Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Back to the Future DVD trilogy (Movie, *****)

I must confess that I love all three BttF movies and always have. I was a teenager in the eighties, so a lot of Marty's pre-time travelling existence resonates with me. My parents are both scientists, nothing like the wacky Doc Brown, but I still love the character that Christopher Lloyd created. At the base of his manic personality is a deep love and enthusiasm for science, an eagerness to explain his methods to anybody who will listen. He's really not like the usual "mad scientist" prototype who appears in movies. Many movies treat scientists like creepy, amoral figures who tinker with nature and don't care about the consequences. Knowledge bad! Ignorance good! I hate that stereotype. But Doc, by contrast, invents things because he has a love of humanity and wants to help people. When he recognizes the inherent danger of his own invention, he would rather destroy his own work than see it hurt anybody. He's a mentor and a father figure to Marty, the kid adores him. And that's a refreshing portrayal of science.

I have been known to describe a potentially bad situation by saying "Well that might cause a chain of events that would unravel the foundation of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe!!!" I've got Doc's mannerism down pat. The movie has become a part of my vernacular.

I also love the whole time travel mythos. Everything about it. Just reading about the history of times long past is a little thrill, and the idea of visiting them has always been interesting to me. Thinking about time travel paradoxes is enough to give most people a headache, but it's not so hard to understand as long as the author sets up a particular set of rules and sticks to them.

The BttF series handles everything very well. It's a human drama, a nostalgic look at the past, a mind-bender about the way time travel works, and it has some great action sequences and special effects. Even without modern computer graphics, they made a lot of effects shots that still hold up well today. And of course, the second and third movies make very impressive use of split-screen shots, where two and sometimes even three copies of the same actor share screen time.

This is not to say that the movies don't have their problems. The direction is sometimes uneven, especially when characters jump onto the screen from nowhere. Some of the recurring gags are overdone and annoying ("Mom, is that you? I had an awful nightmare..."). And I recognize that the second and third movies are not as good as the first. The second movie is much too cartoony, the performances are overblown, and a lot of the sets and costumes are absurd. The third movie is a little too slow in the middle, and it drags through the old west romance plot, until it finally picks up again in the final sequence with the gunfight and the train heist.

Even so, I think they're all great, and they all form one big story arc, without which the first movie would be incomplete. Part II is all about exploring the fiendishly complicated implications of time travel, which the first movie only briefly went into. Part III backs off of the logic stuff and instead develops the characters and brings more of a sense of closure to them. Marty gets control of his temper and his future, Doc gets a soulmate. It's all good.

It's amazing how many special features they managed to scrape together for movies that are nearly 20 years old. Each disc has three pages of menus for the special features. There's two commentaries and two twenty minute documentaries on each disc, pop-up trivia, cut scenes, bloopers, and various and sundry goodies such as music videos, makeup tests, and pages from the original script describing scenes that never made the cut. Pretty much everyone who worked on the movies gives a retrospective on them, although Christopher Lloyd is conspicuously absent.

I know that not everyone is a big enough fan to shell out the $40 or $50 for the entire set, so don't get it. But I would have to say that this DVD ranks high among those in my collection that give a lot of bang for the buck. Right up there with Terminator 2 Special Edition and the Toy Story box set with an entire extra disc. Good stuff. This is something fans won't want to pass up.

Score: ***** out of 5.