Back to the Future Part III

Year: 1990

Production: Amblin Entertainment / Universal

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Mary Steenburgen

Screenwriter: Bob Gale

Based on a story by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale

119 minutes; Color


Made with Back to the Future Part II and released soon after, this is a hammy but enjoyable resolution of the story. Where Part II emphasizes change and darkness, this emphasizes continuity and reconciliation. Marty digs the damaged time machine out of a cave where it was buried in the past by Dr Brown, who is "now" stranded in the Wild West town which was Hill Valley, and, to judge from a nearby gravestone, will be shot in the back on 7 September 1885. Marty returns to that year on 2 September dressed in Western kitsch and adopting the pseudonym Clint Eastwood. He finds a rough town on the verge of transition into a decent community, and demonstrates his irrelevant, suburban 1985 values to the 1885 avatar of Biff the bully while learning some new ones himself. There is something pleasantly narcissistic and self-referential about the Back to the Future series embracing the past history of its own small-town Californian setting so passionately, like a communal version of wooing your own mother, the Freudian threat of the original film. If Marty and Brown make love to their own history the right way, it is intimated, then Hill Valley will always be a comfortable, limited, tranquil Garden of Eden. The overall vision of the three films is of a static paradise poised dangerously above the dark abyss of uncertainty and change.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

As a trilogy, the Back to the Future films make a lot more sense strung together than, say, the Star Wars series. Back to the Future Part II (1989) upset a lot of critics by not being a remake of the first film, and for daring to be a) complicaied, b) very fast and c) heartless. Part III, which is slightly less swiftly paced and restores the heart interest of the first film, puts the middle installment in context and satisfyingly completes the story. At the end of the second film, Doc Brown (Lloyd) was stranded in 1885 and Marty McFly (Fox) was in 1955, now, learning that Doc is due to be shot in the back by a varmint of the Old West, Marty returns to the 1880s and we get a hugely enjoyable sf Western packed with Jules Verne-style steam engines and neat jokes about the now-defunct cowboy genre. Arriving in 1885 dressed in an absurd set of fringed buckskins that accurately reflect a 1950s Roy Rogers idea of a cowboy outfit, Fox swiftly changes into a muddier, more realistic set of Western duds and adopts, much to the amusement of the bar-room regulars, the most cowboy-sounding name he can think of, "Clint Eastwood".

The villain is Buford Tannen (Wilson), the thuggish outlaw ancestor of the bullies who terrorized Fox in various time periods in the earlier films, and the movie constantly plays clever reprises of the high points of the series in 1885 terms - with a chase around the main street on horses replacing the skateboard stuff, a carnival shooting match replacing video games, and a community hoedown instead of the school dance. Assuming that the audience has been paying close attention, the film cleverly makes neat references to earlier episodes, including a brief appearance by a solemn child, seen here being educated in "discipline" by his Sheriff father, who will grow up to be the oppressive school principal, or the replaying in the climax of the clip from A Fistful of Dollars (1964) glimpsed in Part II.

Furthermore, this time, in a reversal of the first film, Fox buzzes around keeping the plot on the move, while Lloyd softens up and has a funny romance with schoolmarm Steenbergen, and it all winds up with another great suspense-action sequence as a locomotive and the DeLorean head towards a precipice. Neatest of all is a coda which features one of the best time machines in the cinema, a flying steam engine, and promises that this is actually the last in the series. When Fox asks Lloyd if he is "going back to the future", the scientist tells him "Nope, already been there", and he heads off, like the sf heroes of Big Meat Eater (1982) and Repo Man (1984), for outer space.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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