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Robert Zemeckis
Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, James Tolkan, Jeffrey Weissman
Writing Credits:
Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale

Getting back was only the beginning.
Rated PG.

Academy Awards:
Nominated for Best Visual Effects.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, Spanish

Runtime: 108 min.
Price: $56.98
Release Date: 12/17/2002

• Q&A with Director Robert Zemeckis and Producer Bob Gale
• Audio Commentary with Producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton
• “Did You Know That? Universal Animated Anecdotes” Text Commentary
• “The Making of Back to the Future Part II
• “Making the Trilogy: Chapter Two”
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary from Producer Bob Gale
• Outtakes
• Production Archives
• Hoverboard Test
• “Evolution of Visual Effects Shots” Featurette
• “Production Design” Featurette
• “Storyboarding” Featurette
• Huey Lewis and the News “Power of Love” Music Video
• Theatrical Trailer
• Cast & Filmmakers
• Production Notes
• Booklet
• DVD-ROM Features

Score soundtrack

Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 26, 2002)

Rarely have so many waited so long to be so disappointed. When Back to the Future Part II hit screens in November 1989, it had been more than four years since the original movie delighted us. Funny how four years doesn’t seem like very long these days, but back then, it felt like an eternity. I got quite excited to finally see the second chapter in the Future saga, but what I observed left me gaping with disbelief: “I waited four years for that?” I actually felt angry as I left the theater; I couldn’t believe what I’d seen.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault lie not in the Future but in myself. In retrospect, Future II provided a fairly solid little adventure, but it departed so much from the first flick’s tone that I found it virtually impossible to take it in for what it was. When I shifted my paradigm and saw Future II on its own, I much more strongly embraced the movie as an unspectacular but generally entertaining piece.

Note that by necessity, some of this synopsis will provide spoilers for the last movie. If you haven’t seen the first Future and don’t want to know any of this, you’d better skip ahead right now!

Future II literally picks up where the prior film ended. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) returns to 1985 from his adventure in 1955 to find his world slightly changed, apparently for the better. However, problems in the future call, and the time-traveling eccentric scientist “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd) returns from 2015 to get Marty to fix things.

It turns out that Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) eventually marry and have kids. One of them – a son named Marty Jr. (Fox) – gets in with the wrong crowd: Griff (Thomas F. Wilson), the equally-moronic and obnoxious grandson of the original movie’s Biff Tannen (Wilson again). Since Marty and his son look exactly alike, Doc gets the former to impersonate the latter so Marty Jr. doesn’t become involved with Griff’s criminal activities. This works, but not without complications, as the elder Biff manages to steal the time-traveling DeLorean and head back to the past.

While in 2015, Marty buys a book of sports statistics with the aim to use it to win bets on games that will occur after 1985. Doc doesn’t allow this, though, and he throws away the compendium. Biff finds it, takes it back with him to 1955, and gives it to his younger self. Then teen Biff uses the information to place boohoogles of successful bets, which changes the future. Instead of the loser handyman in the altered 1985 seen at the end of Future, the new Biff ends up as a business tycoon in the re-altered 1985.

Other alterations occur as well, but I’ll leave it at that. I’ve provided enough plot points as it stands, and the whole thing seems complicated enough already; if I attempt to explain more, I think I’ll start to confuse myself. No one ever said that the Future movies featured crystal-clear storylines, and II probably offers the most convoluted of the bunch.

It also gives us the darkest of the three tales, which was a lot of the reason why it so heavily disappointed me when I saw it in 1989. I expected something light and frothy like the original Future, so I didn’t anticipate the moodier and more thrill-oriented II. As I noted in my review of the original flick, that one provided a good balance between action and comedy, although it probably favored the latter genre. II goes in the opposite direction, however, as it definitely delves more heavily into the other domain.

In retrospect, that emphasis seems fine, but it genuinely took me by surprise, so much so that I couldn’t appreciate II for what it tried to do. The darker nature of the film also appeared shocking at the time. Yeah, second entries in trilogies often take a more sinister turn, ala The Empire Strikes Back or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. However, both those films’ predecessors offered a smattering of nastier scenes – hello, melting Nazis! Hello, torture droids! – whereas virtually nothing in Future appeared malevolent. Biff offered a cartoon buffoon, unlike the meaner and more violent baddie of II.

