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.


DT Moviehouse Review: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

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 Disney’s underrated animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

(2001) Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Written by Tab Murphy with Story credits including Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale, Joss Whedon, Bryce and Jackie Zabel, and David Reynolds.

Tagline: Atlantis Is Waiting…

What it’s about:

In 1914, underappreciated scholar Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) seeks to carry on his deceased grandfather Thaddeus’ quest for the legendary lost city of Atlantis. He keeps getting dismissed as a fringe academician until he is contacted by an old colleague of his grandfather’s, wealthy eccentric Preston Whitmore (John Mahoney), who recruits Milo to advise a fully funded and outfitted submarine expedition to find Atlantis. The expedition is led by a motley team of mercenaries including Commander Rourke (James Garner), his femme fatale second in command Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian), dynamite expert Vinny (Don ‘Fr. Guido Sarducci’ Novello), Doc Sweet (Phil Morris), plucky engineer Audrey Ramirez (Jacqueline Obradors), geologist Mole Molierre (Corey Burton), sardonic communications expert Wilhemina Packard (Florence Stanley), and irascible cook Cookie Farnsworth (Jim Varney, in his last major performance), as well as a virtual army of gun toting red shirts. After their sub is wrecked by a mechanical submarinal guardian, Milo and the mercs find themselves in the highly advanced society of Atlantis, led by King Nedakah (Leonard Nimoy) and his daughter Princess Kida (Cree Summer). However, when Rourke comes face to face with the priceless secret energy source that had preserved Atlantis for 8,000 years, he shows his true colors and attempts to seize it for himself. It’s up to Milo and friends to stop him.

Why I bought it:

In 2001, this was the best animated movie I had seen since 1999’s sublime The Iron Giant.

It’s a 50’s style sci-fi adventure movie in the vein of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Journey To The Center Of The Earth, beautifully animated in top shelf Disney style, with fascinating, almost geometrical designs (notice the fingernails of all the characters are like diamond wedges) and conceptual work by Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame (particularly noticeable in the look of the gigantic Atlantean guardians).

While it doesn’t have the emotional impact of The Iron Giant, it’s exciting and nostalgic in the same way, and there’s not a musical number in sight (but a great evocative age of discovery score), something refreshing in animated movies at the time, and a daring if sadly unsuccessful experiment by Disney.

The voice work is all top notch too. The character animations perfectly compliment the actors’ styles, mimicking even their body mannerisms at times (particularly in the case of Milo/Michael J. Fox). Aside from the stars and the swan song performances of the always great Jim Varney and Florence Stanley, the minor characters are diverse and interesting to watch.

As a history buff, I was particularly impressed by all the cool background stuff casually dropped in the character of the African American Dr. Strongbear Sweet, who mentions growing up on an Indian reservation with a father in the famous 10th Cavalry (The original Buffalo Soldiers) and being present with the Rough Riders at the charge up San Juan Hill (the 10th was also at San Juan Hill). “I’ve got a sheepskin from Howard U and a bearskin from Old Iron Cloud.”

How cool is that?

Every frame of this movie displays an obvious love of craftsmanship and design. The movie is packed with period detail and seamlessly mixes real technology with fantastic steampunk-y inventions. Besides the Nautilus-esque submarine, I particularly liked the truck with a catapult that launched the motorized one man gliders.

In addition, the Atlantean stuff is superbly well realized, from the architecture and the retro-tech flying machines based off the sleek designs of sea creatures, right down to the invented language (there’s a neat little short on the development of that on the DVD special features).

Rourke is like Gaston’s abusive father.

I’ve heard complaints about the story and single dimensionality of the characters. I didn’t see it personally. It’s a fun movie, action packed. The good guys are likable and relatable and the bad guys (particularly James Garner, who even pitches his beautiful lieutenant off a balloon to her death to lighten the load) are suitably ruthless. There are even a number of permanent deaths (including a whole slew of gas mask wearing red shirts) which really surprised me at the time.

As in all good adventure movies, the stakes are necessarily high.

