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'Back to the Future Part II': Newsday's 1989 review, 'Time Traveling a Slippery Slope'

"Back To The Future Part II" earned two-and-a-half stars from Newsday when it hit theaters in 1989. Here, Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown and Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly in the film. Photo Credit: Universal City Studios / Ralph Nelson

"Back to the Future Day," is Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015 -- the date Marty McFly and Doc Brown time-traveled to in the 1989 sequel, "Back to the Future Part II."

Below is Newsday's original film review, which ran Wednesday, Nov. 22, 1989, the same day the movie premiered in theaters.

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Young Marty McFly and old Doc Brown once again trip in sprightly fashion from future to past, stopping occasionally at the present. Technically dazzling, increasingly familiar, sometimes confusing. Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. At area theaters.

Time travel is not without its perils. As wild-haired "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd) warns young Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), there is a danger: It might just "destroy the entire world -- granted, that's a worst-case scenario."

In "Back to the Future Part II," our two intrepid time commuters have dashed off to the year 2015 to prevent Marty's future son from committing a criminal act. While they're busy righting future wrongs, Biff, the town bully (once again, Thomas F. Wilson) borrows their time machine, goes back to the year 1953 and gives himself, young Biff, a 2015 sports almanac that enables him to make millions wagering on upcoming sports events while, simultaneously, altering the course of history and creating an "alternate reality."

Returning to the year 1985, Marty discovers just how much havoc Biff's mischief has caused. Young Biff's sudden gambling prowess has made him the wealthiest man on Earth, and once-bucolic Hill Valley is now dominated by a towering skyscraper casino, "Biff's Pleasure Palace." Home windows are barred, gates are locked, the school principal trades shotguns blasts with roaming truants, rotting car-hulks line the streets and bands of motorcyclists are drawn by the "Bikers Welcome" signs. In the new, revised Hill Valley, Doc Brown is in an insane asylum, McFly's father has been murdered and his mother, complete with breast implants, is married to Biff. Observes Marty, "It's like we're in hell or something."

Not exactly. It's more like we're back in Pottersville in "It's a Wonderful Life." Pottersville, you'll remember, is what would have happened to Bedford Falls if good old George Bailey had never lived -- a perfect illustration of that movie's message, the difference that one decent man makes to a community and to every person in that community.

While the revised vision of Hill Valley seems a direct ripoff of that vastly superior film, it dramatically illustrates the weaknesses of "Back to the Future Part II." There seems little import or impact to McFly's nightmarish world -- none of the meaning, none of the terror, that made "It's a Wonderful Life" so memorable.

While director Robert Zemeckis' technical wizardry (in addition to the initial "Back to the Future," he did "Roger Rabbit") will always draw praise, the special effects come at the expense of human effects. However, what draws the strongest audience response is neither his sometimes dazzling vision of the future nor his romanticized image of the past, but his light-hearted commentary on our present. Future executives, for example, are Japanese and future criminals are sentenced within hours of the crime because, "The justice system works well . . . now that we've abolished all lawyers."

The humor tends to be mild, and while the funny-bone is being gently tickled, the eye is constantly diverted. Unfortunately, and I find this true of every Zemeckis movie, neither the mind nor the heart is ever fully engaged.

Considering that the original "Back to the Future" made $350 million and was the top-grossing film of 1985, a trip ahead to the past was inevitable. The irony is this: A Zemeckis film gets its strength from novelty, and sequels are, by definition, the enemy of novelty. The closing words of the current film -- "To Be Concluded . . . " indicate there will be only one additional sequel (already filmed, at the same time as this one) and I sincerely hope that is not just an idle promise.

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