DT Moviehouse Review: Back To The Future Part II

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I take a look at Back To The Future Part II.

(1989) Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Screenplay by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale

Tagline: Getting back was only the beginning.

What it’s about:

Immediately following the events of Back To the Future, Doc Brown urges Marty and Jennifer (Elizabeth Shue, replacing Claudia Wells) to head to 2015 in the DeLorean to prevent their impressionable son from committing a crime at the behest of a gang of juvenile delinquents that will ruin his life. While in the Hill Valley of the future, Marty buys a Sports Almanac containing a comprehensive list of all the sports contests dating from 1955-2000, but is talked out of using it to make a fortune by Doc, who cites the dangers of altering the space-time continuum. Biff, now an old man, has no such compunctions. After recovering the discarded almanac (and being aware of the time machine having seen it depart in 1985) Biff jumps into the DeLorean and gives the book to his past 1955 self, warning him about Doc and Marty. 1955 Biff proceeds to make a fortune sports gambling and in the process alters HillValley into a dystopian Vegas-style neon-lit cesspool. When Marty and Doc return to this altered 1985 and realize what’s happened, they set out to put things back the way they were.

Why I bought it:

To be fair, I didn’t buy this. A friend got the Back To The Future Trilogy on Blu-Ray and was good enough to let me have his old DVD boxed set (thanks, Ryan!).

Would I have bought Back To The Future II?

As a lover of the series and a completist, probably, yeah, but it’s easily my least favorite of the series.

There are some cast changes, first off. Elizabeth Shue replaces Claudia Wells who played Jennifer, necessitating a total reshoot of the ending of the previous movie (which admirably, is hardly noticeable).

Where we’re going…we don’t need Claudia Wells.

Crispin Glover sadly doesn’t return as George McFly, and this is the biggest letdown of BTTF Part II for me. There are a lot of legal complications that stemmed from the replacement of his character (by Jeffrey Wiessman) and use of his likeness that I won’t get into here.

What bothers me most about BTTF Part II is its somewhat dated version of the future. I usually don’t have a problem with retro-futurism in older movies (like fighting on the outside of the rocket ships in Flash Gordon, etc), but there is a brand of it that hinders the enjoyment of some movies (like say, Logan’s Run), and for me, the pastel colors and general spazziness of BTTF Part II’s 2015 kind’ve turn me off. I don’t like the weird characterization of Griff Tannon (Biff’s grandson – is he partly cybernetic or just constantly ‘tranked’) and his gang, and the clunky pixelated three dimensional Bruce the shark doesn’t do it for me. Also, after future Marty is cajoled (it is established that Marty has a problem backing down when called chicken) into trying to scam his own company by his coworker Needles (Flea), his Japanese boss fires him with a series of faxes. It’s a kind of futurism that just barely tweaks what’s already ‘cool’ and winds up making everything look a bit silly.

There are some neat things, to be sure. The DeLorean flies, as promised. There’s the self-drying self-fitting coat, the hoverboards (of course), and the fact that the Cubs win the world series (imagine if they really did that in 2015? I think that were I manager of the team I would insist the boys hold off and make it happen in a couple years). Café 80’s is a neat little touch with its Max Headroom-esque Michael Jackson, Reagan and Khadaffi robot servers. I think it’s a neat nod to the premise of Part I, which was an 80’s movie capitalizing on the 1980’s love of and nostalgia for the 50’s (look at all the 50’s inspired movies and music that were out at that time – The Stray Cats, Diner, all the SE Hinton adaptations – admittedly the 60’s, but everybody thought they were in the 50’s).

Frodo At Cafe 80’s

One of the two kids playing the shootout arcade game in the corner is 8 year old Elijah Wood.

Part II is kind’ve an essential bridge between part I and part III. It was filmed in tandem with Part III, which I remember was a big deal in the news at the time. In that regard, it feels very expositional. We learn about Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannon, who will be the villain in III, we get Biff watching the Fistful of Dollars scene that foreshadows Marty and Mad Dog’s confrontation, and we find out Doc has a love for the old west (which explains why when the Libyans attack him in the Twin Pines parking lot in 1985, he pulls a Colt Peacemaker out of a case to fend them off).

But in the meantime, we have to deal with a lot of wibbley wobbley timey wimey stuff which, while cool, is also kind’ve unpleasant. Rich Biff murders George McFly to get at Lorraine, whom he then apparently surgically alters to his lecherous liking. Hill Valley is overrun with biker gangs and prostitutes, and is implied to be under martial law. Strickland’s house is peppered with gunfire, and he runs down the street with a shotgun yelling ‘Eat lead, slackers!’ (OK that’s not so bad, but not particularly funny either). Marty sneaks into his old house and surprises an irate black family (which is a little unseemly – because a black family now inhabits the McFly home, are we to automatically assume things are bad in this timeline?). It just isn’t very much fun, dangit.

But there is some fun in Part II. When Marty and Doc revisit 1955 we’re treated to most of the memorable end scenes of the first movie replayed from different angles, as Marty and Doc try to get the Sports Almanac back from Biff while avoiding running into their past selves. Cool to see Billy Zane return as one of Biff’s henchmen as well.  I particularly liked where 50’s Doc unknowingly has a brief conversation with his future self on the street while he’s setting up the ‘weather experiment’ that will send Marty back to 1985.

Ultimately, it’s cool to see (almost) everybody back in their roles, I just feel like there is some indefinable something missing from BTTF Part II. It’s just not as fun as the first one. I will say, Tom Wilson does a great job playing three different versions of Biff, the earlier 50’s buffoon, an older version of his bootlicking, slimy 80’s self, and the wild, excessive bad man Biff of the alternate 1985 – Biff at his absolute unchecked worst. With the theme being the dire consequences of selfish desire and reckless time travel, in a way this really is Biff’s movie.

This review is gonna feel a bit slight I guess, but I don’t really like to dwell on things I don’t particularly care for.

Best bit of dialogue:

I’m gonna say the best bit of dialogue is when Old Biff travels back to 1955 and gives his younger self the Alamanc. Young Biff repeats his weird metaphor/blow off from the first movie, “Why don’t you make a like a tree and get outta here?”

To which Old Biff thunders, “It’s LEAF, you idiot! Make like a tree and LEAF. You sound like a damn fool when you say it wrong!”

It’s no ‘Play it again, Sam (yes, I realize that’s wrong),’ no ‘I am your father,’ but it cleared up that joke for me as a kid, because I didn’t even get what he was trying to say the first time around.

Best scene:

It’s not dramatic, it’s not touching, it’s not exciting, but it never fails to crack me up, and has become an in-joke with some of my friends.

When Marty watches George punch out Biff as he did in the first movie, he waits till Lorraine and George depart for the dance, then pushes through the crowd of rubberneckers to get to Biff. He then kneels down and snags what he thinks is the Alamanc from Biff’s back pocket, then runs off into the night.

There is a gawky looking guy in a tux who declares “Hey! Did he just take his wallet?!”

A few moments later Biff wakes up and roars, “Where is he?”

“Who?” asks the gawky kid.

“Calvin Klein!”


“The guy with the hat! Where is he?”

“Oh he went that way.”

As Biff runs off the kid yells after him, “I think he took your wallet!”

He then turns to an unseen bystander off camera and nods, saying,

“I think he took his wallet.”

I don’t know why this makes me laugh, but it does.

NEXT IN THE QUEUE:  The Back To The Future Part III