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"Back to the Future Part II" continues the time warp saga of Marty and Doc

Back to the Future Part II


With the success of Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 time travel comedy “Back to the Future,” Universal Pictures commissioned the filmmaker and his co-writer Bob Gale to make “Back to the Future Part II.”

Zemeckis and Bob Gale created the "Back to the Future" saga in 1985 as a stand-alone film but Universal commissioned a sequel
Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

The studio’s decision was based on two factors: its box office gross of $383,874,862 and Michael J. Fox’s popularity.

Zemeckis and Gale’s original concept for “Back to the Future” was for the movie to be a “stand-alone” story with no planned sequels. However, when they saw how well the movie had performed at the box office, they agreed to work on a follow-up.

Gale and Zemeckis did, however, attach a serious precondition: they would only go ahead with the sequel if Fox and Christopher Lloyd signed on. The two actors agreed, and serious work on “Back to the Future Part II” began.

Although “Back to the Future” ends with a coda in which Doc Brown says the line “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads,” Gale and Zemeckis had several problems to solve before writing the next installment.

First, Claudia Wells, who played Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer, quit acting for a while to care for her sick mother. Not only did this force Gale and Zemeckis to cast Elizabeth Shue in the role, but they had to reshoot “Back to the Future’s” coda almost shot for shot. That way, they could literally pick up the story where the first film ends.

Second, Crispin Glover, the actor who played George McFly in 1985, got into a salary dispute with the producers and did not return for “Back to the Future Part II.” His character was used in the new movie, however. Zemeckis used a heavily made-up replacement actor shot from various angles (including upside down) so viewers couldn’t tell George was not played by Glover.

In scenes set in 1955, however, Glover appears in footage taken from “Back to the Future.” The actor later sued executive producer Spielberg, producer-writer Gale, and director Zemeckis for using his likeness without his permission. This lawsuit prompted the Screen Actors Guild to set guidelines governing the use of actors’ faces in similar fashion by film and television show creators.

The story that Gale and Zemeckis created is an ingenious jaunt to not one but three different time periods – the 2015 future alluded to in the first movie’s coda, the 1955 visited by Marty in the first film, and a radically altered 1985.

The plot is too complex to summarize here. Suffice it to say that it starts with Doc, Marty and Jennifer travelling to 2015. There, Marty and Doc must keep the future McFly kids from getting into trouble, especially Marty, Jr. Complications ensue when “old” Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) discovers that Doc Brown’s modified DeLorean is a time machine and finds an unexpected wealth-creating method in a sports almanac. Timelines are skewed, and both Doc and Marty have to repair the damage caused by their misadventures in three time periods.

The story conceived by Gale in his screenplay was so complex that he and Zemeckis decided to make “Back to the Future” into a trilogy instead of trying to wrap up the story in Part II. “Family Ties” was on an extended hiatus and Michael J. Fox was available, and because it would save both time and money, “Back to the Future Parts II and III” were shot back to back.

My Take: Considering that I am not keen on sequels which are not part of a “planned franchise,” I enjoyed “Back to the Future Part II.”

Granted, I don’t hold either “Back to the Future Part II” or “Back to the Future Part III” in the same regard as I do the 1985 original. The first movie is cleverly inventive, original, and never drags.

“Back to the Future Part II” is still cleverly inventive and doesn’t drag, even though the various time travel-related plot complications may require the audience to make flowcharts just to keep track of things. This is, after all, a story based on the idea that if Marty and/or Doc have a misstep in any of the three main time periods depicted here, the original 1985 universe will change, and not for the better.

“Back to the Future Part II” doesn’t depict a future that is dark and dystopian like Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner.” Instead, the 2015 of Gale and Zemeckis’ imagination is happily utopian, with flying cars, hoverboards, and 3D movie marquees that interact hilariously with prospective moviegoers.

As in the first installment, “Back to the Future Part II” works because the cast has great chemistry and it shows onscreen. Most of the fun in the film is a result of the wacky friendship between Michael J. Fox’s Marty and Christopher Lloyd’s Emmett “Doc” Brown. Fox (who was 29 at the time) pulls off the illusion that he is still a slightly goofy teenager with good intentions. (He also plays two of Marty’s kids in the 2015 timeline, Marty Junior and Marlene.)

Lloyd, who was known for his roles as Rev. Jim on “Taxi” and the murderous Klingon Kruge in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” is endearingly daffy as the scientist who has to figure out how to repair the damage inadvertently caused by his time travel project. Watching Lloyd’s character juggle all the paradox-inducing possibilities and solving the Gordian knots therein is half the fun of watching the movie.

Although Elizabeth Shue doesn’t look exactly like Claudia Wells, she does a good job as Jennifer. She is not in the movie all that much, but her performance is good and the audience quickly forgets that Shue did not play Jennifer in “Back to the Future.”

Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, and James Tolkan reprise their roles as (respectively) Lorraine McFly, Biff/Griff Tannen, and Dean Strickland. They provide the film with some of the best moments, especially Wilson, who plays not one but two Tannen family “baddies..”

“Back to the Future Part II” works well as a screwball sci-fi comedy, which is how it should be approached. Its pace is fast enough that viewers who loved the first film don’t dwell on its less sweet and engaging vibe, and the late 1980s special effects still hold up today. Its cliffhanger ending, of course, might disappoint folks who bought the single disc DVD (or Blu-ray) instead of getting the Trilogy box set. Other than that, though, “Back to the Future Part II” is not a bad sequel.

Back to the Future Part II 2009 DVD Specs

  • Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: Spanish
  • Dubbed: French
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Universal Studios
  • DVD Release Date: February 10, 2009
  • Run Time: 108 minutes

Back to the Future Trilogy 2011 Blu-ray Specs

  • Format: Blu-ray, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Universal Studios
  • DVD Release Date: August 30, 2011
  • Run Time: 343 minutes
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