WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME (Isla Nublar)

FORMAT: Fullscreen DVD (2002) on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV


PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Full of breakfast burritos, a little sleepy.

I’m watching my first five viewings of Back to the Future in reverse chronological order of the format I purchased them in. That’s Blu-Ray, iTunes digital copy, the 25th anniversary DVD, the original DVD release (in fullscreen, ugh, what was I thinking?), and VHS. We’ll get into why I didn’t banish this fullscreen abomination from my house later.


  • Why do all the aerobics ladies wave at Marty? One or two, sure, but all of them wave. Does Marty zip by on the back of a vehicle every morning?

“Here he comes! Everybody wave! BRENDA! It’s Skateboard Guy! Wave!”

  • When Marty says, “Are you telling me that this sucker is nuclear?” I sometimes think the line was supposed to be “…this fucker is nuclear.” My reasons: 1) Spielberg was an executive producer and he’s not above slipping in a “penis breath” to get a more mature rating. 2) Kevin Bacon’s “Can you fly, you sucker?” from Tremors is so obviously a “fucker.” It’s an easy fix in post. 3) The way he emphasizes it… eh, suck it.
  • George is reading Weird Science at Lou’s Cafe. I wonder which issue it is. Maybe I can track it down.
  • “Lorraine, you ever have a kid who acts that way, I’ll disown you.” A normal thing to say in the ’50s, or the most forced joke in the movie? You decide.
  • Since I was but a child, it always bugged me that Marty’s tape of the first DeLorean experiment doesn’t match up at all with what happened. There are points the camera is upright when Marty had it down by his side, we see parts he wasn’t rolling for, and probably the biggest offense, the whole goddamn experiment portion is missing. The video just blips over a second of static and Doc is explaining how this fucker’s electrical. There are three possibilities here: 1) From a production standpoint, it would have been expensive as balls to do a separate batch of visual effects just for the camera’s POV. 2) Time travel affects videotape just like the alien ball from Contact, which is also a Robert Zemeckis movie. 3) Marty is in deep shit for forgetting to press the record button.

“So is everybody this stupid in 1985, or just you?”

  • Wait a minute, wait a minute, what’s this in the credits? “Pledging My Love” by Johnny Ace? That’s not on the official soundtrack. Where is it in the movie? Hooray, I’m about to discover something!

Wow. I have no idea what scene that shows up in. My brain’s coming up blank. Guys, I… I don’t know something about Back to the Future. It hurts. Make it stop.

Alright, time to take you back, all the way to the year 2003. Picture 18-year-old me, at college, on the phone with his parents, receiving the news that they had just sprung for one of those fancy Digital Video Disc players. Yes, DVDs had been around for a while, but I was a poor child. How poor? I grew up without Internet. I KNOW. Anyway, my family was always last to jump on new technology, so this was big news. And what was my first DVD purchase? Well, technically, it was “Weird Al” Yankovic: The Ultimate Video Collection, but that’s a subject for Polka 52. (Coming soon!) After I had saved up, you can bet your ass I marched my way into my local Wal-Mart and came home with this baby…

What a moment. That was true happiness. No more wobbly picture or rewinding. And loads of special features! You’ve done it, DVD; finally, the perfect way to watch a film…

Excuse me, what? WHAT?

Yes, the second I got my sweetness home and spotted that little tattoo on her back, I was furious. Fullscreen? Why would they still do this? DVDs are supposed to be the best… but we’re still screwing with the picture?! We decided that’s okay?! That is not okay. Why wasn’t I warned about this? I grabbed the receipt so I could make a return, but I’ll never forget this moment… even on the receipt was printed “BACK TO THE FUTURE (FS).”

You should have spoken up, cashier. But I guess you hate movies. I guess we all hate movies.

My mom wasn’t about to drive me back at that very moment (even moms hated movies then), so I just had to calm down. After a few minutes, I started up the first film. And I watched it. And I enjoyed it. So I kept going. All of them. Every special feature. Trivia tracks. Outtakes. Interviews. Commentaries. I guess it wasn’t so bad, right?

When I started looking into getting a widescreen version of the trilogy as Lord Zemeckis and Bob, uh, Gale-Christ intended, I found out some even more terrible news: Universal done fucked up. Yes, that Angelfire (seriously?) link is what I uncovered, informing me that the widescreen versions of Part II and Part III were severely cropped transfers from the fullscreen Laserdiscs. So, I guess Universal thought that any old chunk of the screen was what we, the fans, wanted? Jesus, which exec’s Thai love slave signed that paperwork? While the first movie was supposedly fine, I actually had a better version of the other two in my fullscreen edition. What… what world was I living in?

How would my friends know what Doc’s hand was doing outside of the frame?

Apparently you could mail in your widescreen discs and Universal would replace them with corrected discs free of charge. That sounded like an absolute hassle. Why was it my job to do the work for their mistake? Also, on the commentary with screenwriter Bob Gale, I discovered that Back to the Future was shot in 1.85:1, which is more suitable for televisions than for theaters, because they thought more people would catch it on the tube. So really, not that much picture should be different on the fullscreen version, right? Best to just stick with what I already bought.

(This is fascinating to you, I hope. Really. Because you can have my lunch money if you want it.)

Well, I eventually purchased the widescreen DVDs for Flux Capacitor Day 2010. (I know this for a fact because I checked the Facebook event I made for it.) Now I’m curious, though… just how much was missing? Or, since Back to the Future was shot open matte, how much picture might have been added? Both Cinemanaut John and myself have previously experienced the shock of watching High Fidelity and Top Gun with extra visual information due to an expanded fullscreen VHS print. Alright, let’s end this mystery… here are screen caps from each DVD version I own. Are you trembling? I am. It’s okay if you’re not.

The 2002 fullscreen DVD release

The 2010 widescreen DVD release

The overlap between the two

So. There it is. You get more picture with the fullscreen version. I certainly didn’t notice that drastic of a difference during this evening’s viewing. Nothing struck me as awkward framing for the entire film, though I have been watching it fullscreen longer than widescreen. Should you buy fullscreen because there’s more to take in? No. Should you buy fullscreen because the director assumed you’d watch it on TV? No. Should you buy fullscreen because they shot it open matte for the purpose of making a VHS release? No. You should buy widescreen, for yourself and for your grandkids, because you’re a good person. And ideally, buy Blu-Ray, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t even offer fullscreen any more. (I think Google identifies anyone who searches for “back to the future fullscreen blu-ray” as a demon, so I won’t try it.) Now you know. Purchase wisely.

Somewhere, someone is having sex. See you next week for VHS!

And it don’t take money! Don’t take fame!