Back to the Future Trilogy Box Set
September 7, 2003
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Mary Steenburgen, Elisabeth Shue, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, James Tolkan, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber,
In 1985 the Spielberg produced Back to the Future became one of the greatest and most successful films of the decade, some may say that it is the defining movie of the Eighties, but it so nearly didn’t happen. Director Robert Zemeckis, as he explains in one of the many interviews on this DVD, tells of how he turned Spielberg’s offer to direct down as he had already had two box office failures with him. A third failure would, in his opinion, have ended his career. It wasn’t until some years later, after a few successful movies including Romancing the Stone, that Zemeckis revisited the idea of time travel and went into partnership with his mentor once again.
Originally starring Eric Stoltz in the lead role, Back to the Future went into production with modest aspirations, and even more modest budget that meant they had to rethink their planned power station ending. Thankfully the ‘cheaper’ ending they came up with involving the car, the clock tower and the bolt of lightning was far better than anything they had previously scripted. This happens frequently with great movies, the necessity of having no money creates a better sequence. The Untouchables originally had an ending scripted that involved a sequence aboard a moving train, but when they used the $600,000 set aside for that to pay off Bob Hoskins (who was replaced by Robert DeNiro) they had to work out a cheaper set piece in the train station involving prams and staircases. This is now one of the greatest action sequences in film.
Eric Stoltz incidentally was replaced after just two weeks of filming because it was thought by Zemeckis that it just wasn’t working. Michael J Fox was then brought in, despite appearing in TV show Family Ties at the same time. He would film Family Ties during the day and hot foot it over to Universal Studios for Back to the Future in the evening. Now that’s dedication.
But this release isn’t just Back to the Future, it’s the whole darn trilogy. You get the continuation of the story in Part II where Marty and the Doc travel the future and make an almighty mess of things, travel back to 1985 and realise the mess they’ve made is worse than they thought, before travelling back to 1955 to clear up said mess. The third instalment sees them travel back 1885 for a slightly less related Wild West yarn.
It all sounds very confusing, but rest assured that the brilliance of these films lies in their simplicity. We’ve all thought about time travel, being able to go back twenty years or so to get a pint for twelve pence is a personal dream of mine. But what happens if it all goes wrong? Travelling into the past can have catastrophic consequences if you happen to affect your future. Travelling into the future of course presents you with a look at what you’ll be like in a few years time, and if you don’t like it you could be tempted to alter it. The morality of time travel is very convoluted, and thoroughly explored in these films.
The first Back to the Future opens with Michael J Fox, the epitome of every typical high school kid, travelling to school on a skateboard to the tunes of Huey Lewis and the News. That scene firmly grabs the attention of the target audience and sides them with young McFly as he dodges strict teachers, figures of authority and plots a weekend with his girl. Things of course go a little awry thanks to the eccentric Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). The Doc has invented a time machine that can take them to any time in history, but unlike another Doc’s time machine this one cannot travel in time and relative dimensions in space, so they’re confined to the location from which they start. All of this techno babble means that their adventures don’t get out of Hill Valley, but they do encompass over a century of history.
The Doc explains to Marty on why his time machine is built from a DeLorean that he adopted the philosophy ‘If you’re going travel in time, why not travel in style?’. The truth is a little less enigmatic. Originally thee film’s designers had worked on designs based around a fridge. Yes, Marty could have been climbing into his refrigerator before shooting off through time. However this was dropped, not because it would have looked ridiculous but because they feared that all across America there’d be reports of kids locking themselves in fridges. Thank god for common sense.
With the fridge out of the running it fell to a DeLorean to make up the time machine, a futuristic looking car that failed beyond belief. Promising start then?
As with all mad old professors, things go pear shaped, particularly when they’ve been ripping off Libyan terrorists for their plutonium. The rather angry terrorists show up wanting revenge for their betrayal and Marty makes a sharp exit. Running for his life Marty jumps into the only escape vehicle available, and runs a good thirty years into the past.
This is where the adventures begin. Meeting his parents as teenagers, nearly preventing them from falling in love and having to explain to a thirty years younger Doc how he had invented a time machine in the future and catapulted Marty back through time to 1955 were the least of his worries. A very exciting and confusing plot unfolds that takes Marty through from playing matchmaker to his own parents to inventing the skateboard. Back to the Future has a power all of its own, one unmatched in any film, even its two sequels.
The one great thing that parts II and III have going for them is that they directly follow on from the original, more in fact; they inter-cut with the original. The whole trilogy seems when watched in one stretch as though it’s one film rather than three separate movies. This holds the trilogy together as one story, and you won’t see a better one.
The features gathered together on this release are both bountiful and varied. You get a score of deleted scenes, out takes, original documentaries, trailers and a series of newly crafted making of the trilogy documentaries. There’s quite literally everything you could want in terms of Back to the Future extras, except perhaps for one thing. Those blessed Eric Stoltz scenes. Every fan wants to know what it was like to have someone else in the role of their favourite film, and the chance to actually see footage of that in action is too good to pass up. Tom Selleck was originally cast as Indiana Jones, Christopher Walken was nearly Han Solo – seeing these guys in those roles would be a dream come true. So why oh why has that Stoltz footage not been brought forward here?
Another omission would be the music video for The Power of Love from Huey Lewis and the News. We’ve been given the rather less impressive ZZ Top offering, but it just doesn’t measure up. Let these grumbles from a bitter old man sway you not though, this release has more to offer in terms of insights than it fails to deliver.
Of course the involvement of Spielberg can’t be overlooked in this film. It came at a point in his career when everything he touched seemed to quite literally turn to gold. Indiana Jones I, II and III, Poltergeist, E.T. and the Back to the Future movies represented part of the greatest winning streak any producer/director has ever had. It reached a point where six of the ten highest grossing movies of all time were his. Of course times have changed, he’s still a powerful force in Hollywood but his days of simply attaching his name to a film to guarantee its success are long gone. Back to the Future represents his golden age, and therefore the golden age and indeed birth of the Hollywood blockbuster.
Make no mistake, this is Sci-Fi fantasy in its purest form. If you had to pick a movie to define each decade you’d probably pick Star Wars for the Seventies, The Matrix for the Nineties and for the Eighties it’d be Back to the Future.