Back to the Future Part III

I’ve been interested in looking at the Back to the Future series for a while now, but it just feels right to take a retrospective look at this timeless trilogy following a month focusing on Western movies. Why? Because Back to the Future Part III doubles as a Western.

Back to the Future Part III filmed back-to-back with Part II, and released a mere 6 months later. It earned $245 million worldwide. While that is less than Part II’s $332 million, it’s still a big profit off of its $40 million budget. It still ended up being the 6th most profitable movie of 1990. It also did better with the critics than Part II.

Empire Magazine gave the trilogy’s conclusion a 4 out of 5 stars, saying that Part III “restores heart interest of the first film and has a satisfying complete storyline.” Film Critic and historian Leonard Maltin actually prefers Part III over the first and second film, calling it a fun movie, with great special effects and imagination. Roger Ebert’s review was a bit more lukewarm, giving the movie 2.5/4, and calling the movie’s western motifs as “a sitcom version that looks exactly as if it were built on a back lot somewhere.”

There’s no need to dig too deep into this movie’s production. It filmed back-to-back with Back to the Future Part II, and I’ve already talked a bit about this movie’s production in last week’s post. One thing that’s worth mentioning is, it was actually actor Michael J. Fox’s idea to set the third chapter in the Old West. While filming the first movie Director Robert Zemeckis asked Fox what time period he’d like to see, and Fox said he’d like to visit the Old West and meet cowboys. Zemeckis and frequent collaborator, writer Bob Gale, both liked the idea. Instead of using any of the same sets as the first two movies, the Wild West version of Hill Valley was built from scratch, mostly filmed in Oak Park, California, and Monument Valley in Colorado. Some other scenes were filmed in Railtown 1897 Historic Park, near Jamestown, California.

While the back-to-back schedule was grueling for some crew members, the actors mostly found the remote locations for Part III relaxing. As expected, most of the major cast members from the first two movies returned, including the previously mentioned Fox as Marty McFly. There’s Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown.  Thomas F. Wilson briefly reprises Biff, but his bigger role is Biff’s ancestor, Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen. Lea Thompson also reprises Lorraine McFly briefly, but she also plays Maggie McFly, Marty’s great-grandmother. On that note, Fox also plays Seamus McFly, Marty’s great-grandfather. The most significant new cast member is Mary Steenburgen as Clara Clayton, who ends up being Doc Brown’s love interest.

The character of Clayton was written specifically with Steenburgen in mind. She was reluctant to appear in the movie, until her children, who loved the first movie, “hounded’ her. Also, during the Hill Valley Festival dancing scene, the overzealous dancing tore a ligament in her foot. Also, referencing her character falling in love with a time traveler, who later confesses that he must go back to her time, she talked about playing the exact same scene in another film from 1979, Time After Time.

“I’ve had a man from a different time period tell me that he’s in love with me, but he has to go back to his own time. My response in both cases is, of course, disbelief, and I order them out of my life. Afterwards, I find out that I was wrong and that, in fact, the man is indeed from another time, and I go after him to profess my love. It’s a pretty strange feeling to find yourself doing the same scene, so many years apart, for the second time in your career.”

From what I can tell, the mirror between these two rolls for her is deliberate, but also flipped. In Time After Time, her character was from the 20th century, and the time traveler came from the 1800’s. Also a side-note, Time After Time looks like a very interesting movie in itself.

Anyway, this movie isn’t quite as good as the first one, but it is overall stronger than the second. Although it follows a fairly similar basic plot as the original, it plays with the Western setting to set itself apart. The central themes are also quite different, and it’s easily the most dramatic of the three movies. Sure, there’s the love story in the first movie between George and Lorraine, but that love story only really blossoms in the final act. Before that, it’s just a comedy of errors with Marty trying to get his parents together. This time round, Doc Brown and Clara meet each other fairly early on, and while there is comedy thrown in, they’ve got several great romantic moments in the movie. Their on-screen chemistry works quite well, and the writing only enhances it further.

The drama isn’t limited to the romantic story either. The opening scene, taking place shortly after Marty returns to 1955’s Doc … seconds after Part I’s Marty travels back to the future, sets the tone for a more serious, reflective movie than the first two. There’s still plenty of great comedy, but you know before the movie truly begins that this movie’s tone will be more serious. The ending is also a touch bittersweet, with what appears to be a final goodbye between Marty and Doc. Even Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack is much more dramatic this time round. The first movie’s soundtrack fully embraced the adventure aspect of the film. The second movie’s soundtrack increases that, while also fully embraced the dark storytelling of the alternate 1985 in the second movie.

