Gravitas Ventures/Back In Time Films (October 21 2015), Filmrise/MVD (September 13 2016), single DVD, 94 mins, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1, Not Rated, Retail: $19.99
The cast, crew and fans of Back To The Future celebrate their favorite trilogy.
The Sweatbox Review:
It was one year ago today – on October 21st 2015, to be exact – that typical all-American mid-80s time-travelling teenage adventurer Marty McFly and his crazy old pal who claims to be a scientist, Dr Emmett Brown, skipped 30 years to arrive in our present, a future for them back then that dreamt up flying cars, hovering skateboards, multi-channel television and any other number of fantastical inventions. As is always the case when dealing with the future, the specific movie, Back To Future Part II, actually got more right than it did wrong: while we may not have flying cars, driverless are on the way; hoverboards (no, not those ones with wheels!) may currently be big and bulky, but they do exist, and connected TVs with picture-in-picture screens and videocalling are practically an everyday occurrence. Even Doc and Marlene’s wearable tech and VR headsets come off better than the ones we have for real.
2015 may not be the day-glo and pastel color-popping Hill Valley of the film’s location (it does often seem that, given the series’ multiple timelines, perhaps the likes of villain Biff did win out in the end, instead of Doc Brown being able to bestow his crackpot genius on the world back in 1985), but thank goodness that at least inflation hasn’t blown up as big as the film suggests – yet! On the sequel’s release in 1989, the future still seemed a far-off place. We were told by the Doc to make it a good one, though as the date loomed closer and closer – not helped by various internet sites proclaiming the wrong date each year – there was as much disappointment at the inventions that never came along as much as there was excitement that we were nearing the date that Marty and the Doc would arrive.
Coinciding with the original film’s 30th anniversary, Universal Pictures made sure to make the most of the media hoopla surrounding the date and, as well as their going all out with a new Blu-ray release, Jaws 19 spoofery and many promotional appearances by stars Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd and creators Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, Nike got in on the act with a limited edition self-lacing sneaker, and USA Today went the whole hog and printed up the 2015 newspaper that sets the sequels’ events in motion at the end of the first film, amongst a large amount of other, hugely enthusiastic tie-ins. After all, when else are we likely to meet up with another movie future-date anytime soon, aside from the dystopian 2019 of Blade Runner, which doesn’t seem to have elicited the same kind of fervor.
Part of all these celebrations was the Kickstarter-funded documentary Back In Time, deftly borrowing the title from the first film’s Huey Lewis song to pay tribute but also encapsulating what this piece sets out to do, which is ostensibly to swing a retrospective eye over the making of the trilogy which, for me, remains the most entertaining, intricately plotted and rewarding such series of films (yes, even besting the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones pictures for want of comparable titles). You see, I love that Back To The Future isn’t about saving the world: it’s just a small-scale story about a small-town kid who disrupts his own timeline and has to put things right just as history repeats itself and he gets the chance to accidentally change things for the better. It’s as simple as that, but told on a massive scale thanks to Zemeckis’ deft directorial hand and a defining music score by then-up and coming composer Alan Silvestri.
It’s a film and subsequent series that’s deserving of the amount of attention it received on October 21 last year, and although I was thrilled that a new documentary had secured interviews with all the primary cast and crew, I was also surprised that the resulting film hadn’t found a home within Universal’s official boxset release, just as The Shark Is Still Working, a fan-film about the impact of Jaws, had turned up in the same company’s Blu-ray release for that blockbuster. On catching Back In Time on Netflix in 2015, as part of a marathon that saw a full trilogy viewing on the day itself alongside various other programming, I must say that I was ultimately underwhelmed by the documentary itself and could then understand why Universal perhaps passed over any opportunity to include it in their official set.
As I’ve mentioned in reviews for other Kickstarter-funded fan-films, there’s a danger of these kinds of programmes being made by people too close to the subject, without the necessary structure of extra eyes in place to suggest cuts or where missing context may be needed to produce a more fully-rounded result. Sometimes, the lack of a true professional polish on the technical end can be clear giveaways to a project being more of a high-end amateur proposition than a glossy, studio-backed or even independently realised release. While not suffering too deeply from both of these shortcomings, Back In Time doesn’t exactly escape from them either, especially in its focus on its subject.
Fair play to Jason Aron and his colleagues in landing the likes of Fox, Lloyd, Gale and Zemeckis as interviewees, not to mention Back To The Future’s executive producer Steven Spielberg and a whole host of other famous fans, as well as managing to get someone to pull some favors and having Universal allow them to use clips from the films, which does lend a certain amount of authenticity to the project. Kudos must go, too, to the editors and graphics handlers, who adapt the classic BTTF logo for their name stamps and bring depth to the various still images throughout, as well as unique arrangements of Alan Silvestri’s theme. But after an excellent initial half-hour that retreads over the well-worn origins and making of the first film, Back In Time takes a somewhat unexpected detour into the impact of the film on its fan community.
There’s nothing inherently problematic with this in itself, but rather than slot the stories of everyday fans in with the further making of the sequels – and after all, isn’t Part II‘s October 21 2015 date the whole reason we’re all focusing on the franchise again? – the documentary almost eschews much on Part II (actually probably my favorite of the three) and Part III for a lot of talk from people that are obviously huge fans and do great work for Fox’s Parkinson’s Foundation, but otherwise just aren’t as interesting. Further to this is an examination into how the “hero car” DeLorean from the original film, which had been standing outside the Back To The Future ride attraction at Universal Studios, had fallen into disrepair, leading to a charge to restore it for the film’s 30th anniversary and the sequel’s future date (a popular topic, it seems, going by the fact that there is now another feature doc dedicated to its restoration).
