Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Off the Shelf: Back in Time (DVD)

by Patrick Bromley
With the rise of the fan documentary, it only makes sense that the greatest movie ever made gets its own.

We are living in the age of nostalgia. My generation clings to its past and the things that we grew up loving, probably as a way to stay eternally young and shut out the realities of having to mature and accept that the world (and specifically pop culture) have passed us by. One of the ways this nostalgia is expressed and exercised is through the fan film -- either a new adventure created for existing characters or, more specifically for our purposes here, the fan documentary. The democratization of filmmaking and the introduction of crowdsourcing have allowed any fan of any given property the ability to express their affection for something by making a fan documentary. Star Wars has at least a dozen of them. Every well-liked horror movie from the '80s is getting one. Now Back to the Future has its own, and it's pretty much what you expect it to be.
Beginning with some behind-the-scenes production information about the making of the first film before it segues into the usual "look at these fans and how they show their fandom" for almost the entire remainder of its running time (there are a few minutes near the end given over to the sequels, worth mentioning only because there are people who are willing to say that they like Back to the Future II on camera), Back in Time is one of those "by the fans, for the fans" documentaries that's less interested in Back to the Future as a movie as a cultural phenomenon. It's more than just "people love Back to the Future." For some, Back to the Future is a way of life.

As a documentary, it's fine. If you're a huge BttF fan, it's worth a watch once. Most of the major cast and crew -- Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg -- all appear in interviews, as so several other personnel and "superfans." Here's my problem with this. The production information provided isn't anything I haven't already read in books or heard about on the supplemental sections of both the DVD and Blu-ray releases of the trilogy. It's the "fan" stuff the really pushes me away, though. I'm on record as naming Back to the Future as my favorite movie of all time, and I have seen over 75 movies. But I just don't relate to the way that my fellow BttF lovers express their love for the movie. They build time machines. They play in BttF-themed cover bands. They recreate the 1955 Hill Valley town square and do live reenactments. I don't judge any of it -- I'm happy they have something that they love, and it even happens to be something I love too -- but we all process our fandom differently. And for as much as I can connect to processing fandom that way, the movie might as well be about football fans or Civil War re-enactors.
But, then, the documentary itself is a way of processing fandom with which I can't quite connect. Again, I bear Back in Time no ill will because its heart is so clearly in the right place -- the filmmakers believe that Back to the Future is special and set out to make a movie that celebrates just how special it is. I guess I would like them to explore the question of why it's special more than they do. Why has it struck such a chord in so many movie lovers? To what are they responding? Did it really need to be a trilogy? Most of these questions are left unanswered. In its place is a fairly superficial look at a culture of superfans -- an anthropological study that wants only to show us their practices, not their philosophy.

Previously available on both Netflix Instant streaming and another DVD put out a year ago, Back in Time is now being re-released on DVD by MVD Visual. Unlike the Blu-ray that came out last October, this disc contains no extra features; no commentary, no bonus interviews, not even a trailer. It's serviceable as a kind of supplement to the movie itself -- had it been included on Universal's box set, I suspect no one would have complained -- but there isn't enough here to sustain a standalone release. There's a lot of pressure on any documentary that devotes itself the greatest movie ever made. While pleasant enough, Back in Time isn't really up to the challenge.

DVD release date: September 13, 2016
92 minutes/2015/NR
1.78:1 Anamorphic
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Dolby Digital 2.0 (English)
English Subtitles


  1. When people ask me, what my favorite movie is, I typically say Goodfellas, but when I really think about it, Back to the Future might be my favorite. No matter how many times I watch it, I only seem to appreciate it more and more (similar to the original Nightmare on Elm Street in that way). About a year ago, around the time theaters started showing BttF2 for October 21st, 2015 or BttF day, I bought 'Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History' book. That book is loaded with all the information you would ever want to know about the series, and when you add that to all the information included on the Blu Ray Box Set, I agree, there is a ton on the subject already out there.

    I was excited when I read the title, but after reading your review, it's kind of like, meh. I'll give it watch if it comes on Amazon Prime, but if it doesn't really offer anything new then I'm not going out of my way. They really should go into what makes it special, how could they not? That's pretty disappointing. It sounds like these superfans are trying to create a new type of 'Lebowskifest' or whatever they call it, which is cool, but it's not how I would celebrate my favorite movie either, especially devoting so much time in a documentary about it. Good review, thanks.

  2. I'm a huge Harmontown fan, and one of my favorite moments of this year was hearing Dan Harmon complain about how the filmmakers made him into the villain by using the clip where he talks about how the sequels suck. It's one of maybe two clips they use from his interview, and it's the only negative thing said about BTTF the entire time.

    1. Wow, I'm a pretty big Dan Harmon guy myself. That makes me want to watch or support this doc even less.

    2. I don't mean to come down on the movie, because I definitely agree with Patrick that it's a by-fans-for-fans kind of deal, and it's really fun. Nor do I think Harmon took offense (he likes playing villain), I just didn't think his segment fit the tone or intention of the rest of the film. As Patrick said, it seemed to be much more a celebration of the memorabilia than it was of the story or screenplay.