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Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy (4K Ultra HD)

Universal // PG // October 20, 2020 // Region 0
List Price: $55.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by William Harrison | posted December 21, 2020 | E-mail the Author


It is a rare feat when all three films in a trilogy are good, but that is exactly what the Back to the Future Trilogy provides. Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis and released by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures, the three films chronicle the time-travelling exploits of Michael J. Fox's Marty McFly, Christopher Lloyd's Doc Brown, and a DeLorean time machine. The original film was released in 1985, and its sequels arrived in November 1989 and May 1990, respectively. The real 2015 may not have included the hoverboards, self-fitting clothing and rehydrated food depicted in the films, but Back to the Future is pretty spot-on with its predictions of a time then 20 years in the future. I consider the original film the best, followed by the 1885-set Part III and finally Part II, the plot of which is a bit too convoluted. All three films are anchored by excellent, memorable performances from Fox and Lloyd, and Zemeckis proves a nimble storyteller behind the camera, infusing his films with humor, heart and substance.

Thank goodness Spielberg's influence did not sway Zemeckis to change the original film's title to Space Man from Pluto, as I cannot imagine we would look back so fondly on a film with that silly name. Marty is an everyman teenager in 1985. He lives with his depressed, alcoholic mom (Lea Thompson), subservient father (Crispin Glover) and underachieving siblings (Marc McClure and Wendie Jo Sperber), and Marty's girlfriend Jennifer (Claudia Wells) fears Marty will end up disappointed with life despite good intentions and strong ambition. One night outside the Twin Pines mall, Emmett "Doc" Brown, the laughingstock of the community but a friend to Marty, reveals a time machine he constructed out of a DMC DeLorean. The Doc is shot dead by a group of Libyan terrorists from whom he stole the time machine's power source, plutonium, causing Marty to flee in the DeLorean and drive 88 miles per hour, unknowingly activating the device and sending him back to November 5, 1955. Marty meets the teenaged versions of his parents, consummate bully Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) and a younger Doc, who cautions Marty that he has unknowingly prevented his parents' first meeting, which would drastically change the course of history. Marty and Doc then set out to repair that mistake, refuel the DeLorean and return to 1985 to save that version of Doc.

I cannot imagine not liking Back to the Future; it is original, entertaining and completely rewatchable. For a premise as wacky as time travel, it all just works in the confines of the film's reality. And if any movie can play Marty's own mom having a crush on him in 1955, it's Back to the Future. Fox is excellent here and completely likeable, and he bounds across the screen with an energy and poise that seems to have carried through to his courageous, head-on battle with Parkinson's disease later in life. Lloyd is at least equally the face of the franchise, and his Doc character is a memorable beacon, having even made the jump from the silver screen to now-defunct simulator rides at Universal Studios parks. By the time Marty harnesses the power of lightning with the help of the perennial clocktower, you are completely rooting for the pair. Of all the films, Back to the Future is the most joyful and original, buoyed by strong performances and directing, and the replay value is excellent. Back to the Future: ***** (out of *****).

The sequel to Back to the Future arrived four years later, but the action picks up directly where the original ended. At the conclusion of that story, Doc arrives in the DeLorean and tells Marty and Jennifer they must return to the future to fix problems for the pair's future children. Biff witnesses their departure, and, when the trio arrives in October 2015, Doc uses a device to put Jennifer to sleep to avoid her gleaning too much knowledge of future events. Back to the Future Part II offers a 2015 complete with hoverboards, self-fitting clothes, holograms, smart homes, and ubiquitous advertising. This future did not exactly become a reality, but it feels eerily similar to real events. Doc and Marty try to stop Marty's son, Marty Jr. (Fox), from joining Biff's grandson Griff (also played by Wilson) in a robbery, which would send Marty Jr. to prison. This conflict is quickly resolved but Marty then purchases an almanac in 2015 with the results of sporting events from the past fifty years. An elderly Biff finds the almanac, which drastically alters the 1985 the crew ultimately returns to. Biff is now a wealthy and corrupt businessman, married to Marty's mom Lorraine, and Doc is in a mental hospital. Marty soon realizes that 2015 Biff used Doc's time machine to give the sports almanac to his younger self, allowing him to amass great wealth in sports betting.

