Back to the Future: Part II Review

The opening to Back to the Future II moves so rapidly, the creators manage to slide in a complete change of actresses. With all of the fast talk going on, the re-shooting of the original film’s ending seamless enough to trick anyone, and some rapid misdirection, Jennifer changes from Claudia Wells to Elisabeth Shue. It’s a surprise no one tried to explain it in terms of narrative.

It’s that fast pace, focus on effects, and convoluted bit of storytelling that drags this sequel down from its predecessor. Part of it is the sequel complex, where a story like this already had its shining moment. The audience knows Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc (Christopher Lloyd) can travel back in time. The adventure now turns into show, putting as much new stuff on screen is possible. There is the old future, two different 1985s, and the new future.

It’s an incredible challenge for the cast, each reprising roles, changing roles, and even interacting with their other selves. Thomas F. Wilson is the only one to have it easy, playing the same egotistical jerk three times over (or is it four?).

It’s also a bit of a challenge for the audience, although the always precise Doc Brown explains it as simply as one could expect. There are two things BTTF II’s narrative does well: exploit the visual effects for all their worth and continually raise the odds. The finale, Marty trying to take possession of a Sports Almanac foretelling sports scores for the next 45 years, is wonderfully inventive. It mixes what the series does best, bend the rules of time travel enough to induce a headache, while continually raising the odds against McFly. It’s full of surprises, some amazingly well-done action during a tunnel chase, and you can’t go wrong with hoverboards.

There is a darker edge at work here though, Crispin Glover refusing to do a sequel and his character killed off. Biff is not only a local bully, but a tormentor, beating and blackmailing his wife, not to mention forcing her to get breast implants. It’s a shift for sure, that wide-eyed sense of adventure somewhat lessened by a harsher future and downbeat story shifts.

The changes in tone are as rapid as this plot, which at times feels like it’s tripping over itself. Credit to writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale for keeping all of this together, while still taking into consideration the follow-up sequel. That may be one of the key issues here, the sequel purely made to keep the name and franchise alive, drawing kids back in with promises of hoverboards. It’s a bit exploitative that way, setting the stage for the eventual animated series, generally awful video games, and theme park ride. The more crammed in here, the easier it is to build those other products.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Best. Ad. Ever. @ 11:58

Back to the Future II is the most visual-effects heavy film in the series. The number of blue screen shots (and even some CG) are staggering. That takes a toll on this VC-1 encode, although to what extent the effects play a role and to what extent the transfer is mucking up is a shaky line. Any shot involving effects, whether that’s the DeLorean coming into view or a person meeting themselves, are unbearably smooth and soft. They are completely grain free as well, certainly begging the question of why. What technology back in 1989 wiped the grain free from an image to insert special effects?

There is no doubt the DNR used on the first film returns, visual effects or not, and in some cases it’s far more visible. Faces still carry waxy flesh tones, and there is a dramatic bit of smearing as the DeLorean pulls into the driveway at 39:05. Flicker still happens, the rims on the car rarely stable when in view (to be fair, only a few times). McFly’s future jacket takes over though, the mesh rarely rendered well when in motion. Oddly, the opening scenes pulled from the original film seem smoothed over worse than they did initially. Many of the other shots inserted from the first can be excused (somewhat) for their interactivity with the character versions in this sequel.

Much of this second effort takes place at night, hiding any exaggerated sharpening. It’s much tougher to pinpoint, if it’s there at all. The larger scale problem here is definitely grain reduction. Whereas the first Blu-ray suffered from some black crush, the second is slightly better in this regard, generating some depth, although failing to keep up in certain shots. The scenes involving Biff’s, uh, “glorious” future tend to be weaker in terms of black levels, and not just those scenes dealing with various effects work.

In terms of color (beyond the flesh tones), the future is a bright, colorful place. McFly’s shimmering, holographic hat is loaded with hues as he walks around, while the clothing of the perceived future is even more bright than ’80s wear. The two films are consistent here at least.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

It doesn’t take long before the DeLorean is zipping through the sky, flying cars whipping by in an impressive intro to the world to come, and this DTS-HD track. The mix is spacious and even a hair more natural than the original, no exaggerated surround work here, this including the scenes pulled from the first.

Bass is still active as the characters pass through time, and one especially strong note is Biff’s gun at 59-minutes. That little revolver packs an incredible punch, really hammering home the potential danger of the scene effectively.

The highlight of the movie is the tunnel chase, Marty hanging on to Biff’s car as they pass through a tunnel. An echo highlights all of the audio, while near misses with oncoming traffic are wonderfully clear. Pans, whether side to side or front to back, are placed precisely in the appropriate channel. Alan Silvestri’s score is on par with the first, although used with more frequency here.

Sound design came quite a ways in just a few years, the original produced in stereo, the sequel benefiting from the more modern (and still in use) Dolby SR, with a 6-track soundtrack created for 70 mm screenings. It explains everything, from the cleaner, crisper dialogue to the more realistic audio and placement.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Extras mimic the Back to the Future disc in a few ways. There are still two commentaries here, a Q&A with producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton up first. The second is your general commentary, given by Gale and director Robert Zemeckis. U-Control support offers trivia, a storyboard comparison, and another that focuses on themes and little additions that connect the series together. More deleted scenes are here, this time seven of them with a Bob Gale commentary, running 5:45 total.

Tales from the Future returns, this time with the subtitle Time Flies. This 28-minute piece covers the inception of the sequel, and the casting issues. The Physics of BTTF is actually a great look at the depiction of time travel, and how plausible it can be. An archive section contains a vintage making-of, and the second part of Making the Trilogy, these two with the same aspect ratio problem as the first.

A behind-the-scenes section has eight selections, some of them on the various types of special effects like the hoverboard and DeLorean, followed by production design insight, outtakes, and photo gallery. D-Box support is here as well.

Extras ★★★★☆ 

  • Guest

    Audio should be marked down. The audio problems that were on the first release BTTF2 DVD disc (before the discs were replaced for framing issues) are back on the blu-ray.
    The most obvious flaw is when doc first looks through his futuristic binoculars at the beginning of the movie once they arrive in the future. Notice how the sound goes all warbly. That only happens in the English audio track. They fixed these audio problems for the replacement DVDs. Why not for the blu-ray?

  • Anonymous

    Do you have a time stamp, and is it just the one line/scene? There’s a possibility that the elements were overall better despite that one scene.