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

Merkabah Rider: Once Upon A Time In The Weird West Preview

What happens in the fourth and final book of the Merkabah Rider series? Read the prologue of Merkabah Rider: Once Upon A Time In The Weird West below.

What’s Merkabah Rider? Read about it  right HERE.

In honor of Yom Kippur, The Day Of The Atonement, the holiest twenty six hours in the Judaic calendar (and as loyal readers of the Rider will know, the day in 1882 that the Hour Of Incursion comes upon us), from now until sundown tomorrow (or 6:30 Pacific Time) every reader who comments on this post, I’ll send a free copy of either:

Merkabah Rider: Tales Of A High Planes Drifter

Merkabah Rider 2: The Mensch With No Name

or Merkabah Rider 3: Have Glyphs Will Travel

– your choice of title, your choice of format (pdf, epub or mobi).  Just tell me below in the comments section (one per comment/visitor).

And if you’re a Luddite like me, send an email to emerdelacATgmailDOTcom with Yom Kippur as the subject line.

Then at 6:30pm on Wednesday night (the 26th), I’ll draw a random recipient’s name from the old ten gallon yarmulke. The winner gets a signed copy of Merkabah Rider: Tales Of A High Planes Drifter AND Merkabah Rider 2: The Mensch With No Name.

Without further to-do, here’s the first pages of MR IV:OUATITWW – AND a first gander at the cover by (dare I say it? I do) the magnificent Pat Carbajal, who will also be providing eight (count ’em) eight bee-you-tiful interior black and white illustrations.

Prologo

The diggers, drunks and saddle tramps all, nominally paw the earth with spades, knowing not why, only that they are paid well and in gold to do very little.

The tracklayers pause as the swing gang reaches the shade of the Huachuca Mountains, and in the seventh hekhalot the dread angel Metatron, once Enoch, dips its bright pen in the inkwell of eternity. Three descend upon the earth, perhaps for the final time.

In the Dreamlands, the Thunder of God seeks the Other to no avail.

In the lowest region of hell, in the marble city of Pandæmonium, Lucifer fidgets on his throne and sets aside the Damnatus Damnateum as Temelechus strokes the hide of Nehema with a glowing iron flail. She shrieks her gratitude.

Simultaneously, a man of God and a man of science each realize that the stars will soon be right and snap their respective books closed.

At midnight, just outside Kearney, Missouri, the squeaking wheels of a bone laden wagon cease their revolution and a dozen black garbed figures bearing shovels and prybars slink toward a grave, where grass has not yet sprouted over the body of Jesse James.

In the bleak fields of the Jornada Del Muerto, a preacher of wavering faith, strung with canteens and waterskins, bows his head and bends his iron legs, his frightened, murmuring prayers lost in a hiss of venting steam.

A master engraver pauses, surveying his final, terrible work. He wipes the sweat and tears from his eyes, and wishes he had listened to his wife. Then he puts his chisel to a gilded smokebox door.

A blue skinned killer passes a cracked leather map case across a polished desk to the delight of a pair of madmen.

A girl notices a stranger’s smile spread across her father’s face.

The thing that calls itself Adam Belial in this universe howls in wild triumph and the whole of Creation shudders.

In the dense void beyond, gibbering things ripple with excitement and colossal shapes turn in their precarious fluid slumber.

An engorged, tame beast stirs to the trill of distant piping, remembers what it once was, and strains against its chain.

An old, old gentleman in a blue suit and top hat places a pressed lilac on a smoldering mountain pyre of one of the thirty six hidden saints and heads west, where a dreadful infant and a one armed soldier wait within a carved vardo, and a pale, scar-eared onnager vies with a team of ornery camels for a space to graze.

A burned woman counts the hours.

And somewhere the Rider meets The Chief Angel of Death…

-Hasta pronto!

UPDATE:  Thanks to all who participated in the giveaway. If you enjoy Merkabah Rider, please tell a friend or a stranger via Amazon/Goodreads or what have you. Congratulations to Frank Schildiner, who won a signed copy of Merkabah Rider: Tales Of A High Planes Drifter and Merkabah Rider 2: The Mensch With No Name. – Ed

Who That Masked Man Is

Twelve mounted horsemen, bad hombres, their weathered skin and faded clothes stained with the dust of the trail, dried tobacco juice, and the blood of their victims, form a semicircle around the masked stranger. Each draws and cocks a pistol – the staggered mechanical clicking seventy two hushed promises of leaden death.

 Their leader is a lanky, self-assured bastard with a callused hand and a Schofield revolver, the handle bearing thirteen neat little scratches, the only memorials the dead they represent will ever have.

 The stranger will be the fourteenth.

 He grins a yellow smile.