If all this sounds a bit complicated, that is because it is. Not in such a way that Part II is not great fun; but the film sometimes feels like it is trying too hard. Zemeckis should be lauded for this darker story, and many viewers were not expecting such a dystopian alternate 1985 timeline to unfold, leading to some criticism of the film upon release. I really like the sets, costumes and props in Part II, and there is a lot of fun action, including the famous hoverboard chase. Sure, the time hopping is frequent, and Zemeckis fills the film with plenty of scenes where characters meet their younger or older selves, to diminishing results. Ultimately, there is a lot to like in this film, and it is certainly the darkest, boldest film in the trilogy. Back to the Future Part II: **** (out of *****).

At the conclusion of Part II, Marty witnesses Doc and the time machine disappear in a bolt of lightning before almost immediately receiving a 70-year-old courier letter from Doc, who explains that he has been transported back to 1885. This requires Marty to time travel to 1955, meet a much younger Doc, then accompany him to 1885, the setting for much of Back to the Future Part III, where Marty meets his great-great-grandparents, Seamus and Maggie (Fox and Thompson, in dual roles). Doc is trapped in 1885 because he has no fuel for his time machine, and time is literally running out, as Doc is due to be murdered by Biff's great-grandfather Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen (Wilson again) in a few days. Doc and Marty devise a plan to use a steam locomotive to push the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour. As they work out the logistics, Doc meets Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen) and falls in love, while Marty lets his temper get the best of him and agrees to challenge Buford in a duel.

The Western setting for the majority of the film really works, and offers fresh charms, humor and entertainment in Part III. Like his "Calvin Klein" alias in the original, Marty becomes known as "Clint Eastwood" in town, one of the film's many meta jokes. At its core, the story still revolves around conflict between Marty, Biff and Doc, but switching around the setting and integrating period-appropriate action ensures Part III does not evoke sequel fatigue. The somewhat less complicated story also benefits Part III, and this film comes closest to matching the heart and originality of Back to the Future. Fox and Lloyd again are excellent, and Steenburgen proves a solid addition to the cast and much-needed love interest for Doc. The production design and effects are very impressive, even 30 years on, and Bob Gale's screenplay is light and often funny. This is a very entertaining conclusion to a strong trilogy. Back to the Future Part III: ****1/2 (out of *****).



Each film receives an excellent 1.85:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ from a native 4K source. All three films have been remastered to mark the 25th Anniversary of Back to the Future, and these 4K discs (and the included remastered Blu-rays) offer marked improvement from Universal's original Blu-ray release, which suffered from instances of edge enhancement, noise reduction and black crush. I am going to comment on the three transfers collectively, as they are all similar in appearance and quality.

The most impressive aspect of these transfers is that each film, finally, receives a gorgeous, lifelike and filmic transfer with pleasing, natural grain. Though they weren't the worst offenders for this, the transfers from the 2011 release felt somewhat digital and flat, as if they came from processed, DVD-era sources. That is but a distant memory here. Fine-object detail is excellent; close-ups reveal intimate facial features and wide shots are deep and clear. Texture is abundant on costumes and in set dressings, and the film's interesting props appear in a clarity not seen since the original theatrical prints.

The HDR grading here is subtle and effective; the 4K transfers are a bit darker than their HD counterparts, but black levels, colors, skin tones, and highlights are all more impressive. Contrast is excellent, even in brighter outdoor scenes; blacks are inky and there is abundant shadow detail; and skin tones are natural throughout. Colors are boldly saturated and quite impressive, particularly in outdoor scenes. The prints are all free from defects, and I did not notice much outside a moment of aliasing to keep these from earning a five-star recommendation.


Each film offers a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix. All three mixes are excellent, and Universal really nails the details here. Dialogue is crisp, clear and without any hint of distortion, whether delivered from the center or surround channels. Ambient effects are frequent throughout the trilogy, and the mixes truly offer multi-dimensional viewing. Rain, wind, crowd noise and other ambient effects surround the viewer and are given room to breathe across the entire sound field. Action-oriented effects are perfectly articulated, and these tracks offer exciting, aggressive presentations with strong LFE support but never become cluttered or too noisy. The score and popular soundtrack selections sound excellent and are nicely balanced amid dialogue and effects. The discs also offer Spanish and French 5.1 DTS dubs and English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.


