Back to the Future is one of the most revered trilogies from the 1980s, so it was just a matter of “time” before the series traveled to the world of HDTVs and DTS-HD Master Audio. The series’ 25th Anniversary marked the logical time to release a Blu-ray box set of all three films, but logic was about the last thing many people wanted to hear or see. We wanted Marty, Doc and Biff on our HDTVs, and we wanted them now. Well, the “future” is upon us. Universal has just released the three-disc 25th Anniversary Trilogy Blu-ray set, and let me reassure you that it’s absolutely worth the wait.
The first question with the Back to the Future Blu-ray set is whether the films stand the test of time. After all, we’ve all had those fond memories of Cannonball or Conan the Barbarian dashed into a million pieces when re-watching the movies decades later and discovering that they actually stunk. That’s definitely not the fate of these three films. Starting with Disc One and moving down to Disc Three, the Back to the Future movies inspire just as many laughs and (marginally) suspenseful moments as they did when we first saw them in the theater (or on TV, for the younger DailyGame readers in the room). Yes, the fashions are dated. Yes, the dialogue uses phrases that have long since passed out of the everyday lexicon. Yes, the world has long since realized a Delorean can in no way, shape or form possibly be converted to a time-traveling device. But you know, those dated elements play perfectly into the theme and premise of the trilogy as a whole, and they’re actually responsible for some of the films’ ongoing charm, particularly when viewed through a Blu-ray lens.
With the movies’ quality intact, the second question about a set such as this is whether the digital remastering is actually worth anything. To answer this question, let me borrow a bit from Doc Brown himself: when this baby hits your Blu-ray player, you’re going to see some serious sweetness. I’ve seen plenty of classics revived on Blu-ray, ranging from Predator to Beetlejuice, but Universal’s work remastering the Back to the Future trilogy puts every other update to shame. The visuals absolutely pop off the screen, and there are several scenes, particularly in the first film (where it’s most impressive) that exude such clarity that you’ll swear the movie was filmed with an HD camera. From the saturation of the palette and depth of the blacks to the crisp lines and sharp focus, the Back to the Future trilogy on Blu-ray is truly something to behold. I recognized this right away on the first film, but it wasn’t until watching the bonus features on all three discs and seeing the side-by-side comparisons that I really came to appreciate just how much work went into the visual restoration. If this series had even flirted with the “Cannonball” effect mentioned above, the visuals would have quickly brought you back into the “must own” fold. But excellent films and excellent video restoration? You don’t have a reason not to own it.
The audio holds up pretty well, although the rear channels seldom get much of a workout unless the Delorean is whizzing past the camera with its requisite special effects. The second film improves on the rear channel performance somewhat, as a flying Delorean passes things in the air and thus has more opportunities for environmental surround. But, when the third Back to the Future film hits the Old West, the audio again relies primarily on the front and center. Throughout the trilogy you’ll also find occasional issues with imbalanced audio that require messing with the volume control, and the original film’s opening scene with the big speaker doesn’t pack nearly the punch I expected it to. Still, none of these nitpicks is a deal breaker, and although the latter is certainly disappointing, since you’re going to be messing with the volume control anyway, you may as well take the opportunity to crank it up manually for that first loudspeaker scene.
Promoted on the box of the Back to the Future 25th Anniversary Trilogy on Blu-ray is the fact that the set contains “hours of bonus features.” This is true, as the three discs combined contain well over 12 hours of bonus features (including the feature-length commentaries). But it’s important to point out that only about four or five of those hours are new. The remaining time is comprised of deleted scenes, outtakes and “Archival Featurettes,” which is just a fancy way of saying “old features you’ve seen before but are presented here for posterity’s sake.” To be fair, having literally every ounce of bonus content released so far makes this set the ultimate Back to the Future compendium. The music videos for the Huey Lewis and ZZ Top songs are a nice retro touch as well, and seeing the storyboards from a never-before-seen nuclear test site ending to the first film will have you thanking your lucky stars that the clock tower was conceived. However, the bonus features that hardcore BTTF fans will likely want to pay most attention to are a “Physics of Back to the Future” piece, a six-part series called “Tales from the Future” and a special about Back to the Future: The Ride, a former Universal Studios attraction.
The Tales from the Future are split into six episodes: three on Disc One (alongside the first film), one on Disc Two and two on Disc Three. Each of these half-hour featurettes focuses on a different making-of element, from casting and costuming to production and reflections from the cast. It’s fascinating to watch these features and switch quickly back to the old 4:3 ratio Archival interviews to see how folks’ memories and comments have changed from the original interviews. It’s also intriguing to see how many comments have remained consistent, as it really shows that the cast and crew wasn’t just making stuff up for the first go-round. On a more human level, these newly recorded featurettes are fascinating to watch after viewing each movie just to see how much the cast members, in particular, have changed in the past 25 years.
If you don’t mind me going geek for a moment, I will admit that the feature on Disc Three that most excited me is the inclusion of all pre-show, lobby and in-ride video from Back to the Future: The Ride. This ride has recently been replaced at the Universal Studios parks by The Simpsons: The Ride — an equally if not more impressive A/V experience that I’ve done multiple times — but to me the big building at Universal will always be home to BTTF: The Ride, which brought the time-traveling experience home for so many millions of theme park visitors. Since it was first announced that the BTTF ride would close, I’ve been remorseful that my kids haven’t been old or lucky enough to see those hilarious videos or see (and feel) for themselves the rigors of time travel in a Delorean. Thanks to the Back to the Future trilogy on Blu-ray, I don’t feel that remorse any more: the entire experience all included in this Blu-ray box set! In fact, our friends at D-BOX included on-disc Motion Code for all three movies, which we’ll review shortly, but they also made the I-will-absolutely-kiss-whoever-made-the-decision move to provide Motion Code for the Ride portion of Disc Three, thus enabling my kids to fully and physically experience Back to the Future: The Ride in the comfort of their own home. (Full disclosure: I had difficulties getting the Code to load properly the first time.) This inclusion is absolutely amazing, and Fox/Lucas/Disney, if you’re reading this and allow D-BOX to pull it off, whenever you release the Star Wars collection on Blu-ray Disc, for the love of all that’s good and pure please put a Motion-Coded Star Tours on one of the discs.
Ahem. I’ll remove my geek hat now.
All of this is to say that Universal absolutely drilled the 25th Anniversary set of Back to the Future on Blu-ray. From the visual and audio restoration to the inclusion of every imaginable bonus feature and D-BOX Motion Code not only for the films but also for the now-defunct Ride, this is one of the most comprehensive box sets I’ve seen. If only Universal had fully juiced he audio and the made the latches that hold the Blu-ray discs in place less rigid (it feels like you’re going to snap the disc each time you pull it out), I would have nothing to find fault with when discussing this set. But really? The latches? Yeah, that’s minutiae, folks. Go buy this set now.
You can buy it from Amazon.com using this link: Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy.
- Score: 9.3
- The classic ’80s trilogy hits 88mph in its high-definition update, bringing all its old-style goodness to the A/V future. This is quite possibly the most comprehensive box set for any series you’ll ever own.
— Jonas Allen