Best bit of dialogue:

Most of Jim Varney’s dialogue cracks me up. He reminds me of a John Ford stock character. The one I keep thinking of is after an attack on the camp by fireflies (literally giant flaming flies). Cookie gets singed in the backside and drops trou, declaring;

“Dang lightning-bugs done bit me on my sit-upon! Somebody’s gonna have to suck out this poison. Don’t everybody jump up at once.”

Best scene:

Actually the entire climactic sequence takes the cake for me.

After Princess Kida melds with the power source of Atlantis (alternately described as living and sentient and as the collective will of all Atlanteans, but definitely containing the spirits of members of the royal family it has previously merged with) and is transmogrified into some kind of brilliant blue water elemental being, Rourke and Helga (and an army of red shirts) decide to take her to the surface and sell her to highest bidder (the Kaiser is alluded to).

Milo uses the Atlantean power crystals to get the flying machines running and takes off in pursuit with a contingent of Atlantean warriors and the rest of the mercenaries, whose consciences get the better of them after Rourke murders King Nedakah.

What follows is a thrilling subterranean aerial battle between the Atlantean craft and Rourke’s mechanical gliders, full of plasma blasts and chattering Maxim machineguns, and ending with an explosion that immolates the paralyzed Helga and sends a crystallized Rourke (he is transformed horribly by a scratch from one of the power crystals) smashing into the fan of a crashing balloon.

The explosion also triggers a dormant underwater volcano which threatens to envelop Atlantis, until Princess Kida calls on the power source to activate a series of gigantic mystic stone automatons which rise from their 8,000 year slumber to erect a protective energy shell over the city against the avalanche of magma.

It’s a sweeping, exciting sequence in the tradition of the best kind of pulpy adventure.

Would I buy it again? Yes. Also of note, Disney intended to produce an ongoing television series involving Milo and Kida (and the good mercenaries) searching the globe for Atlantean artifacts. After the movie flopped at the box office, these plans were abandoned, and the three produced episodes were put together and released as Atlantis 2: Milo’s Return. It’s too bad the show didn’t go through, because the three episodes are enjoyable excursions to different parts of the globe and delve into different mythologies (native American and Norse). The first episode involves a seaside town that makes a bargain with a sea monster – it’s EXTREMELY Lovecraftian in tone, an obvious homage, particularly when you consider the excised end postscript scene (which is still viewable on the DVD special features), which features a woman asking her unseen baby for a hug and having a wormy tentacle emerge from the bunting!

NEXT IN THE QUEUE: Attack The Block

Full Steam Ahead: Post Gaslight Gathering

Another short post this time out.

Just wanted to say thanks to everybody who stopped by my panel and reading on Saturday. I had a great time at Gaslight Gathering, hanging out with master crafter Nick Baumann (AKA Crackitus Potts of the incredible League of S.T.E.A.M. –http://leagueofsteam.com/ ) and talking history and concepts with Leanna Renee Reiber (http://www.leannareneehieber.com/)  and Professor Dru Pagliasotti (http://www.drupagliassotti.com/).  It was a great venue. Glass double doors, crystal chandelier – felt like Oscar Wilde during my reading.  Actually I was reminded a little of pulp writer Holly Martin’s speech to the Viennese literary society in The Third Man. Haha.

A very special thanks too to those of you who took a chance on Merkabah Rider. Hope you enjoy your acquisition and will stick with the Rider through to the end. And as a sidenote, if you do enjoy what you read (and this goes for any book you picked up this weekend, not just mine), and are so inclined, share your opinion! Loan the book out, or post your thoughts on Amazon or any relevant message boards you might frequent. One of the biggest and most important differences between a major publisher and a small press is exposure, and the biggest thanks a reader can give an author (beyond the initial purchase) is to spread the word.

Next weekend I’m off to Yuma to research the next Rider novel, Have Glyphs Will Travel. Check back here. Maybe I’ll post some pics.

-Hasta pronto,


Gathering Steam: Steamcon II Report

Back from Seattle after a weekend of steam+punk! Here’s a clean and dirty rundown of the experience, my first ever convention as an author.

