– Summary –
Director : Robert Zemeckis
Year Of Release : 1990
Principal Cast : Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Tompson, Thomas F Wilson, Mary Steenbergen, James Tolkan, Elisabeth Shue, Jeffrey Weissman, Flea.
Approx Running Time : 118 Minutes
Synopsis: Marty returns to the Old West to rescue a time-trapped Doc, only to find he’s fallen in love with a local teacher. With the DeLorean out of action, Marty and Doc must evade their deaths at the hand of Buford Tannen and somehow make it back to the future.
What we think : Resounding finale to the Back To The Future trilogy has more heart and soul than the second film, and is on-par for fun and adventure with the original. Steenbergen makes a welcome addition and the development of Doc’s romantic storyline is pleasantly enthralling. An absolute gem.
With the second film out of the way, and the darker slant on the time-travelling storyline completed, it was time to return to true form with Part III of the Back To The Future series, and this time it would be achieved in the Old West.
Back The The Future Part III would go on to be one of the most inspired sequels ever made, given all that had come before it. Taking Doc and Marty back into cowboy times, playing on the anachronisms and wordplay associated with it, was a stroke of genius. With Marty assuming the alias of Clint Eastwood while back in the Old West, and Doc Brown taking up the role as resident blacksmith of the fledgling Hill Valley, we get to see more about the history of the town than ever before. Sly winks to the audience abound in this film (figuratively speaking) with plenty of references to the other two films, and links with the future, on display. Zemekis pillages his camerawork from the greats, including a spectacular shot ripped straight out of Once Upon A Time In The West, which Sergio Leone himself would have been proud of!
The cataclysmic nature of Part II is nothing but a memory now, although the frantic pace of the previous two films remains: Doc is going to be shot in a few days, and Marty has to return to the future, and Biff Tannen’s incompetent ancestor keeps bugging them about money. Plus, Doc gets himself a girlfriend.
The addition of Mary Steenbergen to the cast roster is like a breath of fresh air, and she plays on her rapport with Chris Lloyd with charming ease and a sense of humor. After all, this is not a serious film here folks. But, like all good westerns, the path of true love, gun-play and horse-riding never follow a straight line. Indeed, within a few moments of Marty arriving in the distant past, he’s been chased by Indians, Army dudes, a bear, and eventually, Mad Dog Buford Tannen.
Production values on the film are awesome, with plenty of special effects and Hollywood wizardry to keep audiences gasping and hooked into the story. Indeed, the story itself is like a pastiche of all the great western cliches’ come to life. The love-at-first-sight moment, the carriage chase towards a cliff (horses always run towards a cliff when they get spooked, apparently!) the surly bartender who knows how to make people sober again reaaaaaaly quickly, and those three wise coots in the corner who offer plenty of sagely advice, whether you want it or not.
Hill Valley of ye olde worlde looks a lot different than previously seen, and while there are errors in continuity that cannot be ignored (why, in Part I & II, does the Clock Tower landmark have no hill or mountain behind it, and yet, when we see it here in Part III, its stuck near a very large outcrop of mountain?) but you tend to overlook this in favor of simply enjoying the story.
And what a story. Filled with wonderful humor, a sense of fun and a complete lack of the tense, dingy nature the previous film had. References to Jules Verne and his stories, coupled with Marty’s use of another Sergio Leone trick (from A Fistfull Of Dollars!) make this a cinematic treat for the eyes and brain. Doc even goes so far as to invent his own ice-cube maker, in a reference to the inventors appliance-filled home we saw at the very start of Part I.
While there’s plenty of riffing to be had on the previous films, everything here is seemingly fresher, lighter in tone and filled with the zest and zip of the original. Marty’s DeNiro impression is a hoot, as is the re-use of the model railway track and vehicles Doc uses to demonstrate “The Plan”. You get a sense that the filmmakers were having so much fun making this that they threw everything up on screen, including a rare bout of bum-nudity from Michael J Fox, just for the girls.
Mention must be made of the great finale, the third act of the film which sees the DeLorean pushed along a railway by a monstrous steam train engine, in an effort to get the vehicle up to 88mph and send Marty and Doc back into the future, and home to where they belong. This is one of the series best moments, and is certainly a great conclusion to an awesome series of movies. The clambering around the train and sudden bursts of speed (just to add tension) all create a sense of drama and pacing that’s undeniably exciting.
One thing that’s always bothered me about Part III though, and probably is an issue with all the films: if the DeLorean needs to get up to 88mph to travel through time, why doesn’t the Doc just wind back the speedo in order to make the car think it’s going faster than it is? That way, he saves on gas and you don’t have that sticky issue of arriving in a different time going really fast and out of control. It’s a minor thing.
Back To The Future Part III, while remaining one of the better sequels ever made, still holds up today, although some of the more obvious blue-screen work is a little tatty by comparison. A far as sheer entertainment for the sake of entertainment goes, the third film in the series is perhaps the best. A joyous filmmaking example of everything coming together, the stars aligning and fate intertwining etc etc, Part II will always remain my personal favourite of the three films.