Once you understand and accept the shift in tone, you can better appreciate II for what it is: a lively and energetic action flick with some comedic overtones. Does anything about it approach the level set by Future? No, but viewed on its own, the film takes on a certain level of power and effectiveness, and it bridges the first and third movies effectively when seen from that standpoint.

That brings up another reason that I left my first screening of II in a huff: it has no ending. Sure, some sequels finish with plot points left unresolved. Again, Empire clearly led to another film, as did both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones as well as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. However, all of those movies still offered reasonably satisfying finales. Even with their unfinished business, they still left us on a note of semi-completion; we looked forward to the next chapters but nonetheless felt like we got a complete movie.

That didn’t happen with II, since it finished with “To be continued” and a preview of Back to the Future Part III. That’s right: II actually concluded with a freaking trailer! One might call this an homage to the cliffhanger serials of earlier decades, but it still seemed cheap and unsatisfying at the time. Sure, we only needed to wait half a year until III hit the screens, but I nonetheless couldn’t believe that II stopped with nothing more than scenes from the next chapter.

(And before someone argues that the first Future also ended with a cliffhanger, that’s not really true. Yes, the film concluded with Doc Brown’s call for Marty to come to the future to deal with his kids, but that clearly was just a cute way to finish the movie. At the time, it wasn’t meant as a lead-in to another chapter, and audiences didn’t see it as a tease for a sequel. Instead, it was just a funny and clever finale. The “To Be Continued” seen before the end credits in prior video incarnations didn’t exist in 1985; it didn’t appear until later, when it became clear that a sequel would take place.)

When viewed as the middle chapter of a trilogy, Back to the Future Part II works quite well. When viewed as a standalone movie, it stinks. However, since it seems very unlikely that many people will watch it without also perusing the first and third chapters, that point becomes moot, and I can state that I now enjoy II from within that framework. It remains my least favorite of the three movies, but it offers an exciting and entertaining flick nonetheless.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B+ / Bonus B+

Back to the Future Part II appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture offered a moderate improvement on the quality of the first film, and it generally seemed positive.

At times, the image looked a little soft, but those concerns occurred very infrequently. As a whole, the movie appeared nicely crisp and distinct. Sharpness was generally fine, with a picture that came across as accurate and detailed. I noticed no issues related to jagged edges, but a little shimmering and some light edge enhancement popped up at times. In regard to print issues, I witnessed some minor grain as well as a few specks, but the film usually appeared clean.

After the slightly dense colors of the first film, the hues of II seemed stronger. Some of the shots that involved duplicate characters manifested some color oddities, but overall the tones appeared nicely vivid and well saturated. Black levels looked rich and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately opaque but never became too thick or impenetrable. Overall, Back to the Future Part II held up well over the years and presented a solid visual presentation.

Back to the Future Part II displayed a few scenes that were improperly framed. Here’s how the studio reacted to this problem: “Universal Studios Home Video is aware of a minor technical framing issue on the Back to the Future Trilogy widescreen DVDs. The framing appears differently from the laserdisc releases for approximately two minutes during Back to the Future II and four minutes during Back to the Future III. The framing difference is unnoticeable to widescreen DVD viewers and does not detract from or interrupt the viewing experience. Consumers with further questions can call (888) 703-0010.”

Wasn’t it nice of them to decide for us that we wouldn’t notice? Frankly, I didn’t detect a difference for the most part, though a couple of shots appeared more obvious than others; for example, when Doc helps Marty with the self-adjusting clothes in II, the image seemed cropped at the bottom of the frame. For what it’s worth, despite this condescending note, Universal apparently will correct the framing and will allow consumers to exchange their misframed DVDs when the fixed ones appear, probably some time in late February 2003.

While the picture quality of Back to the Future Part II consistently seemed superior to that of the first movie, comparisons between the flicks’ Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks were more of a wash. On one hand, the soundfield of II provided a moderately more active affair. As with the original flick, the audio mostly focused on the front channels. In that spectrum, the sound presented a good sense of environment, as elements moved cleanly across the speakers and blended together nicely. Music also showed solid stereo imaging and seemed well integrated.

