Back to the Future Part II Review

Back to the Future Part II (1989) Movie Retro Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Back to the Future Part II Review

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson

A Flying DeLorean? What the hell is going on here?

Four long years we had to wait to see What happened to Marty and Jennifer’s Kids. In reality those closing scenes to the classic 1985 film Back to the Future was intended to be a joke by Robert Zemeckis. The Director / Writer never intended or had a grand scheme on what happened after the original movie. Remember that “The Bobs” had a hard sell on that movie and thankfully it saw the light of day.

There was one thing we knew going into the sequel and that was our favourites Marty and Doc along with Jennifer were heading to the future, 2015 to be exact. You have to take yourself back to 1989 and remember a time before the internet and flat screen televisions. Amazingly the filmmakers actually got a lot of the tech correct back then and a lot of the gadgets we see in the “future” became a reality. There are endless YouTube videos listing all the predictions that came true in 2015…which ironically is now the past.

As a thirteen year old kid I was eager to see what the future was like in Hill Valley and it didn’t disappoint. Marty was suited and booted with a fit adjusting jacket and a pair of Nike power laced boots. In fact, I didn’t have to wait long until I saw something I believed was real at the time and I commend the special effects and choreography teams for making us believe that Hover boards were actually real and fully functioning pieces of equipment back then, and even if they weren’t, then surely 30 years down the line we would have them, yeah right.

One of the things I love about this sequel was the fact that they did something that had never been done before and something that you could only do a film involving time travel and that was to revisit the events of the first film from a different perspective. Before that though Marty and Doc have to fix a little issue in the future that they successfully manage. Whilst Marty is waiting for Doc to collect Einstein (his Dog from 1985) he visits the “Blast from the Past” antique shop and purchases the book “Grays Sports Almanac” a book of sporting facts and statistics that Marty sees as a way to “make a few bucks on the side.” Unfortunately for Marty and Doc, old Biff heard Marty’s plans and manages to steal the book and the DeLorean and give himself the book back in 1955. (November 5, 1955 to be precise) whilst Marty and Doc are on another mission trying to retrieve Jennifer from her future home.

With Biff altering time, Marty, Jennifer and Doc arrive back in an alternative 1985 unknowing what has happened until Marty confronts the now very rich Biff on when he received the book. I have to say that as much as I loved the 2015 Hill Valley for its glossy and crisp looking facade I have to admit I loved the gritty and dark alternative 1985 Hill Valley equally. There is something sinister and disturbing about seeing the town and it’s suburbs in disarray and crime is everywhere and it’ something I felt would have been interesting to stay a little longer in.

This is where the level of mind melting hits the max and I have to say that it took me multiple viewing to get my head around Marty and Doc revisiting Hill Valley on November 5, 1955. Not only seeing this vibrant town in all its glory again and taking me back to the original but also seeing our heroes avoiding their other selves was a mind job thanks to Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. It still amazes me the precision and attention to detail the film makers went to, to make sure that the time frame everything happens in Back to the Future Part Two doesn’t contradict what happened in the original movie. The last 40 minutes of the film is really Marty and Doc pursuing Biff for the Almanac and trying their best not to interact with anyone, especially themselves.

What can I say about the ending? With the timeline corrected after a successful mission, Doc Brown whilst hovering in the time machine in the air is stuck by lightening sending him in a loop and vanishing to god knows where. Leaving poor Marty stranded in 1955 and receiving a letter from a Western Union guy at that precise point and at that precise moment that they have had in their possession for almost 70 years, it is revealed to be from the Doc who is living now in the old west (1885) and has given Marty explicit instructions on where to find the DeLorean and how to fix it so his friend can return to 1985 and destroy the time machine.

This of course sets up the third part of the franchise which I will review soon. Back to the Future Part Two took some great risks in it’s story telling. It took some great risks in its visuals as a lot of the technology used in the movie was prototype and hadn’t been used before. VistaGlide was a robotic, motion-control camera dolly system that allowed an actor to play two or more parts in a single scene, with a computer controlling the pan, tilt, focus, zoom and the split line during each pass. It was developed for use in Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III.

One noticeable absentee from the original cast is Crispin Glover although I think at the time it wasn’t so obvious. I have seen multiple interviews from the Actor and the Producer giving their version of events on why the star wasn’t present for either of the sequels and the problems this gave the writers. I would be foolish to take either side on this matter as I wasn’t there and if anything came out of the whole debacle, that was Glover won a law suit against filmmakers using actors “likeness” who aren’t in the film or have any part of the film as the prosthetics used in the original film to give Glover an older appearance (using the actors face mold) was used on an other actor to give the illusion that the same actor was being used in the sequels. Personally I spotted this the very first time I saw the movie as the camera angles were obscure and more evidently was that the character of George who was so prominent in the first movie was nothing more than a bit part in the sequels sadly.

Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Thomas F. Wilson stepped up and really made the sequels as best they could and delivered stand out performances once again. The four recreated the magic of the first movie and maintained the level of comedy required for their roles. Wilson more so as I felt the second part was “Biff’s” movie and the actor / stand up really performs really well as 1985 Biff, 2015 Old Biff, 1955 Young Biff and the oddball Griff (Biff’s Grandson) in the future. Fox and Lloyd again carry the narration along and again perform brilliantly.

Overall Back to the Future Part Two is one of my favourite sequels and I hold it up there with the original for different reasons. The second part is technically better than the original for the future scenes as far as design go and for the logistics of how technology works in the future. In real world as mentioned the filming techniques were still before digital technology and some of the scenes although may be a little dated now still hold up and my appreciation for the creation of the VistaGlide system is something I am still in awe with for it’s boldness and it’s subtle use in Parts Two and Three. Back to the Future Part Two is still a movie I can go back to and I never scoff at the future scenes which are of course in the past now as Robert Zemekis once said you can never set the future correctly so don’t take it too seriously. For anyone who hasn’t seen this movie I would urge you to find a copy of it (currently showing on Netflix) and watch it, but only after you have watched the classic original. Highly Recommended.

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