Back to the Future Part III (1990) Movie Retro Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Back to the Future Part III Review

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Robert Zemeckis (characters), Bob Gale (characters)
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson

I wasn’t fortunate to see Part II in the cinema and would have to wait along with my brother for the VHS release almost a year later. It had it’s positives though as I will explain shortly. The sheer excitement and anticipation of seeing where and what adventures Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc (Christopher Lloyd) would take next after the successful original film saw our two main character travel to the future and then back to 1955 with a different angle on the story and then shockingly left us the audience gasping as Doc and the Delorean where struck by lightening. I waited 5 long years to see Part II, but thankfully the timing of the release of the middle part of the trilogy on VHS coincided with the cinematic release of Part III and our folks decided to treat us to the cinema, which back in the 80’s and 90’s was a rare treat for our family. To build a picture, we rented Part II on the Friday, rewatched it about 2 or 3 times on the Saturday and on the Cinema our parents announced we would be going to the ABC Cinema in Glasgow to watch the third and concluding part of the Back to the Future Trilogy on the Sunday evening.

The classic Clock Tower Lightening scene opens the movie, where part II left us with Doc collapsing in a heap after seeing Marty return to 1955 after just watching him go Back to the Future seconds before. At this point I think it’s fair to say that the opening score by Alan Silvestre is beautiful and some have said a precursor to his “Forest Gump” theme which I can see the similarities in. That wide shot of Doc’s mansion (The Proctor & Gamble Mansion) is magnificent as the Hill Valley storm eases and we see from a distance Marty taking the unconscious Doc indoors to rest. How someone of Marty’s stature managed this is a mystery but nevertheless the camera floats around the living room of the mansion which we all remember from the original details and it is here I have always been impressed with the finer details of these opening scenes. The pictures on the wall, the fireplace, the organ and of course the toy car in the fire bucket that was used in an experiment. Mostly the thing that impressed me even more was the clock hanging in the bathroom above the toilet, which Doc mentioned briefly in the original movie when he was hanging the clock he slipped and hit his head and had a vision of the Flux Capacitor and as they say with no pun intended, the rest is history.

Doc’s misbelief and reaction in these opening sequences are so funny and reminiscent of his initial reactions to “Future Boy”. Thankfully Marty has the letter from 1885 Doc that the Western Union guy handed to him at the tail end of Part II. Here both characters discover where the buried Delorean is and manage to rebuild a lot of the components using 1955 equivalents. The most shocking part of the opening scenes is Marty and Doc discovering that there is a tombstone near where the Delorean was buried in a nearby cemetery and bears the name Emmett L Brown (The Doc). That of course is the catalyst for Marty to get back in the Time Machine and go back to 1885 to save his friend.

Arriving in the scenic old west (the locations have been used countless times to recreate that period in American history and this movie does it so well) One of the things I love about Part III is it feels very stripped down and organic compared to the dark and tech minded Part II. It’s here we realise that after rupturing the fuel line, Marty is out of Gas and there isn’t going to be a Gas Station around until the early part of the twentieth century. The scenario is almost similar to the first movie on how they are going to get back to the future and figuring that out is the main storyline. Just like the original there are going to be obstacles in the way in the vain of our familiar Tannen villain. This time Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) and finally a love interest in Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen) for the Doc which is handled very sweetly by Zemeckis and Gale and is very believable thanks to the acting talents of Lloyd and Steenburgen. In fact, I read somewhere that this would be Christopher Lloyd’s first onscreen kiss.

If I was being honest, I would have to say that Part III although I love it, is probably the weakest of the three. I think the only reason for that is because we know the story is coming to a conclusion and to be fair the ending is satisfactory, you can’t help wonder why stop at three films when the possibilities are endless. To be fair though, if you have watched these films a lot of times you do happen to notice the common themes throughout. The Marty waking up confused scenario, a Tannen incarnation and his henchmen chasing Marty through the town, a Tannen incarnation falling into manure. The reoccurring scenes probably would become overbearing and stale I suppose.

The stellar cast again doesn’t disappoint and the introduction to Mary Steenburgen adds emotional weight to the story and also adds to the drama and urgency of that final act. I mentioned this before, if Part I was Crispin Glover’s movie, Part II was certainly Tom Wilson’s movie it is beyond doubt that the third part belongs to Christopher Lloyd. Michael J Fox’s Marty was always the “Master of Ceremonies” character, almost the audience members point of view. Going back to Wilson, his “Mad Dog” is brilliant executed in that dumb Tannen way that will have you laughing out loud at his stupidity but also like his ancestors (is that the right word? Future ancestors?) anyway this incarnation is just as devious and dangerous also.

I mentioned Alan Silvestre earlier and I have to say that his score in this film is a little underwhelming until we get a bit of drama. There are a few moments in there from the composer that are memorable but like the original film that is more remembered for Huey Lewis, the third part is remembered for the contribution from ZZ Top and their single release “Double Back” which has a nice 1880’s version in the film which they also appear in during the Dance scenes at the opening of the Clock Tower. It has to be said that for me Silvestre’s contributions are more defined in the middle part of this trilogy.

Zemeckis and Gale have always stated that never intended to make sequels to the 1985 original film, but it has to be said that I’m glad they did. I also have to take my hat off to them for stopping at three films. I know part of me would have loved more adventures with these characters but it’s admirable for the filmmakers to quit while they where ahead. The scenery in this film is breathtaking and the locations where also authentic for this period in time. The spectacular train wreck at the movies climax is something to be seen and how they blended the Delorean passing over the bridge at the end was seamless. Again the VistaGlide system is used but very briefly and one of the surprises for me was how watered down Lea Thompson’s appearance was as Maggie McFly. Thompson’s ever presence throughout the first two movies is almost sidelined perhaps to introduce the Clara character and I can understand why this decision was made.

Overall, Back to the Future Part III is a must see film, but only if you have watched the previous two movies. I do think this instalment is worthy and a satisfying conclusion to the franchise and I do hope that the talk of remakes remains just rumour and not reality. The Thirtieth Anniversary of the Franchise has witnessed the cast and crew reuniting and celebrating the occasion which is always nice to see and also to see them all get along after all this time. The actors certainly look like they are embracing the attention and the memory of these films and looking back, my brother and I came out of the Cinema aged 14 and 9 very happy with what we had just witnessed. Highly Recommend.

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