 The stranger is a funny sight, all in blinding white. White hat, white shirt, long white duster. Only his hands and his boots and the finely tooled belt just visible beneath his coat are black. Oh, and the mask. That weird, black felt domino mask through which the stranger’s blue eyes glitter beneath the brim of his white hat. There is a weird synergy between the spurred boots, the gloves, the belt, the mask. The mask, the calling card of the bandit. Funny that the man on the ground wears a mask, hiding his face, when they, the worst villains of the territory go about with their faces brashly uncovered.

 One other thing. The silver cartridges encircling his waist. They can’t be silver. Not really. Can they? He licks his dry lips at the prospect of taking that belt for his own.

 This is the moment. The moment before the killing. The moment he and his men savor and seek always to replenish after the body hits the dust.

 “I make twelve to your one, Ranger,” he drawls. “What do you intend?”

 In answer, the Lone Ranger silently opens his coat and hooks it behind the two shining white pistol butts jutting from the studded black holsters on his hips. They are polished to a mirror shine, and altogether, the figure is blinding.

 A ripple of nervous laughter runs up and down the length of the riders….

 It is cut short by the roar of the Lone Ranger’s guns.

 And it is a roar. A continuous unbroken sound, as if the bullets simply flow from the pistols once cleared of their housings. He doesn’t move, but his hands do, with the speed of a hummingbird’s wings. Those black gloves hands, dealing out death quicker than a faro dealer on Saturday night. They tug and drop the shining hammers, pull the triggers and repeat the action. These are single action pistols – how can they fire so fast? He has heard stories, read such things in the penny dreadfuls, read them and laughed them off.

 But he’s not laughing now.

 Surely the man will be cut down. There are twelve of them, their pistols already drawn, and he has two pistols – only twelve bullets. It’s a game gesture, but futile.

 Then he feels the shock in his gun hand, like a jolt to his bones as his the scarred handle of his Schofield explodes and goes wheeling into the dirt. His hand trembles like a drunkard’s.

 A moment later the roaring stops, and amid the rising smoke, the masked man stands, dropping those bright bullets swiftly into the cylinder of one of the pistols. The other is home on his left hip, smoke curling from the bottom of the holster.

 He feels his jaw slacken and looks down at his trusty Schofield. It will never be fired again. The handle has been destroyed, all memory of his trophy markings obliterated by the silver slug wedged into the bare frame.

 He looks up and down the length of his men. Each one is clutching his hand, each one looking at each other in shock. Some bleed between their fingers, but all remain in their saddles.

 Behind them, a Winchester cocks, and there is the Indian, crouching on the ridge, two black eyes staring down at them, down the barrel of a beaded rifle from the midst of the brown face, long black hair spilling over his shoulders.

 He looks back at the masked man as the Lone Ranger flicks the cylinder of his Colt shut and covers them.

 “What do you intend, Butch?” he says, and a lopsided grin spreads beneath the lip of the mask.

 * *                  

 I have an abiding, long standing affection for The Lone Ranger. Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels riding into town to that thundering William Tell Overture are indelibly linked with my earliest childhood memories. Sunday mornings it was reruns of The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid, followed by The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and capping the day of TV watching off with Family Classics, showcasing such classic technicolor adventure films as The Adventures of Robin Hood, George Pal’s The Time Machine and The War of The Worlds, and  Sabu in The Jungle Book. 

I have no doubt that those Sunday mornings have left a deep mark on my entire life. My earliest childhood heroes were usually brilliant, witty, almost always expert marksmen, on horseback, and full of righteous indignation, and the threats they faced were powerful and villainous, sometimes weird and shambling with extraterrestrial origins.

Somewhat tarnished, at their hearts, these are the same heroes I write about today.

I’ve been following the news of the forthcoming The Lone Ranger film pretty closely. I’m one of the ones who lamented the announcement of Johnny Depp as Tonto.

The Lone Ranger is often pointed to as an example of racism against Native Americans. I have to beg to differ here. I think it gets a bad rap, mostly perpetuated by a lot of people who’ve never actually watched The Lone Ranger.

More often then not, the Indians are not the bad guys. In The Lone Ranger and The Lost City of Gold, the Ranger and Tonto are after a group of white treasure hunters who have been murdering Indians. There is another episode where whites dressed as Indians and blaming their crimes on the local tribe are busted by the Ranger and Tonto.

But Tonto is a racist caricature, right?

Tonto doesn’t speak perfect English.

And that’s it. That’s his only failing.

He’s an expert tracker and horseman, adept at first aid (who else patches the Ranger up when they’re miles from town?), a loyal friend, and frankly, a badass fighter too.

Who the heck cares if he speaks pidgeon English? Do we measure a person’s intelligence by how well they speak English? That’s Tea Party thinking, I think. There are astrophysicists at the cutting edge of scientific thought who probably conjugate their English verbs incorrectly. But I’m not going to bother correcting them.

