Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy Blu-ray Review: Once More Around the Clock

As good as it gets. Unless you have a time-traveling DeLorean lying around and were planning on joining me at the theater back in 1985.
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The theory of time travel is a tricky one indeed ‒ especially within the confines of the filmmaking world. While some of the greatest minds on Earth may lose most (if not all) of their marbles attempting to figure out just how to achieve the much-used science fiction element of jumping from one point in time to another in real life, some of the the world's most active imaginations have figured out a way of doing it on-screen. But it can still be a very hazardous journey, as Robert Zemeckis and his writing partner Bob Gale ‒ affectionately known as "The Two Bobs" ‒ learned when they first started work on a wild comical fantasy way back in 1980. When the initial concept was finally put to paper, The Two Bobs went from one studio to another, experiencing no less than 40 rejections and God knows how many drafts before someone finally decided to give their weird concept a chance.

Previously, The Two Bobs had worked with Steven Spielberg, where they not only wrote one of the iconic filmmaker's most disastrous films, the World War II comedy 1941, but helmed two of their very own box-office flops under Spielberg's financial supervision (I Wanna Hold Your Hand and the criminally underrated Used Cars). While the premise of The Two Bobs and the world's mightiest producer/director reuniting once more for a project that no one wanted anything to do with (Disney felt it was too risque, while other studios felt if should be much dirtier) seemed like an all-in-all straight-out big time recipe for paradoxical disaster, Spielberg's eventual participation in the production of what would eventually become the top-grossing film of 1985 and beginning of a motion picture legacy perhaps proved to be the film's own Deus Ex Machina.

I recollect seeing Back to the Future for the first time at a long-defunct theater in Reno, NV back in 1985. The weird, retrofuturistic cineplex with eight domed screens ‒ all of which were doomed to become a parking structure for the adjacent casino years later ‒ was the perfect setting for a bright-eyed youth such as my past self first to encounter the film (and it was an awesome experience through and through). For those of you who may have been living under a rock for the last thirty years, the story finds a hip teenager in 1985 named Marty McFly (aptly played by Michael J. Fox), who accidentally travels back in time to 1955 following the test run of one very souped-up DeLorean performed by his eccentric inventor pal, Doc Brown (the great Christopher Lloyd, in his most manic role). There, he mistakenly prevents his own parents (Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover) from meeting, and must then figure out how to (re)unite them before he is erased from existence in every timeline.

With its highly memorable dialogue and music (including two hits by Huey Lewis and the News written especially for the film), unique storyline, and perfect casting (sorry, Eric Stoltz), Back to the Future eventually became so successful that a sequel was unavoidable. Sadly, a cutesy joke at the conclusion of the first film ‒ where (the also highly successful) Back to the Future, Part II (1989) immediately begins ‒ sort of forced The Two Bobs into a writing corner, with Marty venturing into the year 2015 along with Doc and his girlfriend (Elizabeth Shue, replacing Claudia Wells from the original film) only to do the same thing all over again. Except in a far more complicated light as more timelines are introduced and disrupted by the trilogy's main villain (Thomas F. Wilson), which results in Doc and Marty travelling back to 1955 (again) in order to save the day (again). But that's generally how sequels work in the film world: you simply do the same thing over again, but differently.

Then there's Back to the Future, Part III (1990). Filmed back-to-back with Part II (hence all the references in that film to this one) and released just six months after the second installment, the film's third outing is less of a derivative story that spends too much time on people wearing old person makeup prosthetics (or trying to disguise the fact that Crispin Glover was not actually in the film) and instead shifts gears. After an accident sends Doc Brown back to 1885, Marty must figure out a way to save his old friend from a sticky situation and ventures back to the Old West. While generally loathed by most fans of the series, Back to the Future, Part III is the better sequel in my book, as it focuses more on Doc Brown himself (wherein Mr. Lloyd gets a chance to romance Mary Steenburgen), and features a standout (far more believable) performance by Thomas F. Wilson (to say nothing of Lea Thompson's Irish accent ‒ wow!).

But, no matter what your opinion is of the two sequels, there's no denying the cultural and historical impact the original Back to the Future has had on American civilization these past thirty years. And now the Future Trilogy is back in an all-new box set from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. In terms of quality and special features, the discs containing the three feature films are the exact same beautiful releases as seen in the Trilogy's 2010 Blu-ray debut. What's new this time around is a fourth disc featuring new special features ‒ many of which have already been released on the Internet by Universal Studios in order to promote this release and/or to honor October 21, 2015, (aka "Back to the Future Day"), which is of a major significance to fans of the series, as it was the day Marty traveled to the future in the second film.

The first new extra finds actor Christopher Lloyd returning in character as Doc Brown. Essentially, the 2015 Message from Doc Brown ‒ which dated itself a mere two days after the box set was released, mind you ‒ features the aged icon saying the exact same dialogue from the finale of Part III. It's something of a let-down, in my opinion, but nowhere near as oddly unsatisfying as Doc Brown Saves the World!: the second newly produced supplemental short featuring Mr. Lloyd, wherein he informs us why our 2015 does not have hoverboards, food rehydrators, Mr. Fusions, and power laces. (Truly, Lloyd's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live with Michael J. Fox was a more gratifying experience.) A look at the restoration of the classic DeLorean, the newly-assembled nine-part Looking Back to the Future.

The 30th Anniversary Trilogy set also includes two joke commercials ‒ one, an advertisement for hoverboards, the other, a teaser trailer for Jaws 19 ‒ as well as two episodes from the short-lived animated TV series (which was also called Back to the Future). A second, limited edition set, Back to the Future: The Complete Adventures, features all three films on Blu-ray, the whole of the animated series on DVD, and comes in a collectible light-up Flux Capacitor packaging with a 64-page booklet. For anyone who has already picked up the filmic series on Blu-ray, this set may be a bit of a double-dip, but the fourth disc of new bonus materials may be enough to steer them in the direction of buying it (and just in case you were wondering, no, we still don't get to see all of the footage featuring Eric Stoltz ‒ who was originally cast as Marty McFly due to scheduling conflicts with Michael J. Fox's busy work schedule).

For anyone who has not picked up the series, however, this is as good as it gets. Unless you have a time-traveling DeLorean lying around and were planning on joining me at the theater back in 1985.

Recommended.

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