette in which the participants discuss the fun of tackling a new genre, how the filmmakers tapped into their love of westerns, building a western town, bringing a new dimension to Doc Brown, Mary Steenburgen joining the cast and more.
- Tales From The Future – The Test Of Time: One final 17-minute featurette that covers the entire legacy of the film from its place in popular culture, having a rollercoaster ride at Universal, the animated series, how it made the Delorean more popular, the themes of the film and more. This is a nice finale to this incredibly well-made documentary.
- Archival Featurettes:
- The Making of Back to the Future Part III: A vintage eight-minute look at the basics of the film from the new time period, the new faces in the cast, crafting the thrilling climax and more. Once again, the best aspects of this are seeing the on-set interviews with the actors.
- Making the Trilogy – Part Three: A sixteen-minute featurette in which the participants discuss shooting the films back to back, the relaxing nature of being on set in the “west”, getting Mary Steenburgen on board, the importance of the music in the film and more.
- The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy: A 21-minute special in which host Kirk Cameron takes you through the entire trilogy to answer some burning questions from fans about hoverboards, the physical demands on the actors, possible continuity errors and more. Most of these things are addressed in other supplements, but this is a pleasant enough special.
- Behind The Scenes: In this section you can take a look at outtakes, photo galleries, and how the creative team came up with the designs for certain elements in the film.
- ZZ Top “Doubleback” Music Video: A four-minute music video for the song from the film featuring moments from the film edited together with footage of the band.
- FAQs About the Trilogy: A series of screenshots which show some of the most commonly asked questions from the trilogy as answered by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. There are some interesting tidbits in here that are likely to answer any of the lingering questions you have after watching the films.
- Theatrical Trailer: The two-minute trailer is presented here in standard definition which plays up the fact that this is the final installment.
- Back to the Future – The Ride: A 31-minute featurette that allows you to view the lobby video and ride video that you see whenever you experience the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios. It is fun to see Doc and Biff return in this video, and it is nice to not have to travel to the park to enjoy this.
- The Hollywood Museum Goes Back to the Future: Founder and President of the Hollywood Museum Donelle Dadigan introduces the museum’s Back to the Future exhibit. Producer Bob Gale takes you through some of the items in the museum including his father’s yearbook that inspired the film, the letter he received from President Reagen after he quoted the film in a speech, a hoverboard, comic books from the film and more. This looks like a place I really need to visit one day.
- Back to the Future – The Musical Behind the Scenes: A three-part look at the musical adaptation of the movie.
- Cast & Creative Q&A: A 28-minute video featuring producer Bob Gale, Christopher Lloyd, Musical Producer Colin Ingram, and Actors Olly Dobson and Roger Bart. All of the participants have interesting things to say, but the most rewarding aspect is having Christopher Lloyd reflect on the film with the actor who is playing Doc Brown in the show.
- “Gotta Start Somewhere”: A nearly three-minute video featuring one of the songs from the musical. The song is decent enough, but it does not seem like something I would need to seek out.
- “Put Your Mind To It”: Another three-minute video featuring a different song from the musical. This song is on par quality wise with the preceding song.
- An Alternate Future – Lost Audition Tapes: A four-minute video that includes real auditions from notable actors from today that got passed over when they tried out for the film. Videos include Billy Zane as Biff Tannen, Peter DeLuise as Biff Tannen, Kyra Sedgwick as Jennifer Parker, C. Thomas Howell as Marty McFly, Jon Cryer as Marty McFly, and Ben Stiller as Marty McFly.
- Could You Survive the Movies? Back to the Future: A twenty-minute YouTube video that explores how certain sequences would really affect the characters if the movies were scientifically accurate. Poor Marty would not have even made it out of the opening credits. This is really fun.
- 2015 Message From Doc Brown: A minute-long message from Doc Brown that celebrates the anniversary of the film.
- Doc Brown Saves the World! A ten-minute video in which Doc Brown is recording a message for Marty in an attempt to save the world. It’s a lot of fun to see Llyod in the role again after so many years.
- Outatime – Restoring the Delorean: A 22-minute look at the journey to restore the time machine after all these years since it was in rough shape. This is a nice mixture of the restoration process led by fans of the film with some detailed history of the car’s place in the franchise.
- Looking Back to the Future: A 46-minute retrospective on the film that delves into the creation of the film, the casting process, preparing for the Chuck Berry scene, the iconic score and more. A lot of the information has been repeated in other supplements, but they always include just enough new stuff to make it worthwhile.
- Back to the Future – The Animated Series: The first episode from each of the show’s two seasons are provided here in standard definition. This show is charming in its own way, and I wish they could have found a way to include the entire series in this set.
- 2015 Commercials
- Jaws 19 Trailer: A minute-and-a-half long parody trailer that is pretty hilarious.
- Hoverboard Commercial: A funny, self-serious trailer advertising the amazing new hoverboard and how it gives you the freedom to catch some serious air.
I do not think I am telling anyone anything new when I say Back to the Future is one of the all-time great franchises. The films are hilarious and heartfelt, and the way in which they keep the story fresh from film to film is truly a wonder. I will never not love spending time with Doc Brown and Marty on their time-hopping adventures, and I am grateful Universal Pictures Home Entertainment keeps showing the series the appropriate amount of love. The Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy Blu-Ray set offers a significant improvement in picture quality over previous outdated Blu-Ray transfers. This set is also bursting at the seams with engaging special features that fans will want to check out. If you are 4K capable, you might as well spring for that set, but those who are stopping at Blu-Ray will find this a worthwhile upgrade all the same. Highly Recommended
Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray and Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.