(Original VCD)

Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Mary Steenburgen
Director: Robert Zemeckis
MPAA Rating: G

Movie(s): * * * 
* ½  

Short-term nostalgia is scary. I am always surprised by the fondness shown by twentysomethingers for movies made in the mid- to late-1980s. Obviously I forget that they were a lot younger than I were back then. For starters, the 'Eighties doesn't really seem all that distant to get nostalgic about. Also, many of those movies were crap (Masters of the Universe, anyone?) and are bound to disappoint today. That is, unless those same uncritical pre-adolescents grew into uncritical post-adolescents, which I suspect is the case sometimes when I consider their predilection for Adam Sandler movies.

Recently I spoke to someone who was disappointed after rewatching The Goonies (a Spielberg production made in 1985) recently. This was only obvious since said individual was probably about ten years old back then and the movie was tailor-made for ten-year-olds (it has a lot of screaming and loud obnoxious ten-year-olds in it for starters). Today he is simply too old for the movie.

One 1980s nostalgia trip unlikely to disappoint though is the hugely popular Back to the Future trilogy released in 1985, 1989 and 1990 (Parts II and III were made simultaneously). Boasting the "Steven Spielberg presents" banner one could argue that the movie was destined to become the huge hit it became, but one forgets that other Spielberg produced efforts such as Young Sherlock Holmes bombed. Directed by the great man's protégé Robert Zemeckis the Back to the Future movies weren't just what others (like Superman director Richard Donner with The Goonies) thought a Spielberg movie should be like. They were genuinely Spielbergian.

Back To The Future

* * * ½
* ½  

Zemeckis went on to more respectable, but dull endeavours such as Forrest Gump and Cast Away both starring Tom Hanks. He also directed the underappreciated Contact, the sci-fi drama starring Jodie Foster, in 1997. Strangely enough the Hanks movies made more money, but as far as sheer unadulterated fun and entertainment value goes, Back to the Future was the definite highlight of his career.

There are no dramatic slow-motion shots or middlebrow pretensions to be found in this lark about a teenager who accidentally travels back in the time to 1955. The teenager was played by Michael J. Fox, who never grew old it seems and was then best-known for his role as the materialist Reaganite yuppie in the TV sitcom Family Ties. His associate is an eccentric mad scientist (reminiscent of the one in the 1927 Metropolis) played fittingly over-the-top by Christopher Lloyd.

Back in 1955 his mother by a twist falls in love with him. All sorts of mayhem ensue as he tries to get, well, back to the future. And ensure that his parents actually meet and fall in love, otherwise he wouldn't even be born in the first place!

Back to the Future II

* * ½ 
* ½  

Back to the Future Part II gets bogged down by its own cleverness. Humour takes a second place as the movie tortuously tries to wind its way through a convoluted plot. Still, it's energetic and fast-paced and doesn't bore. This movie is typical of how people in the 'Eighties probably thought the future would be like one day - more of the same fashions and hair styles!

Back To The Future III

* * * 
* *  

Back to the Future III is set in the Wild West of yore. It is actually better than Part II, finding time for the comedy that made the first movie so good. Along the way it skewers several Western clichés. Great fun.

THE DISCS: These are official VCDs, supplied by Malaysian-based outfit Except for old VHS copies gathering dust at your corner video shop and perhaps the occasional TV screening, these VCDs are probably the only way to see the Back to the Future movies right now. The series is unavailable right now and won't be released on either VHS or DVD until later this year (17 December 2002 to be exact).

VCDs (or Video CDs) are hugely popular in Asian countries such as Malaysia, China, etc. Sort of a predecessor to the DVD format, a VCD is a full-length movie stored on two standard CDs. To get technical, VCDs use the MPEG-1 compression standard and DVDs use the superior MPEG-2 standard. VCDs can be played on many standard DVD players as well as a reasonably modern home PCs. In Asian countries they mainly use cheap dedicated players that play only VCDs.

To compare VCDs to DVDs is unfair though since DVDs can store a lot more data. Think of VCD as more akin to VHS, then you have a better idea of what to expect. Except VCDs won't get worn and usually feature crystal clear digital sound. Unfortunately, depending on how it is encoded, the quality of VCDs can be worse than the standard original VHS tapes you can buy.

All three movies come in standard double CD jewel cases with no additional special packaging. There are six discs all in all. Since these are official VCDs and not pirated discs, the covers and discs themselves are neat and look professionally done.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the image and picture quality of the discs themselves. The problem is that the movies seem to have been sourced from some VHS tapes since they (very) occasionally display the type of audio hisses and horizontal stripes one sometimes finds on VHS tapes. Add to this some patchy compression at times and the honest truth is that the quality of these discs is below that of a VHS tape.

WORTH IT? Despite this, the discs are quite watchable. My wife who watched them with me quoted Woody Allen when I complained about the quality: "Anal is a polite word for what you are." True. In all honesty I had great fun watching these films again, but felt slightly let down. The quality could have been better and it feels like a cynical move on the part of the studio to merely undercut the lucrative pirate VCD markets in these countries and not offer anything substantially better in quality. One would expect a lot better of an official product . . .

RECOMMENDATION: Despite this, these VCDs can still be recommended because of the costs involved - this set is very, very cheap! All three movies retail for a mere $16.97 at When the Back to the Future series debuts on DVD later this year, it will set you back a whopping $56.98. The VCDs are even less than half the price of the VHS copies ($39.98)!

(All prices quoted exclude shipping and, unless otherwise indicated, are list prices.)

If your VCR chewed up your taped-from-TV tapes and you don't want to spend a minor fortune on replacing them, I'd recommend visiting right now.

NOTE: These are not the TV versions by the way - so no annoying ad breaks and a funny line involving the term "assholes" remains intact. (A scene in which this mild offensive expletive was deleted was filmed especially for TV screenings. These VCDs are the original versions shown in cinemas.)

There are no extra features such as trailers or featurettes. After pressing 'Play' one is greeted by a copyright warning and a basic menu pops up: Press 1 to play the movie. Press 2, 3, 4, etc. to select scenes at 10-minute intervals - similar to the chapter selection function with DVD (Part III has no such menu though).

All three movies are presented in full screen (pan 'n' scan).  Since the movies were originally filmed in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this doesn't present too much of a problem.  The sound is Dolby Stereo.  



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