Day 0 (Thursday) – Caught the plane, with a stopover in Vegas. Got put in the back of the plane with a couple of ladies on their way to a 40th birthday celebration and already in the ‘spirit,’ if you understand. They got a lot of disapproving glances from everybody around them, but whatever, that’s the human experience. They were nice enough, and just looking to have a good time.  The stewardess surreptitiously slipped me a free beer for being a sport I guess. Good times!

Landed in Seattle in 32 degree weather. Big change from Southern California! Checked into the Rodeway Inn and cranked the thermostat, possibly for the first time in my life. I usually love the cold, but I was a bit underdressed.

Zombie on the left!

Day 1 (Friday) – Breakfast at Denny’s, then hoofed it to the convention an hour before the vending room opened. Set up my little table spot. At the advice of fellow author Greg Mitchell (check out his series The Coming Evil here – http://thecomingevil.blogspot.com/), I didn’t put out my whole stock, just five copies of ‘Tales of a High Planes Drifter’ and five copies of ‘The Mensch With No Name’ at a time. Greg’s reasoning was, you put all your books out, it looks like nobody’s buying. I think, given my results, it was good advice. Also put out my laptop with the book trailer my good friend Ryan made for me. It drew a good amount of attention. Had a reading the first day, but not too great a turnout (read: one guy haha).

Also met my tablemates for the next two days, Steampunk author Nick Valentino, who was selling the first installment of his steam-themed aventure trilogy, ‘Thomas Riley’ as well as ‘Dreams of Steam,’ a steampunk anthology featuring a train robbery story by him.  Read more about Nick and his works here – http://nickvalentino.blogspot.com/

from L to R: Elizabeth Darvill, Nick Valentino and Your Humble Author

Beside Nick was his better half, Elizabeth Darvill, whose book unfortunately didn’t get to press on time, but still showed up in a supporting role – what a sport! Elizabeth’s got a lot of irons in the fire next year, including some paranormal and steampunk-erotic books, so watch out for her here (http://www.elizabethdarvill.com/).

Japanese for dinner (and sake).

Day 2 (Saturday)

My big day! The parade of costumes was amazing.

This guy had a fluttering fairy in his jar....I suspect it was real.

I was constantly impressed by the variety, and the total lack of repetition (though I do wonder, and maybe somebody can answer this for me, what’s with the proliferation of magnifying goggles? Is it just a fashion trope?). There were some extremely creative individuals in attendance – and they had good taste too, because this is the day I sold out of all my copies of ‘Tales of a High Planes Drifter.‘  Thanks to everybody who picked up a copy, and to the lady who said I didn’t look M.O.T., as I got to learn what that meant.  Also moderated my first ever panel, a look at the career and influences of the great William F. ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody. Thanks to my fellow panelists, the very knowledgeable SASS member Tom Fritter and Richard Stephens for getting a novice through that.

It was a two mile walk (one way), but I came across a place advertising ‘Afro-Caribbean food.’ Turned out to be Somalian. Had goat and shwarma chicken  – excellent!

That's a brain in the green dome on her back.

Day 3 (Sunday)

Indian for breakfast. Palak paneer and goat curry. Yeah, I was on a goat kick all weekend. Eating like a troll.

After an hour of selling copies of ‘The Mensch With No Name’ (all but four, in the end), I was off to a three-hour marathon of panels, beginning with a look at American Hoodoo with the much-appreciated assistance of fellow author MK Hobson (check out her awesome site http://www.demimonde.com/), and Suzanne Jachim.  Then it was a lively discourse on the myth and reality of Western gunfights with Tom Fritter again – a real blast-  and finally an examination of the pros and cons of the Wild Wild West movie and TV Show (almost turned into a movie bashing session) with Garth Stubbs.

One more hour of selling, and then I had to trudge through the newly falling snow to the SeaTac airport. Was blessed with pleasant seatmates the whole way home, including a pair of affable mothers whom I could ‘talk shop’ with about the kids.

All in all, it was a great weekend. I sold a lot of books, made some friends, and hopefully some fans. Thanks to organizers extraordinnaire Alisa Green and Diana Vick for the opportunity.

To top it all off, this masterpiece was waiting for me from my darling daughter when I got home.