Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy (Universal, 2010)

Great Scott! I don’t know where the time went, but Back to the Future turns 25 this week, and to celebrate, Universal is issuing a lavish six-disc box containing all three films in the trilogy, reams upon reams of bonus material, and digital copies of all the movies. As your standard deluxe reissue packages go, this is heavy. But if you bought the original DVD box when it was released — or any of the individual titles when they were finally put out on their own — is the Back to the Future 25th Anniversary Trilogy Edition worth buying? Let’s find out.

Synopsis: Back to the Future: With the help of a wacky scientist, a young teen travels back to 1955 in a Delorean turned time-machine. Once there, he meets his parents, still teenagers, but his presence throws things out-of-whack and he must ensure they fall in love and get married or else he’ll never come to exist.

Back to the Future Part II: After visiting 2015, Marty must repeat his visit to 1955 to prevent disastrous changes to 1985… without interfering with his first trip.

Back to the Future Part III: Marty McFly drives into the Old West to rescue Doc, whose blossoming romance makes him reluctant to return, from the clutches of the villainous Tannen Gang.

Video: See that “25th Anniversary” on the box? Pay attention to it and dial back your expectations, because the Back to the Future trilogy isn’t an ideal candidate for Blu-ray — not visually speaking, anyway. The special effects aren’t awful, but particularly in the first film, they weren’t exactly amazing, and they don’t really benefit from the added detail — and the second and third installments, while filmed with bigger budgets and filled with more impressive visuals, also relied heavily on makeup effects that, again, don’t really benefit from extra scrutiny. All in all, this is not a set that’s going to blow you away on the screen; having said that, it’s important to point out that this is unquestionably the best-looking release that any of these movies have ever seen. There’s nothing wrong with the (1080p VC-1, 1.85:1) transfers; it’s the source material that has the problems, and honestly, with films of this vintage, that’s something you should probably expect — and there aren’t any visual flaws that will keep you from enjoying a moment of this classic trilogy.

Audio: The trilogy is presented here with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, largely dialogue-centered but with enough surround-spaced moments to keep you immersed in the action. Like the visual component, it may not be flawless, but it’s definitely close. Crank the volume during any of the trilogy’s major action sequences, and you’ll hear Back to the Future at its best.

Special Features: And here’s the real meat of the set. The original Back to the Future DVDs came with plenty of bonus materials, and the 25th Anniversary Edition adds even more. Even Universal can’t keep track of it all; the box just promises “HOURS of bonus features,” which is just as well, because there’s so much extra content here that exactly how much doesn’t matter. Here’s an overview:

Tales from the Future: A six-part documentary, running roughly two hours in length and spread over the three films, that looks behind the scenes at the trilogy, featuring new interviews with the creative principals (including producer/co-writer Bob Gale, producer Neil Canton, writer/director Robert Zemeckis, producer Steven Spielberg, and cast members Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, and more).

The Physics of Back to the Future: Just under 10 minutes, this featurette is what it sounds like — a chat with a physicist about the science behind the trilogy.

Nuclear Test Site Ending Storyboard Sequence: A look at the original ending for the first film, scrapped for budgetary reasons.

Back to the Future Night: The full-length version of a special, aired by NBC prior to the first film’s TV debut.

U Control Mode: Universal’s “special mode,” which adds trivia, storyboards, and other assorted bits to your viewing.

…and that’s just the new stuff. That still leaves the following:

Almost 18 minutes of deleted scenes;

A 10-minute Michael J. Fox Q&A;

A live, post-screening Q&A Session with Gale and Zemeckis;

An audio commentary with Gale and Canton;

A whopping three Back to the Future documentaries;

Stacks of Behind the Scenes footage, including storyboards, makeup tests, mini-documentaries about elements of the films, and more;

…and that’s just most of it. This, friends, is a reissue done right.

Bottom Line: If you’re like me, you skipped the first Back to the Future box because you weren’t interested in owning the inferior sequels, but the 25th Anniversary Edition is the kind of package you can’t refuse. Does it make Part II or Part III better movies? Well, no. But there’s just something infectious about a set that treats its contents with this much affection — and maybe it was just watching the series back to back, with detours into the bonus material in between, but the dropoff in quality between the original and the sequels wasn’t as steep as I’d remembered. Part II starts cold, with jiveass slapstick comedy and a frantic, muddled plot, but it ends strong, with the most exciting, intricately choreographed set piece in the trilogy. Part III is definitely the slackest entry in the series, but it’s obvious that the cast is having fun with their Wild West characters, and it restores some of the sweetness lost in the darker second installment.

Look, you’ve seen the movies. You don’t need me to tell you whether they’re worth your money. Odds are, just looking at this box is enough to make you reach for your wallet, but if you’re at all on the fence about whether the 25th Anniversary Edition includes enough stuff to justify the $47.99 Amazon is currently charging for it, let me make it simple for you: Yes. Make room on your shelf, set aside some of your next paycheck, and get ready to head back in time in hi-def.