the Future Trilogy: (Back to the Future, Back to the Future Part II
and Back to the Future Part III)
We’re going back, kids…
to the days of LA Gear, Pepsi Free, Max Headroom, down vests and souped-up
to the days when Michael J. Fox was just a sitcom star getting his first
shot at big screen stardom.
to the days when it still seemed kind of novel to see Crispin Glover cast as
to the days when Robert Zemeckis was an upcoming wunderkind
writer/director who still used actual human beings in front of the camera,
before he discovered motion capture animation and rode that style to three
straight bad literary adaptations – The Polar Express, Beowulf and
The Christmas Carol.
We’re going Back to the Future.
original classic trilogy is being re-released (yet again) on video in a
special 25th Anniversary package.
means – hard as it is to believe – that in just five years, the 1985 present
day of the Back to the Future films will be as far in the past to the
audience as the 1955 “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance in which Marty McFly
was able to manipulate his parents into having their first kiss was to the
also means that, again, in just five years, we will have hit the future
world that was explored in Back to the Future, Part II – though sadly
there are still no signs of the hover cars promised in the storyline.
Marty McFly said several times in the course of the first Back to the
Future movie: “Whoa... heavy!”
First things first. The original film is still amazing. The second film is
pretty lame. The third is a little better than the second. But let’s face
it, 99% of the people really only have any interest in seeing the first film
over again. This is the reason that they are being packaged together –
because there is no way in hell that anyone would buy Back to the Future,
Part II and Back to the Future, Part III as individual titles.
However, anyone could and should buy Back to the Future. The
original is everything that a classic film should be – funny, exciting,
thought-provoking and at the same time simply fun.
Back to the Future
tells the story of Marty
McFly (Michael J. Fox, who had just become a TV star in the past couple of
years on the sitcom Family Ties). If you ever doubt the character’s
iconic status, there is a long-running band named McFly after him. Marty
is a typical 80s teenager – he wants to be a rock star, loves his hot
girlfriend Jen, hates school, is mortified by his family and wonders if he
is just like them.
He had also become good friends with an eccentric local
scientist named Dr. Emmitt Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd, who at the
time was winding down a long run with a sitcom of his own, Taxi.)
night Doc Brown drops a bombshell on Marty – that he had created a time
machine out of a late model DeLorean. When their first test is interrupted
by terrorists, Marty mistakenly goes back in time thirty years. While there
he runs across his parents as teens and realizes they are nothing like he
thought they might be. Unfortunately, by interacting with them, he has
apparently changed history, so he must make sure his parents fall in love
while he attempts to get back to his own time.
Back to the Future
was such a huge hit that
a few years later, the saga became the first film to have two sequels filmed
concurrently – one to be released in winter 1989 and one to be released in
summer 1990. These two concurrent sequels have been done periodically over
the years since the Back to the Future example, but again only on
blockbuster franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean,
The Lord of the Rings and Harry
beginning of Back to the Future, Part II starts off exactly where the
end of Part I let off. Literally, it recreates the last few scenes
of the first film. And yet, right off the bat, we can tell there is
is because those final (first) scenes have been re-filmed with actress
Elisabeth Shue replacing actress Claudia Wells in the role of Marty’s
girlfriend Jennifer. This is no one’s fault – apparently Wells had to
forego the part because her mother had been very ill with cancer, which is
certainly a very understandable reason. And Shue – who at the time was hot
off The Karate Kid and Adventures in Babysitting and to this
day has a very reasonable career including a Best Actress nom for Leaving
Las Vegas – was a good replacement fit. Truth is though, Shue has
almost nothing to do here – Jen is unconscious through most of Part II
and isn’t awakened until the very end of Part III.
again, it is no one’s fault, but it’s still the first sign that the old
magic is no longer there. This is doubled by the absence of Glover in the
vital role of father George McFly – this absence due to a contract
squabble. George is mostly pushed into the background, shown in flashbacks
to the original with Glover and then a few very brief shots at the end of
the vaguely similar-looking Jeffrey Weissman wearing sunglasses and an alike
hairdo trying to pass as Glover.
Oddly, despite these obvious changes, in Parts
II & III many of the relatives are played by the same actors – Fox plays
not only his great grandfather and son but even his own daughter, Thomas
Wilson plays his own son and also his great grandfather and Lea Thompson
even plays a long-ago female descendent that by all rights
mom should have
no relationship with – since the woman was married into her husband’s
explanation is sort of a round-about way of pointing out the biggest,
probably fatal, problem with Back to the Future, Part II. It’s
trying to be too clever by a half, but instead it becomes just murky. The
storyline keeps doubling back upon itself – hopping back and forth between
the present and the future and the past, so that at quite a few points you
have scenes within the periphery of scenes we already saw in the first
movie. Characters watching their own characters and pulling strings on the
sides so you will often have a time-traveler in the same scenes as
themselves. It’s supposed to be quirky, but mostly it’s just tiring.
Back to the Future, Part III
slows things down
significantly – though the opening repeats Part II’s trick of
opening up on the last few scenes of the last chapter. The problem is
the last few scenes of Part II came greatly from Part I, so it
gets an unfortunate effect of being stuck in a mirror maze.
However, following this beginning, Part III settles into a more
measured pace, turning the film into a pastiche of old westerns and dialing
down the technology to low. Doc Brown is mistakenly sent into the Old West
in the time machine. Marty learns through a decades-old Western Union
delivery that Doc is alive and well as a locksmith in the 1800s – but also
that Doc will be killed by an ancestor of Biff’s if Marty doesn’t go back to
is never explained what happened to Doc Brown’s version of the DeLorean that
sent him to the past. Marty picks up the time-travelling car
in the future down
“the space time continuum” – but when he arrives in the past to get Doc, it
seems there should be two broken-down time machines there, not just the
However, Doc has pretty much settled into the role of Old West blacksmith,
allowing Part III to do some gentle (and mostly way outdated) parody
of old western movies.
Brown even finds a love interest, in the form of a new local schoolmarm
named Clara Clayton, played by Mary Steenburgen. Steenburgen does what she
can with a mostly thankless role.
Interesting trivia factoid: The speech that the Doc uses to break the news
that to Clara that he has arrived to her era in a time machine is almost
word for word the same as one that Steenburgen heard over a decade earlier
in one of her first major roles – in that instance from
noted science fiction writer H.G. Wells
(Malcolm McDowell) in the greatly superior film
Time After Time (1979).
Part III has
its moments, but honestly after the wild flights of fancy of the first (and
even the second film, even though in the second they often go off the
tracks), the languid pace and storyline feels sort of anachronistic and just
a bit dull.
new Blu-Ray or DVD box set also comes with a slew of new features, interviews with the actors 25
years later, documentaries on the making of the film and the science behind
the ideas. Personally, the one extra which most excited me – in fact it
excited me more than Parts II and III, was that they give the
complete Back to the Future: The Ride, a long-running amusement park
version of the series which has just been closed down at Universal Studios
Hollywood and Florida in the past few years. Of course it is not the
same experience on your home TV as it was on a full screen
inside a constantly moving DeLorean space pod – but it is still great fun to see it again.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: April 13, 2010.