Should I Watch..? 'Back to the Future Part III'
What's the big deal?
Back To The Future Part III is a comedic sci-fi western film released in 1990 and is the concluding part to the Back To The Future trilogy. Shot alongside the second film in the series, the film once again stars Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thomson and Thomas F. Wilson while introducing Mary Steenburgen to the ensemble. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film sees time-travelling teenager Marty McFly travel back to 1885 in order to try and save the life of his friend Doc Brown, who is apparently shot dead by an ancestor of Biff Tannen. The film received a largely positive response from critics when it was first released and it went on to earn $244.5 million worldwide, making it the sixth highest-grossing film of that year.
What's it about?
Trapped in 1955, Marty McFly receives a mysterious letter from the 1985 Dr Emmett Brown who explains that he travelled back to 1885 to essentially retire from time-travelling. Using the information contained in the letter to repair the DeLorean along with the help of Doc's 1955 self, Marty discovers that the Doc's dreams of living the rest of the life in a western are scuppered after he stumbles across Doc's grave which indicates that he dies six days after sending the letter. Instead of returning back to 1985, Marty decides that he has to rescue Doc and travels back to 1885.
Appearing in the wilderness where Hill Valley would later appear, Marty damages the DeLorean's fuel-line escaping from a Cavalry pursuit of native American Indians. Unable to get either himself or Doc back to 1985, the pair must contend with primitive technology as well as the trigger-happy ancestor of Biff Tannen, Buford. Not only that but Doc's mind isn't exactly on the job after falling for the supposedly doomed Clara Clayton...
Michael J. Fox
Marty McFly / Seamus McFly
Doctor Emmett Brown
Thomas F. Wilson
Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen / Biff Tannen
Maggie McFly / Lorraine Baines-McFly
Marshal James Strickland
Release Date (UK)
11th July, 1990
Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi, Western
What's to like?
Anyone dispirited by the grim realities of Back To The Future Part II will be delighted to find the series getting its mojo back. The film is a riotous tour of the Old West, relishing in genre stereotypes and making the most of the unlikely set-up. But it all works - not only does the story generate genuine concern for our heroes but it also provides plenty of excuses for duels, saloon-based japes and a thrilling train hold-up unlike any other. We have fallen for these characters over the course of two previous movies so despite the reliance of old jokes and lines, Fox and Lloyd remain as dependable a leading couple as they ever did.
Steenburgen's flighty Southern belle is a believable addition to the cast but once again, Wilson delivers a fantastic performance as the larger-than-life Buford Tannen. You can see how much he's enjoying the role, which isn't as dark as before but still villainous in a pantomime-sense. Personally, I think this is the most enjoyable of the three - it has its flaws but I think this is the most fun. The story isn't as tight and well-written as the first film but it's still a light-hearted blast that everyone in the family can enjoy. It's also a great way of bidding farewell to the series, which has become somewhat over-looked these days.
- When Doc and Marty are preparing the DeLorean to travel back to 1885, the drive-in cinema is showing two films from 1955 - Tarantula and Revenge Of The Creature, both of which feature Clint Eastwood in minor roles before he found fame. The producers asked Eastwood for permission to use his name in the film, which he agreed to after he found the use amusing.
- ZZ Top make a cameo as the band at the barn-dance. During one take, the camera broke so Fox asked the group to play Hey Good Looking. After more requests were made, a genuine party developed. Zemeckis admitted that although the camera was fixed fairly quickly, he didn't want to disturb everyone's fun.
- The role of Seamus McFly was originally written for Crispin Glover but after he dropped out of the second film due to contract disputes, the decision was made to shoot the part with Fox in the role instead.
- The role of Clara Clayton was written specifically for Steenburgen, who had to be persuaded to take the role on by her children.
What's not to like?
Like I said, the film does have its flaws. I wasn't especially keen on the appearance on Marty's Irish-American great-great-grandparents Seamus and Maggie which doesn't feel as funny as it might and isn't handled that well. It also doesn't feel that authentic as a western, relying on cliché and stereotype to see it through. The same approach seems to go for the dialogue which repeats the same jokes and lines used in the other two films. I get that this is to illustrate the nature of time-travel but does the environment not have any impact on character development? Why does Lea Thompson's character always seem to fall for Marty, unaware of how inappropriate it is?
I have seen some criticism of the look of Hill Valley in 1885, claiming that it looks too much like a movie set. Of course it does - the community was being constructed at the time so it will naturally feel recently built! And to be brutally honest, the Hill Valley of 1955 and 1985 suffers from the same vibe - the famous clocktower has appeared in more movies than the woman holding up the Columbia Studios torch. The best way to enjoy Back To The Future Part III is to just enjoy it for what it is and not think too hard about the story, which has gotten slightly too convoluted by this point. It's entertaining and if you're not expecting to be entertained, why are you watching it in the first place?
Should I watch it?
Slightly undone by narrative complexities, the third and final film in the trilogy might just be my favourite. Full of fun and with more Western clichés than a cheap Halloween costume, Back To The Future Part III is probably the most enjoyable of the lot despite having the weakest screenplay and heavy repetition of scenes and jokes we've already seen before. It was perhaps wise to call it quits here when they did, before any more sequels ruined the bloodline.
Great For: cosplayers, fans of the series, DeLorean owners
Not So Great For: anyone hoping for a fourth film, quantum physicists
What else should I watch?
It should be obvious but watching the first two films in the series are essential to understanding the narrative of Part III. The first film is a surprisingly intelligent and enjoyable romp, proving to be both a wonderful comedy and sci-fi adventure at the same time. The second film delves a little deeper into the complexities of time travel but is a darker affair with Wilson's troublesome Tannen becoming a genuine threatening and unlikeable antagonist. But on the other hand, it does have those awesome hover-boards which I'm still waiting for Mattel to develop!
Time-travel doesn't have to involve DeLorean vehicles with phonebooths (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure), Klingon warships (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) and even hot-tubs (Hot Tub Time Machine) providing plenty of excuses for time-travelling japes. But for me, my favourite time-travelling movie doesn't actually feature a time-machine at all - Richard Kelly's wonderfully indie drama Donnie Darko is a mind-bending blend of science, horror and teenage angst which sees a young Jake Gyllenhaal trying to prevent the end of the world in the face of a genuinely disturbing rabbit called Frank...
© 2018 Benjamin Cox