Tonto is a Pottawatomie. That’s stated in the show. He’s not depicted in the usual manner as a feather wearing pig-tailed Indian (with no tribe ever mentioned, because who cares what tribe he’s from right? Let’s just say he’s Cherokee) from a catchall plains tribe. I don’t think I ever saw him use a bow, even.

Yes, for all his traveling with the Ranger, he never improves his English. Yes the writers likely got some things wrong, and yes, he does get beat up a lot. But for the 1950’s, he’s a pretty dang progressive representation.  I mean, at least he doesn’t do any magic, and he’s not accompanied by a drumbeat or indigenous vocal musical motiff everytime he appears.

Most importantly, he was played by Jay Silverheels, a Canadian Mohawk Indian who helped pave the way for aboriginal American actors in Hollywood by working in the establishment of the Indian Actors Workshop.

Yes, an Indian actor, playing an Indian, in an era of television when on F Troop, the Indians were played by Jewish Americans and in one case….Don Rickles (as Chief Bald Eagle).

So anyway, apologies to Gore Verbinski, who I think could do a great Lone Ranger film (and to Johnny Depp, who is still an entertaining actor but sorry, not Indian enough to play Tonto) I’m not sorry to see this version shelved.

The above-written passage is the Lone Ranger as I see him.

 No werewolves, no Johnny Depp instant-Indian.

 What Hollywood needs to understand is The Lone Ranger is American’s first crimefighter. He’s the Batman of the 1870’s. And while Batman is occasionally updated to great effect, he remains essentially the same. He’s wealthy, he’s mysterious, he doesn’t kill.

 The Lone Ranger has one of the greatest, most mythic origin stories ever.

 Already a Texas Ranger riding with his older brother (and, I imagine from what follows, idolizing him), he is betrayed by their half-Indian scout and ambushed in a box canyon by the Cavendish gang, in what is essentially a bloody massacre.

 The Cavendishes slaughter the Rangers and leave their corpses lying in the sun.

 A lone Indian rider on a piebald pony perhaps following the sound or the buzzards, rides into the canyon soon after, inspecting the dead.

 Tonto is his name.

 And he finds one stirring.

 More startling, Tonto finds he knows the man. Years ago, when he was a boy, his own Pottawatomie band was attacked and burned out, his entire family killed and he himself was left for dead. Seeking the killers has become the driving force of his life since.

 On that bloody day a white boy his age, a scout for a wagon train, came across him and nursed him to health. A boy named John Reid, the only white man who has ever shown him kindness.

 Kemosabe, he called him. Trusty scout.

 And the man lying in this canyon, bleeding to death, is the very same John Reid.

 Tonto knows the movement of creation. He knows the white concept of Providence. He knows this is no accident.

 Using all his skills, he brings the surviving ranger back from the brink of death.

 While John Reid recuperates, Tonto digs graves for the other rangers.

 When he comes to the last, John Reid calls for him to wait. This was his brother. The man who, seeing the dangerous combination of John Reid’s devil-may-care young attitude and his astounding proficiency with a pistol, strove to teach him there is more to life than glory and money and gunplay. There must be temperance. There must be responsibility.

 He told John once the story of William Tell, the expert marksman who refused to bow to a tyrant called Gessler. Gessler forces Tell to shoot an apple from the head of his son with a crossbow. In answer, Tell took out two bolts. The first split the apple, winning him everlasting fame. The second took the life of Gessler, winning Tell’s people their freedom.

 Which do you think was more important? His brother used to ask him.

 John Reid is changed. The young gun, hungry for fame and action has died. And as Tonto understands it, he has come away from the other side with a vision from the spirits that he must follow. So Tonto does not question when he cuts a mask from his dead brother’s vest and dons it. He doesn’t question when he digs his own grave alongside the grave of his brother and the other rangers.

 The whites would call itProvidence.

 Of course he finds the wild white stallion soon after, saving it from a charging buffalo, healing its wounds, and riding it with nothing more than a hackamore bridle after. The horse is a part of the vision, and the two become as one.

 Tonto does not question the silver bullets either, forged from a hidden mine belonging to the Ranger’s brother. Silver is the purest of metals, and the Ranger says it will ensure his aim, as his target is injustice.

 But when the Ranger says he will not kill, there Tonto begs to differ. He knows that there exist some men who will not stop their evil but with death.

 Sacred vision or no, Tonto will one day kill the men who took the lives of his family and friends.

 And there is the dichotomy of Tonto and The Lone Ranger.

 At least, if I were writing it.

 Hopefully whoever gets next crack at it will stay truer to the characters their history.

 No redface actors, no werewolves, if you please.

 Hi-Yo Silver.