They’ve saved the biggest trip for last as the most popular time-traveling movie trilogy ever comes to a rousing conclusion in Back to the Future Part III! Stranded in 1955 after a freak accident, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) discovers he must travel back to 1885 to rescue Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) before he becomes smitten with school teacher Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen). Now, it’s up to Marty to keep Doc out of trouble, get the DeLorean running and put the past, present and future on track so they can all get back to where – and when – they belong. From Academy Award-winning filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, Back to the Future Part III is a spectacular grand finale to the timeless blockbuster series.
This final instalment in the ‘Back to the Future’ franchise picks up where the last one left off, with 1985’s Doc Brown sent back to 1885, leaving Marty trapped in 1955. Thanks to the able assistance of 1955’s Doc Brown, he decides to go looking for his friend and mentor, in the hope of returning them to their rightful place in time.
But it won’t be easy as he faces arrows, bullets, lynch mobs, train wrecks and various other pitfalls on his wild adventure into the Far West and back!
This film is different in tone from the rest of the series on a couple of fronts:
Firstly, it focuses much less on Marty and more so on Doc Brown. I don’t know if this was a contractual thing with Christopher Lloyd, or if it was just a natural extension of the story – that it was where they wanted to go with it. But it does change things considerably. For one, the audience that connected and/or related with Marty is not the same as those who would presumably connect with Doc.
Secondly, and I know this is obvious, but it’s in the Far West. One of the underlying element of the series thus far had been its cool factor. In the first one, we had the DeLorean, Marty was a guitarist and skateboarder, and the ’50s has a nostalgic vibe that was cool. In the second one, we had the future, including all the gadgets and special effects that caught the eye. By the time this film was made, the Wild West had lost quite a lot of cool – something it has not since reclaimed.
So, in essence, with ‘Back to the Future Part III’, the audience was disconnected from much of what had hooked it in the first place and was given an almost entirely different slice of entertainment. And yet, the movie nonetheless stands quite well on its own.
It does indeed stand alone, bereft from much of the rest of the series: with only a little bit of back story, one can easily sit down and enjoy this film as a separate entity. And it would be a simple leap from Part I to Part III, seeing as the second part is almost inconsequential (and, in my opinion, since it’s also rather ungood, it might as well be skipped! )
This doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t tie in with the others. In fact, ‘BTTFIII’ is rife with self-references, making nod after nod to the previous two instalments, such as the superfluous model reenactments that Doc Brown shows Marty, or Marty waking up from what he thinks is a nightmare and finding Lea Thomson at his bedside, …etc. Most of it is completely unnecessary, and it does get a tad too repetitive, but it can be amusing.
While the second film tried to be serious about the effects of time travel and got it all wrong, this one doesn’t even bother. And, although I find it slightly frustrating that the butterfly effect principle is taken so lightly here, I suppose that this movie couldn’t be made if the rules were followed to the letter. After all, almost everything that one does in the past could alter the future: a simple thing like buying food or clothing could change the course of someone else’s life enough that the effects would ripple through time.
Well, in ‘Part III’, not only do the filmmakers have a “laissez-faire” approach to such concerns, they go right out and have Marty and Doc interact fully with the town’s citizens – the very town that they will eventually inhabit in their rightful time. Needless to say, just distracting one of the of townsfolk could make that person be late for an appointment or even just miss a beat and the consequences could be disastrous. But, in light of this casual dalliance with Lady Fate, one might as well forget about it altogether and just try to enjoy the movie.
Thankfully, the actors make it easy to enjoy the film; none of them are asleep this time around. I don’t know what was happening for ‘Part II’, but everything came together nicely for this one – it’s as if everyone was dutifully going through the motions on the last film just to get to this part of the adventure. Heck, even Thomas F. Wilson, who was chewing the scenery in huge chomps as the various Tannens toned it down and provided us with a respectable performance here. And thank the Lord for that, or else the film would have been a real drag otherwise.
Because, while it’s a decent film, it’s not exceptional – especially in comparison to the original ‘Back to the Future’. And it does have moments that make one wince, such as the ending with the flying locomotive, which is so patently absurd only small children could buy it (it’s cool, but wholly ridiculous!) or that hoverboard rescue scene, which was dumb as nuts and bolts; it might have looked good on paper, but it was too goofy-looking to sell it to the audience.
Thankfully, that’s the worst of the bunch and there aren’t any soul-killingly bad ones. Conversely, there are also no awe-inspiring moments at all. ‘Back to the Future Part III’ is basically content to wrap things up and does so with enough skill to warrant its existence. It doesn’t contribute anything to the original film, but it also doesn’t take away from it – which, in light of the preposterous first sequel, is no small victory.