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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.

Back to the Future Part II (1989) Movie Retro Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Back to the Future Part II Review

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

A Flying DeLorean? What the hell is going on here?

Four long years we had to wait to see What happened to Marty and Jennifer’s Kids. In reality those closing scenes to the classic 1985 film Back to the Future was intended to be a joke by Robert Zemeckis. The Director / Writer never intended or had a grand scheme on what happened after the original movie. Remember that “The Bobs” had a hard sell on that movie and thankfully it saw the light of day.

There was one thing we knew going into the sequel and that was our favourites Marty and Doc along with Jennifer were heading to the future, 2015 to be exact. You have to take yourself back to 1989 and remember a time before the internet and flat screen televisions. Amazingly the filmmakers actually got a lot of the tech correct back then and a lot of the gadgets we see in the “future” became a reality. There are endless YouTube videos listing all the predictions that came true in 2015…which ironically is now the past.

As a thirteen year old kid I was eager to see what the future was like in Hill Valley and it didn’t disappoint. Marty was suited and booted with a fit adjusting jacket and a pair of Nike power laced boots. In fact, I didn’t have to wait long until I saw something I believed was real at the time and I commend the special effects and choreography teams for making us believe that Hover boards were actually real and fully functioning pieces of equipment back then, and even if they weren’t, then surely 30 years down the line we would have them, yeah right.

One of the things I love about this sequel was the fact that they did something that had never been done before and something that you could only do a film involving time travel and that was to revisit the events of the first film from a different perspective. Before that though Marty and Doc have to fix a little issue in the future that they successfully manage. Whilst Marty is waiting for Doc to collect Einstein (his Dog from 1985) he visits the “Blast from the Past” antique shop and purchases the book “Grays Sports Almanac” a book of sporting facts and statistics that Marty sees as a way to “make a few bucks on the side.” Unfortunately for Marty and Doc, old Biff heard Marty’s plans and manages to steal the book and the DeLorean and give himself the book back in 1955. (November 5, 1955 to be precise) whilst Marty and Doc are on another mission trying to retrieve Jennifer from her future home.

With Biff altering time, Marty, Jennifer and Doc arrive back in an alternative 1985 unknowing what has happened until Marty confronts the now very rich Biff on when he received the book. I have to say that as much as I loved the 2015 Hill Valley for its glossy and crisp looking facade I have to admit I loved the gritty and dark alternative 1985 Hill Valley equally. There is something sinister and disturbing about seeing the town and it’s suburbs in disarray and crime is everywhere and it’ something I felt would have been interesting to stay a little longer in.

This is where the level of mind melting hits the max and I have to say that it took me multiple viewing to get my head around Marty and Doc revisiting Hill Valley on November 5, 1955. Not only seeing this vibrant town in all its glory again and taking me back to the original but also seeing our heroes avoiding their other selves was a mind job thanks to Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. It still amazes me the precision and attention to detail the film makers went to, to make sure that the time frame everything happens in Back to the Future Part Two doesn’t contradict what happened in the original movie. The last 40 minutes of the film is really Marty and Doc pursuing Biff for the Almanac and trying their best not to interact with anyone, especially themselves.

What can I say about the ending? With the timeline corrected after a successful mission, Doc Brown whilst hovering in the time machine in the air is stuck by lightening sending him in a loop and vanishing to god knows where. Leaving poor Marty stranded in 1955 and receiving a letter from a Western Union guy at that precise point and at that precise moment that they have had in their possession for almost 70 years, it is revealed to be from the Doc who is living now in the old west (1885) and has given Marty explicit instructions on where to find the DeLorean and how to fix it so his friend can return to 1985 and destroy the time machine.

This of course sets up the third part of the franchise which I will review soon. Back to the Future Part Two took some great risks in it’s story telling. It took some great risks in its visuals as a lot of the technology used in the movie was prototype and hadn’t been used before. VistaGlide was a robotic, motion-control camera dolly system that allowed an actor to play two or more parts in a single scene, with a computer controlling the pan, tilt, focus, zoom and the split line during each pass. It was developed for use in Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III.

One noticeable absentee from the original cast is Crispin Glover although I think at the time it wasn’t so obvious. I have seen multiple interviews from the Actor and the Producer giving their version of events on why the star wasn’t present for either of the sequels and the problems this gave the writers. I would be foolish to take either side on this matter as I wasn’t there and if anything came out of the whole debacle, that was Glover won a law suit against filmmakers using actors “likeness” who aren’t in the film or have any part of the film as the prosthetics used in the original film to give Glover an older appearance (using the actors face mold) was used on an other actor to give the illusion that the same actor was being used in the sequels. Personally I spotted this the very first time I saw the movie as the camera angles were obscure and more evidently was that the character of George who was so prominent in the first movie was nothing more than a bit part in the sequels sadly.

Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Thomas F. Wilson stepped up and really made the sequels as best they could and delivered stand out performances once again. The four recreated the magic of the first movie and maintained the level of comedy required for their roles. Wilson more so as I felt the second part was “Biff’s” movie and the actor / stand up really performs really well as 1985 Biff, 2015 Old Biff, 1955 Young Biff and the oddball Griff (Biff’s Grandson) in the future. Fox and Lloyd again carry the narration along and again perform brilliantly.

Overall Back to the Future Part Two is one of my favourite sequels and I hold it up there with the original for different reasons. The second part is technically better than the original for the future scenes as far as design go and for the logistics of how technology works in the future. In real world as mentioned the filming techniques were still before digital technology and some of the scenes although may be a little dated now still hold up and my appreciation for the creation of the VistaGlide system is something I am still in awe with for it’s boldness and it’s subtle use in Parts Two and Three. Back to the Future Part Two is still a movie I can go back to and I never scoff at the future scenes which are of course in the past now as Robert Zemekis once said you can never set the future correctly so don’t take it too seriously. For anyone who hasn’t seen this movie I would urge you to find a copy of it (currently showing on Netflix) and watch it, but only after you have watched the classic original. Highly Recommended.

Back to the Future (1985) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

Back to the Future Review

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson

It’s fair to say that not only is “Back to the Future” one of my all time favourite movies. It is also a film that is etched in my mind until the day I die. I think i can recite all the lines and even down to the finer details of the opening shot of the clocks ticking (homage to George Pal’s The Time Machine Film from 1960 starring Rod Taylor) yes i’ll admit I am a “Back to the Future” fanboy and proud of it.

It’s hard for me to contemplate now that back in 1985 as a nine year old I was more excited about the upcoming fourth film in the Rocky Franchise (an okay film) than this movie with weird and nonsensical title….how can you go Back to the Future? As a young boy I wasn’t yet familiar with Christopher Lloyd who was just as famous on our television screens at this point as Reverend Jim Ignatowski in Paramounts comedy series “Taxi” as I was a little too young to appreciated the sitcom. I did however know of Michael J Fox who was on our television screens here in the UK as Alex P. Keaton the young conservative upstart in the classic sitcom “Family Ties”. This would also be my introduction to unknown actors as far as I was concerned in Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson who would play such most memorable iconic characters in Lorraine, George and Biff. Although Crispin did appear in a few episodes of “Family Ties” I can’t say it was that memorable.

Last year I reviewed the documentary “Back in Time” which was more of a celebration of the franchise than a blow by blow account of the now classic trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience in watching this as it inspired people and over the decades has brought the fans together in conventions all over the world who can meet and discuss everything that is Back to the Future. It is hard to believe that several studios rejected the original movie as at the time it felt a little “sci-fiy”, “soft” and “out of place” in a time that the movie studios where trying to pitch a more raunchier comedy movie to that age group. Also, the very notion that the Mother in the movie falls in love with her own Son resulted in Disney slamming the door in both the writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (The Bobs) faces for what they saw as a disturbing storyline that no one would or should touch. Enter Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg understood that this film could and would work and although there is a science fiction element to it, he understood the character development and relationship that was under the surface of the time traveling adventure. The Bobs had their reservations though. Because they both had attached Spielberg in their previous last 3 flops they knew that they would be finished in the industry if “Back to the Future” didn’t succeed. In the Words of Doc Brown….”We Must Succeed” It wasn’t until Zemeckis finally had a hit in Romancing the Stone (1984) that they now had a credible Director who could go to one of the biggest names in Hollywood and the rest they say is (pardon the pun) history.

That opening scene just before Marty realises he is late for school is an important part of what Doctor Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is about and what his character is. There are newspaper clippings pinned to the wall explaining that the Doc lost almost everything including his mansion in a fire some time in the past and we also get to see a box of plutonium under his bed hidden away that is an integral part of the story and even more so a important piece in making time travel possible.

So Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) is a 17-year-old student at Hill Valley High School and is labelled a slacker by the Principal Mr Strickland played by the brilliant James Tolkan. Strickland’s interactions with Marty early on indicate that The McFly’s are basically a bunch of losers who have never amounted to anything. “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News is a pivotal piece of music in the movie and it’s hard not to associated the track with the movie anytime is is played over the airwaves even to this day. The combination of the music and Marty skating (and catching a lift) by Skateboard is classic 80’s filmmaking and the scene opens up to reveal Hill Valley Square and Clock Tower. If like me, you were watching this for the first time and you are around my age the scenery may look familiar. It is of course the backlot to Universal Studios and was used the previous year in “Gremlins” as the centre stage. The iconic landmark has been used in numerous film and tv productions as well as a few music videos but I can’t help relate the set to the home of “Back to The Future”

Marty really is the master of ceremonies in the film. He is the audience almost as he carries us through one scenario to the next. From his interactions with Strickland and failing at the High School Music auditions to walking in on his Father George (Crispin Glover) being bullied in his own house by his work superior Biff Tannen (Thomas F Wilson) telling him to write his report whilst returning the family car trashed and not accepting responsibility for his actions shows an exasperated Marty who is almost embarrassed by his wimp of a Father and his Mother Lorraine (Lea Thomson) is hardy a role model either. She comes across bored and bitter towards the family unit and appears to have a drink problem. It’s fair to say that Marty being the youngest seems to be the one who is more together than his siblings Dave (Marc McClure) and Linda (Wendie Jo Sperber) and his parents. He has aspirations to succeed as a musician.

We are first introduced to Doc Brown who up to this point we have only heard by telephone at the beginning of the movie and again waking Marty up to meet him at Twin Pines Mall. This is where the movie gets going after the first 20 minutes or so is really building up the relationships of the characters in an entertaining way that allows the audience to distinguish what these characters are all about and who is who in 1985 and what they are like. Christopher Lloyd’s introduction to the film is great. Reversing a DeLorean out of his truck we see Marty is excited and you can almost tell he is ready to ask Doc if he can borrow it to take Jennifer (Claudia Wells) to the Lake for the weekend by asking the Doc does it run on regular unleaded gasoline? to which the Doc replies It requires something with a little more kick. Plutonium. It’s a great set up to understand that the car is in fact a time machine and hearing Doc explain how he enquired the Plutonium is brilliantly funny and emphasises a slight madness in the character. The Twin Pines Mall scenes are a key to understanding how Time Travel operates and using an unpopular car at the time to achieve this is a little in joke that really tells us that the DeLorean doesn’t matter, it’s what it does that counts.

Reaching 88 miles per hour is the key to this and running this on the Plutonium upset the ones The Doc stole it from resulting in The Libyans gunning the Doc down and leaving Marty no choice but to escape from the terrorists in the Car. Reaching the required speed and not having taken the rest of the Plutonium results in Marty going back in time by 30 years and being stranded in 1955 Hill Valley. His arrival is met by a comedic response crashing the car into a barn. Old Man Peabody’s barn to be precise and the farmer and his family inspect the crash to see what the believe to be an alien spaceship. Again Marty is threatened with a gun and narrowly escapes the irate farmer. The first clue Marty receives that he has time traveled is driving along a country road only to notice the advertising board on the lay-by advertising homes of the future to be built on the land. Marty realises this is where his future home is yet to be built. After the enjoyment of Huey Lewis and the News’ “Power of Love” in the begging we are introduced to Hill Valley Square 1950’s style and there is no better soundtrack to compliment this than “Mr Sandman” by The Four Aces. The song captures a time in American history that most people in the UK imagine it must have been like in 1950’s US. The classic cars, the music, the gas stations with service and of course the classic diner scenes.

From what I believe the set designers captured this look and went to work on building a 1950’s feel and look to the Universal Set and once principal photography on the 50’s scene where complete they went back and “dirtied” the set to age it in time for the 80’s scenes. The sets in “Back to the Future” are important and I feel the set department pulled this off with it authenticity and small detail to really make you believe you travelled with Marty to 30 years in the past. Although the story and the film is contained within that Town Square for most of the movie at no point does it feel claustrophobic or contained.

At the time Michael J Fox was working 18 hour days as he was contracted to Family Ties during the day and most of the scenes in Back to the Future where filmed at night. Fox admits that it was gruelling but added the bewildered character of Marty in a strange time surrounded by young versions of the people in his life. In truth, Fox was almost running on empty and exhausted physically and mentally confused the actor to a point. I’ve always been a fan of The actor and Fox has a natural instinct in comedy timing. The man over the years I have admired for his courageous battle against Parkinson’s and raising awareness in the illness is noble and heartbreaking at the same time. I recently read his “Lucky Man” Autobiography and thoroughly enjoyed getting into his mindset and understanding where his courage comes from and highly recommend to anyone to read this inspiring story.

