Back to the '80s: The me-decade classic Back to the Future arrives on Blu-ray

I'm not going to lie: The first thing I did after opening the excellent new Back to the Future Trilogy 25th anniversary Blu-ray package (Universal, $79.99 MSRP, but it's been advertised below $50) was skip all the content about the movies, and jump straight into a bonus feature covering Back to the Future: The Ride. Opened at Universal Orlando in the early 1990s, BTTF: The Ride has loomed large in my memory both for the humorous quality of the content (involving Biff Tannen running amok in Doc Brown's time travel institute) and for generating epic wait lines. Included in this set are all the lobby shorts the crowd would watch while waiting to board, followed by the pre-flight briefing and the film from the ride itself. Despite my couch not gyrating in time with the film (or inducing nausea), there's real nostalgic power in chasing Biff through time on your home flat-screen.

Of course, "nostalgia" is the key when talking about Back to the Future (BTTF). During the film's original 1985 release, the nostalgia was that of baby boomer audiences looking back at the 1950s with a longing for a kinder, simpler time. Watching BTTF now, I was struck by my own nostalgia for the 1980s — specifically the filmmaking of the era. BTTF is an early production of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment — the iconic "Steven Spielberg Presents" appearing above the title in all marketing materials — and the film pairs a sweet innocence (boy goes back in time and fixes his parents' relationship) with high geek sensibility (time travel paradoxes, 1.21 gigawatts, a freakin' Delorean). This geek-sweet mix was Spielberg's trademark in the '80s, with other Spielberg-produced Amblin titles from the era including The Goonies, Young Sherlock Holmes and Gremlins.

Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, BTTF almost never got made at all. Following along with the wonderful, multi-part "making of" features on the discs reveals that the Zemeckis of this period was just starting out and lacked the clout to get BTTF off the ground. After being shot down by every studio in Hollywood, Zemeckis made Romancing The Stone with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner instead. It was a huge hit, and now all of Tinseltown wanted the director's little time-travel flick. Zemeckis took the property back to the only person who had expressed interest in the first place (Mr. Spielberg) and the film was given the green light.

That's one of dozens of interesting production stories from the set of the BTTF movies shared by the original cast and crew (Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, etc. all sat for new interviews for the release), and the included documentaries hit many highlights. This includes the Holy Grail for BTTF-philes: footage of actor Eric Stoltz playing Marty McFly. Stoltz was fired after five weeks of shooting and replaced by a newly available Michael J. Fox. Fox was the producer's first choice but initially couldn't get out of shooting the NBC sitcom Family Ties to make the movie. Once on board, Fox worked 20 hours a day between the TV show and the feature, to the point that he seems almost delirious in some of the behind-the-scenes BTTF shoot footage.

The image quality of the Blu-ray transfer of BTTF is quite simply stunning, the kitsch and color palette of the 1950s coming vividly to life in 1080p resolution (as do the future and the old west in Parts 2 and 3.) The only real disappointment with this set is that the quality of the movies is inconsistent, with the original heads-and-tails above the two sequels. Still, this is a must-have package for fans of these movies and should make a great gift this holiday season.

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