DT Moviehouse Review: Back To The Future III

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I take a look at Back To The Future Part III.

(1990) Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Screenplay by Bob Gale

Tagline: They saved the best trip for last…but this time, they may have gone too far!

What it’s about:

Picking up moments after the end of Back To The Future Part II (when lightning struck the DeLorean sending Doc to parts unknown and leaving Marty stranded in 1955), a 70 year old Western Union telegram arrives for Marty from Doc, who has landed safely in 1885 but with an irreparably damaged time circuit. The telegram directs Marty and the 1955 Doc to a mine where the DeLorean has been stashed for 70 years, along with instructions on how to repair it using 1955 technology and get Marty home. But while fixing the time machine, ’55 Doc and Marty learn that 1885 Doc was murdered by Bull “Mad Dog” Tannon (Biff’s ancestor). Eschewing a return to 1985 to save his friend, Marty heads back to the Old West to rescue his friend.

Why I bought it:

As stated in my previous BTTF reviews, the entire Trilogy was a gift from a friend who upgraded to Blu-Ray (again, thanks, Ryan).

But would I have purchased BTTF Part III?

Well, admittedly, only had I purchased Part II.

It finishes out the series very nicely and it’s a western. Westerns are pizza for me. I’ll practically watch and find something to enjoy in just about every western ever made (except Jonah Hex…ew).

This is my favorite of the series after the first one. It’s a wonderful change of pace, putting Doc and Marty into a truly alien past setting, and even better, shifting the focus from Marty to Doc. If it suffers from anything, it’s that you sort of have to have seen Part II in order to fully appreciate everything that’s going on.

Believe it or not, I saw Part III in the theater without having seen Part II. It only took about a minute to acclimate to the plot, but I do realize I missed out on things like the reappearance of Flea’s character Needles towards the end, which retroactively establishes him as being partly responsible for 2015 Marty’s fall and subsequent failure in his nowhere job.

Marty grows up in this one to be sure. His realization that he doesn’t have to be bandied into confrontations (a lesson compounded by the fact that in 1885 a fight is to the death) leads to his altering the course of his own lackluster 2015 future (we presume).

 But as mentioned, most of the character focus is on Doc Brown. He is shown to be making out fine in 1885, an era he expressed a fondness for in 1955. Setting up a blacksmith shop, his barn is loaded with anachronistic inventions, from a ponderous refrigeration machine that makes one ice cube to a telescopic lens for his Winchester rifle. We learn about his love of futurist Jules Verne, a trait that opens up a dialogue with the wonderful Mary Steenburgen’s like minded schoolteacher Clara. Their relationship hearkens nicely back to a similar role she played earlier in her career as a woman in love with a time traveler, HG Wells himself, in Time After Time.

Their romance is the heart and the best element of BTTF Part III.

A table of western faces: Dub Taylor, Harry Carey Jr, and Pat Buttram

The movie is also full of nods to western fans. When confronted by Mad Dog, Marty tells them his name is Clint Eastwood hoping to intimidate them (and later employs the same method Eastwood’s Man With No Name in A Fistful of Dollars to ultimately defeat Mad Dog – as foreshadowed in BTTF Part II). Harry Carey Jr (3 Godfathers, The Searchers, etc), Pat Buttram (Petticoat Junction, The Gene Autry Show), and Dub Taylor (numerous westerns including The Wild Bunch and Gunsmoke) all share a table in Matt Clark (High Spade in The Outlaw Josey Wales)’s saloon, Burton Gilliam (Blazing Saddles) is a Colt pistol salesman, and Bill McKinney (The Outlaw Josey Wales, Bronco Billy) is a train engineer. In another nice touch, Mad Dog Tannon carries a riding quirt, bullying his underlings (and constantly saying ‘dude’)  in a manner reminiscent of Lee Marvin in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

There are great self-referential touches too. Marty and Doc take a daguerreotype photo in front of the brand new clock face that will be set into the HillValley clock tower, to which their fates are inextricably tied. Doc apologizes once again for the crudity of a ridiculously complex scale model crafted to enact their plan for getting the DeLorean up to 88mph. Mad Dog mixes up his metaphors (“I’m gonna shoot you down like a duck.”) the same as Biff. Doc is shown to have created an 1880’s equivalent of the complex Rube Goldberg-like alarm and breakfast cooking machine shown in the opening scene of the first movie.

The unpleasantness of Part II is mostly gone here. BTTF III is a lighthearted, high spirited adventure and the shot of Doc with Clara and his kids Jules and Verne aboard the wonderfully designed steampunk time machine locomotive is a beautiful end to a great little series of movies. You can imagine the Doc and his family having continuing adventures throughout time once the credits roll.

But here’s a thought – if Marty’s maternal ancestor resembles Lorraine….what does that say about the McFly blood line? Eww…

Best bit of dialogue:

Heartbroken over his apparent loss of Clara, Doc retires all night to the saloon and waxes poetic over the wonders the of future to every available ear and a glass of whiskey (which he never even touches). When he tells the boys at the bar about the wonder of automobiles (“Where I come from, we don’t need horses,” a verbal reference to the previous “Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”), one of them asks –

Do people walk anymore? Do they run?

Doc: Of course we run. But for fun. For recreation.

Pat Buttram (in his hilarious, characteristic hound dog drawl): Run for fun? What the hell kinda fun is that?

Best scene:

I really love the climactic sequence. In typical BTTF style everything requires precision timing (“Why do we always have to cut these things so damn close?” Marty declares at one point). The superheated locomotive engine must push the DeLorean up to 88mph to activate the flux capacitor and send Marty and Doc back to the future. Of course the track ends at about the 88mph mark and plunges into a ravine. Then Clara decides to pursue Doc and blunders aboard the doomed engine, forcing Doc to vacate the time machine to save her. At the last split second, Marty flips Doc the 2015 hoverboard, and Doc takes Clara in his arms. Marty’s last sight of them as the time circuits activate is of the two of them floating off safely as the locmotive hurtles into empty space.

An exciting scene with a positive, lovely ending.

Would I Buy it Again? Yes

Closing out my reviews of the Back To The Future Trilogy, here’s an epic rap battle between Doc Brown and my other favorite time traveler. Just ’cause it’s silly and made me laugh.

NEXT IN THE QUEUE:  Bad Company

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