It's been 20 years since Back To The Future first hit cinemas and sadly we're still no closer to driving in hover cars. In the meantime, Robert Zemeckis's brilliantly conceived and exuberant time travel trilogy has notched up $926m at the worldwide box office and become justly regarded as a sci-fi classic.
Looking Back At The Future
A fourth disc has been added to the original three-part box set for this Ultimate Edition and finally addresses the matter of design. Unfortunately these new featurettes are very short and producer Bob Gale does all the talking - still, he does offer some revealing insights. We learn that original designs for the time machine were too sleek for something supposedly cobbled together in Doc Brown's garage and the notion of fire and ice enveloping the vehicle as it zipped through time illustrate the actual effects of channelling nuclear energy. Elsewhere Gale explains the notion of Japanese culture imprinted on the futuristic vision of Hill Valley and comments on its dustbowl beginnings in the final instalment. Complementing this is a demo reel of visual effects that deconstructs the use of CGI, eg a 3D Jaws swooping down on Marty.
"Wouldn't it be funny if your mum turned out to be the school slut?" was a question that sparked Zemeckis' imagination in writing the original script. But for all its wit and invention, every studio turned it down. "We couldn't get a movie made anywhere!" he shouts in a three-part Q&A session, although we can't register the look on his face since this is an audio-only feature. Even so, this makes for a fascinating exploration of the Hollywood machine; apparently it was only after Zemeckis scored a hit with Romancing The Stone that execs gave him the time of day. Later on in this two-hour track, the duo reflect on developing the sequels, which, despite the ending of the first film were never part of a grand design.
"Pure youth got me through," claims Michael J Fox in a separate interview. While making the original Back To the Future (mostly at night) he was still shooting TV sitcom Family Ties and admits to losing the plot on occasion. "Sometimes I was literally carried into [the house] by the teamster driver and put into bed," he says. Ah, sweet... Another great feature of the bonus disc is an 80s TV special (note the mullets) unveiling more production secrets. There's great behind-the-scenes footage revealing just how low-tech some of the special effects really were, eg Fox has his shoes literally nailed to a hoverboard, before being carried onto the Hill Valley set (by aforementioned teamster perhaps?) and then dangled like a maggot on a fishing rod. Who said filmmaking was glamorous?
The Time Of Our Lives
A total of 16 deleted scenes is a repeat of footage that already exists on the first three discs, but with the addition of commentary by Bob Gale. Rounding off the new bonus features are storyboards, screenplay excerpts and production notes as well as the original ‘making of' featurette for BTTF III. This was curiously omitted from the previous box set, but contains some exciting footage of cast and crew shooting the climactic train sequence. Between takes, Mary Steenburgen (Clara) likens herself to "a female Indiana Jones" while a wincing Fox advises wannbe horse riders, "Don't wear boxers, wear jockeys!"
Although the new extras are well worth checking out, the real meat and bones of the package is still contained on discs one, two and three. Each film is presented with behind-the-scenes footage and a retrospective featurette that investigates the process of test screenings and the legacy left by the trilogy. Apart from the obvious nostalgia value, the original making of featurettes boast plenty of trivia, eg Zemeckis initially envisioned the time machine as a refrigerator, but eventually realised that impressionable kids might end up suffocating in mum's icebox!
An audio commentary by the two Bobs (for the first film only), outtakes and test footage are the cherry on top of this feast of 80s fun. More details are available in earlier reviews, but in summary, this box set makes for a terrific trip back in time.
Disc One: Back To The Future
Disc Two: Back To The Future II
Disc Theree: Back To The Future III
Disc Four: New Bonus Material