Again in itself, this is perfectly acceptable information, but both of these aspects would seem to work better as their own extras, without having the effect of wanting to get past these moments to get back to the stuff we’re really interested in. It’s fair enough to credit the filmmakers with finding these people, and telling their stories is a unique aspect to yet another Back To The Future documentary, from a band inspired by the film (and interviewed in front of the Doc’s house) and those who have customised their own DeLoreans, to even a marriage proposal with an Enchantment Under The Sea Dance theme, but too long is spent on these aspects, especially a segment for a prototype “flying car” that just feels like an inserted commercial.
And there’s the rub in such a fan-film project, when the possibility of including everything is too tempting to pass up. When Goldie Wilson actor Don Fullilove mentions a bit-part he previously had, we get the obligatory soundbite clip, and although the exhaustive research for such elements is commendable, the quality isn’t always first-rate and probably wouldn’t pass muster in a professional production. These are largely just quibbles, though, since when Back In Time fluxes it fluxes well, and the large roster of talking heads is impressive as it is extensive, even if I felt famous fan Dan Harmon came off as a major jerk when I first saw the documentary last year and it’s a feeling that has only grown with this repeat viewing.
It’s that people like Harmon – the only one who feels he has to curse to look “cool” (it’s bleeped out) – gets airtime, and that so much time is spent on some admittedly hardcore fans over documenting production on the sequels where Back In Time falters, and not only for me given other reactions to the film. Literally, it’s as if the filmmakers had reach their end and only just remembered to add in, “oh, yeah, there were a couple of sequels, too”. Not that there’s isn’t true goodness in here: it’s especially poignant to see the eternally youthful Fox, now triumphantly pressing on through his Parkinson’s, remembering the Royal Premiere where he watched the film next to Princess Diana, and the good work done by the folks at his Foundation, and fun to be reminded of the expansive Secret Cinema recreation of Hill Valley for a limited run.
It always amused me that in a trilogy that actually stuck to its rules pretty well and is widely regarded as being a pretty solid time-travel story, not many people seem to have picked up on the fact that, had Marty, the Doc and Jennifer flashed into the future in 1985, then they would have effectively disappeared (“erased from existence”) and wouldn’t have been around in 2015. How ironic, then, that come the actual date, Marty and Doc Brown’s adventures are still very much with us. Back In Time attempts to celebrate the series, ostensibly presenting itself as something of an official 30th anniversary documentary but ultimately coming off as too densely packed with too many tangents, and at least ten or twenty minutes too long. There is a lot of good stuff in here, but there are also long, long stretches of less engrossing material. Perhaps if they could go back in time themselves, the filmmakers might have chosen to keep their aim more focused.
Is This Thing Loaded?
As with most of these MVD “standard edition” discs, Back In Time doesn’t come loaded with any extras. The company continues to release these kinds of discs, but I’m still perplexed as to who the audience is for a vanilla DVD when a Blu-ray edition (albeit of the BD-R variety in this case) includes additional content and, surely, the kind of people attracted to this niche stuff are the kind of obsessives that crave the features-packed versions?
Perhaps in the case of Back To The Future that niche may cast its net a little more widely, and seeing a budget DVD on the end of a shelf might cause an impulse buy from Auntie Mable for her BTTF-freak nephew? Even then I still think the price point of $20 is too steep, given the barebones status and standard definition, when a friendlier $9.99 seems more in line for what is actually on offer.
The widely spread “poster” image for Back In Time, showing off a DeLorean license plate as its focus, looks the part on the front of the sleeve and, for anyone who even barely knows that iconography from the films, it illustrates its subject exactly.
Ink And Paint:
MVD seem to be a distribution company who, I’m guessing, largely have to deal with the masters they are presented with. I was most impressed with their handling of the Star Wars documentary Elstree 1976, which was shot in HD to begin with and survived the downgrade to DVD rather well, without any compression issue to speak of.
Their most recent title, All Things Must Pass: The Rise And Fall Of Tower Records didn’t fare as well: a presumably intended aged grain effect might have worked on the HD master, but the standard definition compression often struggled to keep things clear from macroblocking and the like. Here things are close to being near perfect again, for DVD at least, with a clear image that’s touched only by occasional interlacing that creates a moire effect here and there.
As usual with MVD’s disc issues, both 2.0 and default 5.1 tracks are supplied, each sounding about the same as each other, as one would expect from a talking heads movie. The surround track possibly has a little more predictable kick from it, with tighter dialogue coming from the center and the film clips and music sounding a bit more enveloping, but there’s little between them. English subtitles are also included for the hard of hearing.
What often feels like a DVD extra gets its own disc here, almost a year after its debut through Netflix and on Blu-ray in HD with its own supplements. I’m again curious as to where the audience is for these issues when the films are either available to stream (in HD) or feature additional bonus features on Blu-ray for only five or ten dollars more than the asking price for a barebones, standard definition disc. After store discounts, a cost of under ten bucks is more reasonable, though again those that are really interested enough to make a purchase surely are the kind of people interested in better image quality and an extras package, if they haven’t already sampled the film in the twelve months it’s been out already. By the time of this somewhat belated DVD, Back In Time has also already been rated by most of the BTTF fan community as being only a so-so endeavor, something that, while I have to give credit to those that have produced this obvious labor of love to a film they clearly adore, I do ultimately have to agree with.