It is almost just as important to understand that Fox wasn’t the original Marty McFly. A good part into the filming of this movie young actor Eric Stoltz portrayed the likeable youngster before the Producers sensed something was wrong with the actor. Not that Stoltz was a bad actor, his career over the past 30 years has proven what an incredible actor his is. The tone of his comedic performance wasn’t what the Producer Bob Gale or Director Robert Zemickis were looking for and cut their loses and admitted it was a heartbreaking decisions to let Eric go to save the movie. To be honest you can’t think of anyone other than Michael J fox portraying this role now.

Crispin Glover as George has always been my favourite character in the first film. The characters transformation from beginning to end is something else. The dorkiest version of him from a mid 40’s husband and father is cringe and pathetic to witness and his younger self isn’t exactly exuberayting confidence and self assurance. Marty’s guidance in bringing out the best in George is also a lesson for Marty too in “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything” which George then passes on to his son in the future, which in a way is almost a paradox within itself. Glover despite what you may have heard regarding contract negotiations on the sequel shouldn’t be regarded in his performance on the first movie. His genuine contribution and care to the character really hit home. No matter how many times I see the scene where he finally stands up to Biff and knocks him out I still get the same satisfaction I got the first time. His relieved and nervous breathing after he executes the punch adds to the moment which must have been the bravest action George ever took in his life. Glover also had concerns over the end scenes in regards to rewarding the son with a car. You have to remember that the 1980’s were a materialistic time and this was a common trait in movies also. I can’t disagree with Glover on this, the ending is perhaps a little shallow in that sense and I share a more spiritual conclusion and satisfaction should have been more the line. Nevertheless the less Glover may not have reached those heights again but he would change some laws in filmmaking later on which I will get to in my next review on this series.

Lea Thomson as Lorraine is great to watch. Playing two versions of the same character showed tremendous maturity for a young actress at the time. The older Lorraine is bitter and twisted where as the younger version is spritely and optimistic. Her infatuation with her own son could have been a disaster from start to finish but her portrayal of Lorraine is sweet and innocent and it is not until she kisses Marty she then realises something is very wrong. Of course in the sequels we get to see different roles for Lea Thomson and versions of Lorraine but in the original movie, like Glover she understands the character and what is required. Lea Thomson was such a great choice for the character of Lorraine Baines / McFly and is an integral part of the supporting cast.

Tom Wilson as Biff isn’t exactly a cardboard cut out villain. Don’t get me wrong those first scenes with George in the beginning of the movie cemented the character as a nasty piece of work and a bully boy. But Wilson’s comedy also shines through and in particular the young version of Biff. His idiotic mixing of well know phrases are hilarious and his annoyance towards Marty is just as funny. Yes there are lighter moments with Biff in this sense but also there is a darkness to this character and his intentions with Lorraine that were thankfully thwarted by George’s intervention. Like Thomson, we would see Wilson’s acting capabilities expanded in the sequels and I’m grateful for the actor for making Biff one of the most memorable villainous characters in film history.

Alan Silvestre’s famous score actually didn’t stand out to me the first time around. Well I was nine years old at the time and I was in awe over other things in the film at that point. Everyone knows the Back to the Future score of course as much as they know the Superman theme by John Williams. I felt Silvestre’s music was better used in the second part of the trilogy and using it as the introduction music is what made it stand out more this time. I think it’s fair to say that Huey Lewis and the News and The Four Aces were unintentionally more memorable sound pieces in the story and I am not trying to do the score a disservice. I just felt it was more background music in the original.

Zemekis and Gale caught lightning in a bottle with this movie. Their character development and grounded storytelling is what makes Back to the Future timeless. The science fiction behind the story isn’t overshadowing at any point and only serves as plot devices in much the same way the Delorean is used as a transporter from leaping from one year to the past or future. At the time of the films release they never envisioned making sequels and the ending of the movie was intended to be a joke and nothing more. Overall “Back to the Future” is now a classic movie and 33 years on it remains timeless and still relevant in today’s society. The cast selection and the storytelling is the success in a fairly simple plot (if you can get your head round the time traveling elements) I still revisit this film from time to time and still enjoy it. I can’t recommend this film enough.