II demonstrated more prominent use of the surrounds speakers, though these still remained somewhat passive. The scenes in the future and during the flick’s action climax provided the most active usage of the rear speakers. For example, flying cars zoomed nicely around the room. The track never became stunning in its utilization of the different speakers, but given its age, it seemed more than acceptable.

Audio quality also sounded fine, though I thought it was a little weaker than the first film. Speech remained natural and crisp, and the lines integrated into the movie more smoothly. The original movie suffered from some poor dubbing, whereas II showed none of those issues. Effects appeared reasonably accurate and distinct, and they offered moderate bass impact at times. The score also came across as fairly bright and vibrant, but the music showed slightly weaker dynamics when compared to the first flick. The score still seemed good, but Future appeared brighter and more vivid. Despite these small issues, the audio of Back to the Future Part II provided a good auditory experience for a film of its era.

Though not as packed as its predecessor, Back to the Future Part II still includes a nice mix of extras. Like the first DVD, we start with an unusual form of audio commentary. Instead of a traditional screen-specific track, we hear a Q&A with Director Robert Zemeckis and Producer Bob Gale. This comes from a session at the University of Southern California, as DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau hosts a chat about the film. This covers a lot of stimulating subjects, as we hear about how they developed the sequel as well as concerns with the absence of Crispin Glover, effects issues, and many other topics. Though the piece only fills about 55 minutes of the film – as opposed to the 99-minute track with the first flick - it still offers a lot of intriguing material and it definitely merits a listen.

A second audio commentary provides a more standard format. This one involves producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton, both of whom sit together for a running, screen-specific piece. As with a similar piece on the first DVD, this one tends to act as something of a catchall track. Mostly it covers material not discussed elsewhere, though inevitably some repetition occurs. Once again, Gale heavily dominates the track, as Canton rarely speaks.

The commentary for the first film suffered from a moderate number of empty spaces, but those problems occur less frequently here. They still happen, but not as often. Gale covers a lot of good topics, from problems related to his and Zemeckis’ contract to technical issues to trivia and nit-picking plot issues. The low-key commentary offers a nice level of information that makes it worth a listen.

Called Did You Know That? Universal Animated Anecdotes provides our third commentary. A text affair, this one sporadically presents notes about the movie. These tend to point out small tidbits we otherwise might not notice. Although the remarks pop up somewhat infrequently, they add some good information.

For our first video-based supplement, we get a vintage featurette that promoted the film’s theatrical release in 1989. The Making of Back to the Future fills six minutes and 39 seconds with movie clips, images from the set, and interviews. We receive remarks from director Robert Zemeckis, actor Michael J. Fox, production designer Rick Carter, and producer/writer Bob Gale.

While way too short and far too promotionally oriented to be very valuable, “Making” still includes enough cool material to merit a look. We see some images of the planning for the future Hill Valley and a few other stimulating elements. Yeah, it exists to tout the movie, but it nonetheless provides some nice moments.

Newly created, Making the Trilogy: Chapter Two takes 15 minutes and 29 seconds and gives us a more complete documentary, though it also remains pretty short. It mostly shows film shots and interviews plus a few images from the set; we hear from Zemeckis, Gale, and Fox. Logically, one would expect it to totally cover Back to the Future II, but the first six minutes or so discuss the original flick. We get some information about Fox’s work on the ending guitar scene as well as a discussion of the movie’s impact.

After that, we move to material about the second film. We hear about how the filmmakers never planned to make a sequel as well as the complications it created. From there we go through the challenges that popped up for this production, such as the failed attempts to get Crispin Glover back on the set, alternate period settings considered, some technical concerns, and other issues. Despite its brevity, “Chapter Two” gives us a decent little examination of the movie.

Next we get seven deleted scenes, which last a total of five minutes, 39 seconds. These seem less compelling than the clips found on the first movie’s DVD, but we find some interesting segments nonetheless. You can watch the deleted scenes with or without commentary from producer Bob Gale. Except for the first snippet, he tells us why they didn’t make the final film, and he adds a few other notes as well.

