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Back to the Future Part III
1990 - PG - Mins.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Producer: Neil Canton
Written By: Bob Gale
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson, Mary Steenburgen
Review by: John Ulmer
The pure pleasure of the first two "Back to the Future" films were their equally shared energy and wit of the highest order, something that "Back to the Future Part III" seems to grasp at first, but then loses once it settles down to be a routine Wild West comedy with humor but no real smarts. The first two never settled down--they were always moving forward, in terms of plotting or adventure, and the film's elements seemed to be related to just how wild Marty McFly was at the time. (The more excited and energetic and worried Marty became, the more frantic and frenetic the film.)

But something that took me by surprise about the first two was the fact that not only did they have wicked humor, but they were also both incredibly smart. Filled with time paradoxes not touched by any other film before or after, they remain the definitive time travel motion pictures. "Back to the Future Part III" essentially stops and does not keep pressing on. That is, perhaps, its biggest flaw. And put in the same perspective as the first two films it seems quite tame by any standard. As "The Temple of Doom" was the weak link in the Indiana Jones chain, "Back to the Future Part III" is the weak link to its predecessors. Though that is hardly saying either movies are bad at all. They just don't compare to the other two.

If you recall the end of the second film, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) was left stranded in 1955 again after 1985 Doc Brown was accidentally sent back to 1885 when a bolt of lightning hit his hovering DeLorean time machine. Marty then found 1955 Doc (who had just sent the other Marty McFly back to 1985) and told him that he was back from the future once again.

That's where Part III comes in. Marty has a letter from 1985 Doc (who is in 1885 at this point) telling the exact coordinates of the time machine's whereabouts in case he ever needs to use it. He tells Marty that he is fine and that Marty does not need to come back to the Old West and save him. Unfortunately, Marty and 1955 Doc find out that some short number of days after Doc wrote the letter back in 1885, he was shot by Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), a relative of Biff Tannen from the first two films. And so Marty and 1955 Doc dig up the time machine, and Marty, dressed in clothes he states Clint Eastwood would never wear, blasts off to 1885. After snagging his gas tank following an Indian attack, Marty is left without any means of getting back...

And so Marty stumbles upon Doc Brown, whom is now a blacksmith living in the 1885 version of his own hometown. We see the ol' clock tower, a crucial plot element from the first film, just starting to be constructed, as well as the cafe from the 1950s, 1980s and 2020s, now a rickety little saloon. (Marty orders a water, finally learning not to order Pepsi-Colas when in the past, only to be mocked be drunks in the background.) Doc Brown is delighted to see Marty, despite his request to stay in 1985. Marty explains his reason for coming and they both agree to get back to 1985...only problem is, the time machine primarily runs on gasoline for acceleration. And in 1885, gas isn't too easy to come by.

Complications only ensue even further for Marty and Doc when a schoolteacher named Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen) is rescued from falling off the edge of Clayton's Ravine by Doc Brown. (Marty later realized that preventing her death may have seriously altered the future--the ravine will no longer be named after her in remembrance of the accidental death that was prevented by Doc!) Doc and Clara, a fellow wide-eyed science lover and Jules Verne fanatic, fall in love--but Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen steps into the picture, threatening to kill Doc. Marty steps in just like he always has--only this time, it has serious consequences, as Tannen challenges Marty to a duel. (Tannen: "You yella'?" Marty: "Nobody calls me yellow.")

To be fair, "Back to the Future Part III" is a cute, simple ending to the well loved trilogy. It doesn't go for anything risky, or tricky. It entertains, for sure. The ending is a real firecracker of action set ideas. One must admire the trilogy for being so well rounded a series. And while I am pleased with the overall effect and outcome of all three films joined together, I can't help but think that Part III could have been so much better than it is. I laughed a few times. The movie plays the same parallels that Part II played. (The central idea that time and events repeat themselves is stressed more so than in the second film.) But basically, this film repeats a lot of what made Part II so genuine, only it lacks the energy and smartness of the first sequel. Whereas the two previous films never stood still long enough to be placed in a certain genre--were they action, adventure, comedy, drama, sci-fi?--"Back to the Future Part III" begins with the same sense of twisty plots and frenetic excitement that made the first two...but then it seems to fall into a rut and become a full-out Wild West comedy. Whereas the first two "Back to the Future" films were wildly original and wickedly funny, "Back to the Future Part III" just falls into a particular genre and stays there. It delivers the laughs and plays it safe for the most part, and those who found the first sequel too dark will enjoy the fluffy feel of this movie...but it fails to evoke the same playfulness and ingeniousness that established the predecessors.

I feel that as an ending to the trilogy, director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale deliberately played it a bit more safe, as opposed to how risky the film could have been, to guarantee a nice, happy ending to their series of truly fantastic films. And I enjoyed "Back to the Future Part III" as the shutting door of the series. But I can't really say I admire it too much.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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