Back to the Future Part III 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. Visually, the filmmakers saved the best for last, as III presented the strongest picture of the set.
Sharpness generally came across as tight and distinct. A few slightly soft shots occurred, but these didn’t pop up frequently or provide any significant concerns. The movie mostly looked well defined and accurate. As with the prior two flicks, jagged edges caused no issues, but I noticed some light shimmering at times. Edge enhancement seemed to present no problems, and the image appeared virtually free of print defects.
Given the film’s earthy setting, III presented the most stable and natural palette of the trilogy. The colors consistently appeared distinctive and warm, and they demonstrated no signs of concerns like noise or bleeding. The movie featured more exteriors than either of the predecessor, which definitely helped make it the most satisfying in regard to color reproduction. Black levels were dark and tight, and shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but not overly dense. In the end, III offered a very clean and satisfying visual presentation.
Back to the Future Part III displayed a few improperly framed scenes. 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.
When we moved to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Back to the Future Part III, it seemed pretty similar to that of the prior two flicks. However, it erased some of the minor concerns I experienced with the first two movies’ audio and offered the strongest sound of the set. Much of the audio remained focused in the front channels, but the imaging spread nicely throughout the movie. Elements blended together cleanly and moved across the spectrum neatly and accurately. The surrounds consistently presented a good sense of environment and kicked into gear effectively during the louder scenes; they worked especially well during the movie’s train-based climax.
Audio quality sounded better than ever here. Speech seemed natural and crisp, and I noticed no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Happily, the mix also lost the weak dubbing heard in the first film. Music appeared bright and lively, as the score demonstrated nice clarity and good depth. Effects also came across as distinct and accurate, and they showed solid bass punch when appropriate. Compared to today’s movies, the audio of Back to the Future Part III was a little dated, but I felt the sound seemed quite positive for its era, and it continued to succeed 12 years after the fact.
The final disc of the package, Back to the Future Part III includes a mix of supplements similar to those on the other platters. 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 conversation with the filmmakers. By far the shortest of the three Q&As, this one lasts a mere 30 minutes, and it seems more lackluster than the other two.
Not that Zemeckis and Gale don’t offer some useful information, as they cover a mix of good topics. They relate various facts about the production as well as their thoughts about the series as a whole and its legacy. The track seems too short to be tremendously notable, but it still gives us some nice facts about the third film.
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 their tracks for the first two films, Gale heavily dominates this one; though Canton chimes in a little more frequently than in the past, I can’t imagine he talks more than five percent of the time here.
As always, this track generally acts as a repository for information not heard elsewhere, so a lot of the information Gale covers falls into the “trivia” category. But that doesn’t mean the material fails to become involving and interesting, as Gale provides a nice traipse through the production. He gets into a myriad of different issues and lets us know many compelling factoids that add to our appreciation of the flick. For instance, we learn of one personality they tried to land for a cameo. As with prior commentaries, this one suffers from a few too many empty spaces, but it still seems engaging and useful.
Called Did You Know That? Universal Animated Anecdotes provides our third commentary. A text affair, this one sporadically presents notes about the movie. These appear too infrequently, but they offer some decent information. We learn more about the supporting cast and small bits that otherwise might have eluded us. The “Anecdotes” don’t seem revelatory, but they add to the viewer’s enjoyment of the flick.
For our first video-based supplement, we go back in time to 1990. A featurette from that period, The Making of Back to the Future Part III fills seven minutes and 30 seconds with movie clips, images from the set, and interviews. We receive remarks from director Robert Zemeckis, actors Michael J. Fox, Mary Steenburgen and Thomas F. Wilson, producer/writer Bob Gale, and producer Neil Canton. Although it shows too many film snippets, the program actually packs a fair amount of good information. It includes some nice behind the scenes images and gives us a quick but moderately useful glimpse of the production. Despite its brevity and promotional focus, the featurette still merits a look.
Newly created, Making the Trilogy: Chapter Three takes 16 minutes and 18 seconds. As with the two prior chapters, it mostly shows film shots and interviews; we hear from Zemeckis, Gale, and Fox. Only approximately the first half of “Chapter Three” addresses the production of III, and it includes a cursory discussion of the hectic schedule caused by the almost-simultaneous creation of the two sequels. The second part of “Chapter Three” acts as something of a valedictory statement for the trilogy. We get comments on the films’ impact and success and what they meant to the participants. Added together, the three chapters of “Making the Trilogy” don’t offer a great look at the series, but they seem reasonably entertaining and informative.
Next we find a single deleted scene that lasts 73 seconds. It features Buford Tannen and Marshal Strickland, and it definitely deserved to be cut, as it seems way too dark for this flick. You can watch the deleted scene with or without commentary from producer Bob Gale. He conveys the reason for the omission.
Additional unused footage appears in the Outtakes area, which runs 95 seconds. I usually don’t care for gag reels, but this one tosses in some fairly funny stuff. It’s not quite up to the standards of the first DVD’s amusing outtakes section, but it beats the tepid material found on II.
After this we locate two short featurettes. Designing the Town of Hill Valley lasts only 68 seconds as Bob Gale chats about the evolution of the location. He covers the basics of the set but doesn’t give us enough specifics to make this a very useful piece. Designing the Campaign also features Gale, and he goes through the different advertising concepts for all three movies, with an emphasis on the first one. The images of the rejected posters are cool to see, but otherwise, this featurette seems pretty insubstantial.
The “Production Archive” breaks into four smaller domains. Marty McFly Photo Album includes fairly bland 33 photos of the cast. Behind-The-Scenes Photographs adds another 19 shots, most of which include Robert Zemeckis; they come across as fairly uninteresting. The 14 stills in Production Designs appear more useful, as the detail the train and some other elements of III. Lastly, The Trilogy: Poster Concepts features 25 pieces of art. These offer easily the best parts of the “Archive”, especially since we even get to see an ad for Jaws 19.
Music videos for songs from films usually blow, and the clip for ZZ Top’s Doubleback doesn’t alter that impression. It integrates the Top into shots from the movie – or the other way around – and it does so really crudely. The song’s nothing special, and the video seems cheap and dull.
The longest single video program on any of the three DVDs, The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy runs 20 minutes and 39 seconds. Hosted by Kirk Cameron (!), this program apparently was created to promote III. It features questions about various issues, and we see lots of shots from the set to depict some of the “secrets”. These include the effects that brought the hoverboards to life, the physical strains of the shoot, and the creation of the train scene from III. We also hear short interview snippets from Zemeckis, Fox, Thomas F. Wilson, Steenburgen, Neil Canton, Gale, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, and supervising model maker Steve Gawley. Much of the material appears elsewhere, and the program seems too puffy and promotional to offer anything terribly worthwhile, but at least the behind the scenes images provide some good pieces.
For some text information, we go to FAQs About the Trilogy. Composed by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, this question and answer series goes through a lot of interesting issues related to the series. Most of them deal with time paradox concerns, and the Bobs reply openly and amusingly to the problems in this fun extra. Some of this repeats information found in “Secrets” and elsewhere, but the “FAQ” offers a reasonable amount of new material.
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, Mary Steenburgen, 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. III 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 two flicks’ DVDs 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.
A warm and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, Back to the Future Part III seems like a solid film. It falters at times, but it usually maintains a nice sense of heart and spirit, and it ends matters smoothly. The DVD presents consistently excellent picture and sound that seem like the best of the three discs. The movie’s supplements appear to be the weakest of the trilogy’s flicks, but they still offer some good materials. Back to the Future Part III offers a charming and entertaining film that merits my recommendation.
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 two 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.