Additional unused footage appears in the Outtakes area. It runs a mere 49 seconds and seems pretty limp. The first DVD’s gag reel was actually pretty funny, but this one feels more half-hearted.

A Production Design featurette takes two minutes, 55 seconds and mixes remarks from Bob Gale with movie clips and production materials. It gives us a quick and perfunctory look at the sets for the first two flicks. Storyboarding runs 91 seconds and also mixes film scenes, production art, and comments from Gale. We see a few storyboard-movie comparisons, and Gale discusses how they used the process for the three movies.

Two more short featurettes appear next. Designing the DeLorean goes for three minutes, 32 seconds and includes Gale and the same kinds of materials seen previously. We learn of the ideas behind the visual look of the car. Designing Time Travel follows the same path and takes two minutes, 41 seconds. Gale tells us how they came up with the visual appearance of the time travel sequences.

Much of the prior material primarily discusses work done for the first film, but the Hoverboard Test concentrates strictly on II’s effects. The 57-second clip gives us a look at the early efforts to make the hoverboards come to life. Evolution of Visual Effects Shots provides somewhat similar information in this five-minute, 42 second program. Gale narrates as we watch five different scenes develop.

The “Production Archive” breaks into four smaller domains. Marty McFly Photo Album includes fairly uninteresting 35 photos of the cast. Behind-The-Scenes Photographs adds another 13 shots, all of which include Robert Zemeckis; they come across as pretty dull as well. The 32 stills in Futuristic Designs give us some nice looks at concepts for future clothes, props and sets. Lastly, Vehicles of the Future features 26 pieces of art and photos that explore the movie’s crafts, and they add some interesting elements.

It belongs on the Back to the Future DVD, but instead we find the music video for “Power of Love” from Huey Lewis and the News here. Mostly just a lip-synch performance clip, the piece includes some unique shots of Chris Lloyd as Doc Brown at its beginning. The video’s “story” makes no sense, but I still appreciate the inclusion of the clip in this set.

A few smaller pieces round out the disc. We find the film’s theatrical trailer as well as an ad for Universal Theme Parks. Cast & Filmmakers provides short biographies of actors Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, and Thomas F. Wilson plus director Zemeckis, producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton, and executive producers Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall. Some decent text production notes finish the set, and the package’s booklet offers general remarks about the trilogy along with details about the three DVDs.

For those with DVD-ROM drives, however, we find a little more material. II lacks the highlight of the Back to the Future DVD-ROM, which offered the film’s original script. Instead, II simply includes a few links. We get a connection to the same “Total Axess” site found on the first flick’s DVD as well as connections to Universal Pictures, Universal Home Video, Universal Theme Parks, and Universal Studios.

One nice touch: almost all of the video extras include subtitles. These provide text in English, Spanish and French. A couple of bits lack this information, but most of them get the subtitle treatment, which I appreciate.

Despite my initial misgivings about Back to the Future Part II, I’ve come to rather like it over the last 13 years. It will probably always be my least favorite flick of the trilogy, but it nonetheless provides a fairly lively second part in the series, and it does its job well. The DVD offers generally positive picture and sound as well as a pretty positive package of extras. Overall, the release treats the movie well.

Note: This film can be purchased only as part of Back to the Future: The Complete Trilogy, a three-DVD boxed set that also includes the first and third flicks. While it’s certainly possible that Universal may eventually issue the titles on their own, as of December 2002, they only come as a package deal. I like all three flicks, so I felt happy to pick up the boxed set, especially since it lists for less than $57; a retail price of $19 per movie makes them a serious bargain. Heck, it’s still a good deal for anyone who likes two of the three, as they still would go for $28.50 each.

However, I can understand why folks who only enjoy one of the films would feel unhappy with this edition. Personally, I’d pay the whole tab just to own Back to the Future, as it remains one of my all-time favorite films. Nonetheless, that’s a lot to shell out for only one flick. For those who fall into the “I only like one of them” category, I wish I could hold out hope that you’ll eventually see the flicks released separately, but honestly, I don’t expect it’ll happen. I think the Complete Trilogy will remain the only way to get any of the Back to the Future films on DVD, though I hope I’m mistaken.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2727 Stars Number of Votes: 55
12 3:
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