Back to the Future Part III (1990) / Comedy-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG for language and some violence
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson, Elisabeth Shue, James Tolkan, ZZ Top, Flea
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Bob Gale
Review published June 8, 2005
Back to the Future Part III is the third and final installment of the popular trilogy, this time going to the past, to Hill Valley of 1885. Those that despised the second film for its darkness generally applaud this sequel for bringing back the sense of fun again, while for others it is a quaintly amusing diversion that isn't quite as interesting as the other two films, but still entertains.
Part III was shot directly after Part II wrapped, and the laid back approach here was probably due to needing a change of pace from the frenetic nature of the second film. It serves as an attempt to finally put to rest the series for the fans, while also working as a funny send-up of old Hollywood Westerns, including a very generous homage to Clint Eastwood that's a hoot in itself.
The film starts with Marty (Fox, Bright Lights Big City) in 1955 reading the letter from Doc (Lloyd, Back to the Future) that he had accidentally been transported to the year 1885. Due to the archaic technology, Doc isn't able to get back to the future, but is content to spend the rest of his life in the Old West, urging Marty not to come back for him. However, Marty decides not to heed Doc's advice when he discovers Doc's tombstone lists his death as only several days after he wrote the original letter. Using the DeLorean that Doc had secretly hidden for decades, Marty is able to return to the Old West, but due to damage to the car's fuel tank that leaves it empty, there is no way to get the time machine to accelerate to the needed 88 mph for a time jump. With Doc's death imminent, Marty must find a way to keep themselves alive and think of some way to get the car up to speed, while Doc finds potential true love in the arms of a local woman (Steenburgen, Melvin and Howard) whose life he saves.
I realize that any film dealing with time travel is bound to leave many with headaches, but there are a few things that occurred to me when watching Part III that did bother me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who was confused by these things. First, the solution as to the DeLorean's fuel problem should be apparent to anyone who remembers that there should still be another instance of the DeLorean still in town the one Doc had hidden only weeks before Marty's arrival from the future. I suppose one could make the argument that tinkering with the hidden DeLorean would mean Marty would not be able to traverse back in time in the future, but it still would have been nice if this loophole were resolved. Another problem is that we know that Clara Clayton is the person for which Clayton's Ravine is named when she falls and dies from her accident there, but we had already established that Clara also had written the words on Doc's tombstone, which would have been impossible if she had died at the time she was supposed to, a few days earlier. One could argue that this Clara could have fallen into the ravine at a later date and preserved the history, but again, this is a confusing aspect that could have been resolved easily. Then there is the matter of how Marty just so happens to be an expert at horse riding, which he seems to do so effortlessly throughout Part III.
Despite these nitpicks, Back to the Future III is still an entertaining final chapter and must see viewing for anyone who has seen and enjoyed the previous entries in the series. It should never be seen without first viewing the other two films within a reasonably short period of time beforehand, so make sure you watch the first two films with as much attention to detail as you can for the full effect. Cast chemistry and terrific characterizations all make this seem almost effortless in its ability to charm, making it nearly impossible to dislike. Credit Gale (Interstate 60, Used Cars) and Zemeckis (Romancing the Stone, What Lies Beneath) for being able to sustain all of the energy and let us leave the saga with a smile on our faces.
©2005 Vince Leo