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“Back to the Future: 35th Anniversary Edition” jumps to 4K with striking results

Updated: Feb 13, 2021


Michael J. Fox plays 17-year-old high school senior Marty McFly, who discovers he’s seated beside his father George McFly (Crispin Glover) inside a Hill Valley diner in the year 1955.

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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1985; PG for mild language and violence; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: “Tales from the Future” a three-part documentary

CAN YOU IMAGINE Marty McFly strapping himself into a refrigerator to be transported back to 1955? That was one of the zany ideas considered for the “Back to the Future” time machine, which took off 35 years ago.

Obviously, their butt-head scheme – to borrow a phrase from “BTTF” – was abandoned because of safety concerns (kids might get trapped inside the appliance). Besides, a plutonium-powered DeLorean is more fun.

Universal’s new 4K release “Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy” includes all three films in a stylish collectible discbook with photographs, movie posters and complete listings of the bonus features. The only negative the slick cardboard slots that house the discs are too tight, causing you to get fingerprints on the outer edge of the discs. A similar design flaw plagues the Hitchcock 4K Collection released on September 1.

This review highlights the original film that started the sci-fi franchise – the $1 billion brainchild of director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer/producer Bob Gale. The 4K and Blu-ray (not available on the digital platforms at this point) house all of the extras including the informative multi-part “Tales from the Future” documentary.

(1) Marty turns Doc Brown’s giant amplifier to the highest level and prepares to strum. (2) After being knocked across the basement into a bookshelf, Marty says, “Whoa! Rock ‘n’ roll.” (3) The clock’s chime and it’s 8 o’clock a.m. and Marty’s late for school. (4) He catches a ride while heading to Hill Valley High School. The scene was filmed on North Victory Blvd. in Burbank, Calif.


During the documentary, Gale and Zemeckis recall their five-year rollercoaster ride getting “BTTF” to the screen. Columbia Pictures first optioned the movie, but lost interest. The rest of Hollywood wasn’t interested, either. When Zemeckis’ “Romancing the Stone” became a summer blockbuster, the studios had a change of heart. Steven Spielberg was first in line, getting the financing needed with Universal Studios.

Next roadblock: Michael J. Fox was the perfect Marty, but couldn’t get out of his taping schedule with NBC’s “Family Ties.” Gale and Zemeckis decided to move on with Eric Stoltz, fresh off a wonderful performance as a teenager with a facial deformity in “Mask.” Five weeks into shooting, the director fired Stoltz. “He just wasn’t bringing the laughs,” recalls Zemeckis. Everyone knew Fox was the answer. The two Bobs (Gale and Zemeckis) convinced the producers of “Family Ties” it could work. For weeks, Fox literally worked 20 hours a day, with a full schedule on the TV soundstage and then driving straight to Universal’s backlot and filming until 5 a.m. The daylight scenes were shot on weekends. Fox, an accomplished guitarist, had no problems with the musical scenes.

Another roadblock, Universal studio head Sid Sheinberg didn’t like the title. He sent a memo to the filmmakers suggesting the perfect title: “Spaceman from Pluto.” It was based on the comic book the kid was holding when Fox exits the DeLorean inside the barn. Spielberg didn’t want to insult his longtime friend and boss since he had “gambled so much of the studio’s money on this crazy idea.” So, Spielberg sent back a note thanking Sheinberg for his sense of humor, and how they got a “great laugh out of it…and for starting their morning off with a huge laugh,” said Spielberg. “Sid never brought it up again.”

(1) Mr. Strickland (James Tolkan) spots Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer in the hallways. Marty gets his fourth tardy slip in a row. “You got a real attitude problem, McFly. You’re a slacker.” (2) The judges for the school dance audition include rocker Huey Lewis, second on the left. (3&4) Jennifer (Claudia Wells) watching Marty and his band The Pinheads during their audition. (5) Dinner with the McFly family.


