The sequel, the Hollywood staple based on the premise that if one movie made a lot of money just keep doing it. A type of sequel that is becoming popular is the true trilogy, where the overall arc of the film is intended to span three films. Sometimes the idea for a trilogy comes only after the first film has proven itself. ‘Star Wars’ was such a film;’ Back to the Future’ was another. After the initial success of the original two more films were planned and basically shot together. There are some drawbacks to filming two planned sequels, especially once the first film has become a cult classic and the primary target audience knows every detail by heart. The first and foremost is getting the original cast and crew back to reprise their jobs. While many of the original cast of ‘Back to the Future’ returned there were some hold outs and even some legal problems that ensued, but more about that a bit later. This film picks up where the first one left off. Marty (Michael J. Fox) has returned home to find his life and that of his family changed for the better. Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) swoops in a flying version of his Delorian time machine and tells Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer (Elizabeth Shue) that they must follow him to the future, 2015, in order to save their children. While in 2015 trying to keep Marty Jr. (also Fox) from jail Marty buys a sports almanac hoping to cash in. Unfortunately, the now elderly Biff Tanner (Thomas F. Wilson) steals the book and travels back in time to give it to his younger self. The young Biff uses it and becomes rich! He even manages to marry Marty’s mom (Lea Thompson). Now Marty and Doc must shuttle back and forth to 1955 to save the day and prevent the living hell that the rich Biff has transformed the town into. While many time travel movies try to minimize paradoxes this series revels in them. There are actually two incarnations of Marty present in all-important dance from the first film. The strange man in the shadows when Doc rigs the clock is actually his future self. You really have to pay attention while watching this flick; you’ll see many of the same scenes used in the first just from a new perspective. While this is an imaginative way of presenting a time travel story some of the magic that propelled the first film to cult status is lost here since so much has been seen before. Still, the attentions to detail to make sure the films are internally consistent are done to near perfection. Even if you find the film a bit lacking give credit where credit is due to the continuity persons.
While Fox, Lloyd and Wilson reprise their roles some of the original cast did not return. Claudia Wells stopped working as an actress for the decade between 1986 and 1996. As such she had to be replaced by Ms Shue. This actually was a act of sheer serendipity. Ms Shue seemed better able to handle the more involved part of Jennifer in this film. It also cemented her resume after her ‘Adventures in Babysitting’ affording her better roles that eventually lead to the numerous nominations she garnered for her role in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’. On the darker side Crispin Glover refused to repeat his role as George McFly. This prompted the casting of Jeffery Weisman in the role. Weisman had to undergo extensive makeup each filming day to make him look like Glover. Glover also filed suit against the production company for the use of clips and scenes from the original. This prompted court decisions that even now control the use of an actor’s image without express permission. The original cast seamlessly fit back into their roles. It was as if they never left them. Fox still to this day never seems to age. Lloyd is, as always, perfect as the eccentric, slightly mad character and Wilson owns the role of the Tanners destined to always find themselves face down in excrement.
Once again Robert Zemeckis takes the helm of this film to add his special vision of film. He is a director not afraid to take a risk or two to entertain the audience. He has the eye for detail needed to make this type of film a success. He knew that fans of the first film will put the second under the microscope of scrutiny to pick out any little error. He had to manage not only the new material for the second film but make sure that he didn’t create paradoxes with the first. It was a difficult job that he handled better than most directors could have. With all that is going on in this film the only way to see it is in the original video scope. The pan and scan versions popular on cable and broadcast TV do not do justice to the film or the director. Zemeckis has an eye for the setting of a scene and this vision is severely compromised with the matting to ‘fit your TV screen’. Spielberg’s touch can been seen through the film. His trademarks are notable in all the Future films. There is the dysfunctional family, the use of music to denote a time period and the strength of younger characters needed to overcome the mess the grown-ups have made. In all the team here does an admiral job. The place where it fails to meet the original is the film often takes itself too seriously. The dark future the almanac brings needed just a touch more relief.