This seven-disc set arrives in handsome DigiBook packaging (an improvement over the flimsy plastic trays and tabs from the 2011 release). The interior packaging fits inside a sturdy outer box. The discs slide into sleeves on each page. Each film receives a 4K and a Blu-ray disc, and there is a Blu-ray bonus disc as well. There are a ton of recycled extras and a couple of newly created featurettes:

The Back to the Future discs include a Q&A Commentary with Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale; an Audio Commentary with Bob Gale and Nail Canton; Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Bob Gale (10:45 total/HD); Tales from the Future: In the Beginning (27:25/HD); Tales from the Future: Time to Go (29:54/HD); Tales from the Future: Keeping Time (5:44/HD); The Making of Back to the Future (14:28/SD); Making the Trilogy: Chapter One (15:30/SD); Back to the Future Night (27:11/SD); Michael J. Fox Q&A (10:16/SD); Original Makeup Tests (2:17/HD); Outtakes (2:50/HD); Nuclear Test Site Sequence with Optional Commentary by Bob Gale (4:12/HD); Photo Galleries; Huey Lewis and the News "The Power of Love" Music Video (6:27/SD); the Theatrical Teaser Trailer (1:24/SD); and a Join Team Fox Promo (6:04/HD).

The Part II discs include a Q&A Commentary by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale; an Audio Commentary by Bob Gale and Neil Canton; Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Bob Gale (5:46 total/HD); Tales from the Future: Time Flies (28:36/HD); The Physics of Back to the Future (8:24/HD); The Making of Back to the Future Part II (6:40/SD); Making the Trilogy: Chapter Two (15:30/SD); Outtakes (0:49/SD); Production Design (2:55/SD); Storyboarding (1:31/SD); Designing the DeLorean (3:32/SD); Designing Time Travel (2:41/SD); Hoverboard Test (1:05/SD); Evolution of Visual Effects Shots (5:42/SD); Photo Galleries; and the Theatrical Trailer (2:21/SD).

The Part III discs offer a Q&A Commentary with Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale; an Audio Commentary by Bob Gale and Nail Canton; a Deleted Scene with Optional Commentary by Bob Gale (1:18/HD); Tales from the Future: Third Time's the Charm (17:07/HD); Tales from the Future: The Test of Time (17:00/HD); The Making of Back to the Future Part III (7:32/SD); Making the Trilogy: Chapter Three (16:20/SD); The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy (20:41/SD); Outtakes (1:35/SD); Designing the Town of Hill Valley (1:08/SD); Designing the Campaign (1:18/SD); Photo Galleries; ZZ Top "Doubleback" Music Video (4:09/SD); FAQ's About the Trilogy (text only); the Theatrical Trailer (2:18/SD); and Back to the Future: The Ride (31:06 total/SD).

This exclusive bonus disc includes the following new content: The Hollywood Museum Goes Back to the Future (10:17/HD); Back to the Future: The Musical - Cast and Creative Q&A (28:15/HD); Back to the Future: The Musical - "Gotta Start Someplace" (2:33/HD); Back to the Future: The Musical - "Put Your Mind to It" (2:59/HD); An Alternate Future: Lost Audition Tapes (3:45/HD); and Could You Survive the Movies? Back to the Future (19:47/HD). Recycled content includes a 2015 Message from Doc Brown (0:45/HD); Doc Brown Saves the World (9:38/HD); OUTATIME: Restoring the DeLorean (22:00/HD); Looking Back to the Future (45:42 total/SD); two episodes of Back to the Future: The Animated Series (46:32 total/SD); 2015 Commercial: Jaws 19 Trailer (1:28/HD) and 2015 Commercial: Hoverboard (1:06/HD).


This is truly a wonderful, entertaining trilogy of films. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd create memorable characters in Marty McFly and Doc Brown, and these Back to the Future films are timeless, with universal appeal. Universal's new 4K Ultra HD trilogy release offers beautifully remastered transfers and soundtracks and hours of extras. DVD Talk Collector Series.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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