As the scheduled release date of August 16, 1985, neared, the two Bobs were unsure of the film’s financial success and “hoped to just break even.” Three weeks after wrapping up filming the first screening was in front of a cold audience in San Jose. As the film ended and the DeLorean flies off, “The people came up out of their seats, practically hitting the ceiling,” says executive producer Frank Marshall. “I had never seen a reaction like that.” The test audience scores were the highest Universal had ever received up to that time. Sheinberg got a screening and demanded the release date be pushed up to the July 4th weekend. “BTTF” finished the year as the No. 1 box office movie for 1985, just ahead of Eddie Murphy’s comedy “Beverly Hills Cop.”

Additional interviews with Fox, Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown), and Lea Thompson (Lorraine) give the complete story. You’ll also get deleted scenes, a commentary with producer Neil Canton and Gale, a Q&A with Zemeckis and Gale at the University of Southern California film school, archive featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes, music video, photo galleries, and more.


The 4K and Blu-ray are both sourced from a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio). Natural film grain dances across the screen as the 4K extracts a higher level of grain. The night scene at the Twin Pines Mall parking lot and dark interiors are more pronounced with grain, which isn’t uncommon for ‘80s film stock and its photochemical process. Overall clarity is excellent from close-ups to the abundance of wide shots, as the added resolution gives “BTTF” that cinematic feel. For example, when Marty’s band The Pinheads audition to play at the high school dance, the wide shot of the four judges seated in the middle of the gymnasium has outstanding clarity. That’s when rocker Huey Lewis as a teacher, stands up and says, “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud.”

The biggest difference between the formats is the encoded 4K/HDR toning (HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision), which has been dialed with a darker spectrum with controlled highlights and blacker blacks, and a truer color palette. The Blu-ray is much brighter and the facial toning lends toward the orange side.


The 4K disc has also been encoded with the new eight-channel Dolby Atmos, which sprinkles effects and music cues to the height speakers at the appropriate moments with Alan Silvestri’s highly praised score to Huey Lewis & the News’ No. 1 pop hit “The Power of Love.” The soundstage is wide and full, with a powerful bass response and overall fidelity.

Great Scott, this 4K collection belongs on your shelf.

— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

(1&2) Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty test the DeLorean by sending Doc’s dog Einstein one minute into the future. (3) A group of Libyan terrorists who exchanged the stolen plutonium for a fake bomb wants revenge. (4&5) Marty has set his course for November 5, 1955, the day Doc came up with the idea for the “flux capacitor,” the device that makes time travel possible.


1955 - (1) A farm family discovers the DeLorean and Marty wearing HAZMAT suit in their barn. (2) Marty finds his father George McFly being bullied by Biff and his gang at the local diner. (3) Marty follows George home and Lorraine’s father hits him and the accident starts to alter future events. (4) Marty wakes up in Lorraine’s (Lea Thompson) bedroom and finds his mother looking at him and calling Calvin Klein. (5) Marty arrives at Doc Brown’s home and tells him they need 1.21 gigawatts to power the DeLorean.


(1) Marty and Doc retrieve the DeLorean hidden near the entrance to the future Lyon Estates subdivision. (2) George McFly and Lorraine are seeing eye-to-eye during the Enchantment Under the Sea School Dance. (3) Marty takes over the band when Marvin Berry injures his hand and plays a number of guitar reefs saluting the greatest - Chuck Berry, Pete Townshend, Augus Young, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen. (4) Marty prepares the DeLorean for the 10:04 p.m. lightning strike. (5) Doc has problems attaching the power cable on the clock tower. (6) A celebrative dance after Marty’s departure back to 1985.


(1) Doc returns from the future and tells Marty and Jennifer that something has got to be done about their kids. (2) They hop into the DeLorean and Marty says there isn’t enough road to accelerate to 88 mph. Doc replies, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”



Jun 10, 2021

Wow! Amazing screenshots! They look like a film print. How did you take this screenshots? How do you tonemap the HDR to look like this?

Replying to

The process involves RAW high-end digital camera captures and toning to match HDR screen levels from my projector setup.

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