Another major point from Part II is Marty’s biggest problem – he can’t stand people calling him chicken. It feels a bit exaggerated and tacked on in the second movie, but one could understand why that’s a weakness for him, considering how much of a wimp his father was during his original timeline. This time, his tendency to say “nobody calls me chicken”, or in this case, “nobody calls me yellow”, puts him in a much more serious position than before. Long story short, he picks a fight with “Mad Dog”, who was referenced in Part II as “The Fastest Gun in the West”.  It feels a bit more natural this time round. The result is a pretty good Western style action scene, acting as a pre-climax. It even references a famous moment from A Fistful of Dollars, the first movie in the trilogy that concludes with The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Although this movie doesn’t go as far as the nightmare scenario of the alternate 1985, where Biff is very rich and powerful, this movie still explores the consequences of time travel quite well. They unintentionally interfere with a local story that ended up renaming a ravine … in two different ways.

As much as the first Back to the Future is the best movie in the trilogy overall, I like Part III just as much, for both similar and different reasons. It’s got the best overall drama in the trilogy, and the train climax is arguably the best action scene in the trilogy. It makes great use of the Western setting, without sacrificing the trilogy’s sci-fi elements. This trilogy as a whole is something special, and it’s an easy recommendation for fans of sci-fi comedy in general. It’s not very often you can say that a comedy trilogy ends well, but Back to the Future is a great example of how to conclude a comedy trilogy right.

I’m planning on next week’s blog post being an essay format post about how to improve the Star Wars Sequel trilogy, but whether I can finish it on time or not depends on how mentally tired I am from work. Long story short, I’m starting a new position this week. Either way, next month will be Bad Movie Month.

About healed1337

I am a relatively new comic book fan writing this blog for other new comic book fans and/or people who are interested in comics but don't know where to start. I've always been interested in writing, to the point where I have a college Creative Writing Certificate and I'm currently a year 2 Journalism student. I also have another blog where I mostly make fun of bad movies - As for how I got into comics, I've always had a passing interest in superheroes: most notably Batman, Spider-man and the X-Men. Until February of 2011 (I think,) my only experience with any of these franchises came from the movies and video games. Shortly after I bought Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 however, I decided to check out X-23, Wolverine's female clone. I ended up reading her Innocence Lost origin story and enjoyed it. From there, I started reading various X-Men comics and it quickly exploded into my newest hobby. My other interests/hobbies include video games, movies, music, playing sports, my dogs and weird news.
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4 Responses to Back to the Future Part III

  1. Paul Bowler says:

    I really, really like Back to the Future Part 3, for me it on par with the first film in the trilogy. The old west setting is an inspired move and the location / time period seems to give a lighter, less manic tone to events than Part 2. The whole sequence with the train was brilliant as well and I liked how it led into a satisfactory finale for the trilogy and the characters. Really enjoyed revisiting this trilogy with your reviews. 🙂


    • healed1337 says:

      It feels like Part III is the sequel they actually wanted, and Part II was the bridge necessary to bring it there. It feels that way, even after reading that writer Bob Gale’s favourite part of the trilogy to write was the nightmare 1985.

      And to think the Western setting was Michael J. Fox’s idea. He’s not just a great actor.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The whole Western setting was so predominant, almost unforgettable when thinking about this trilogy too. You talking about it here quickly refreshed my memory of it all. It was a pretty decent installment in the franchise and I’m glad to see that revisiting it has confirmed it. Best of luck with your new position at work.


    • healed1337 says:

      A lot of people really seem to like the Back to the Future game made by Telltale. I can’t get past the graphical style and rough animation, and that’s why I never played it, but the original actors for Marty, Doc Brown and Biff all return for the Xbox One/PS4 version of the game.

      There was also an animated show in the early 90s that lasted for 2 seasons. The movie creators consider this show an alternate timeline. It’s also not very good, but it does feature Bill Nye’s first ever TV appearance.

      Overall though, Back to the Future is a very satisfying trilogy in its own right, with a conclusion that actually works in an inspiring way. As much as I would have welcomed more when I was younger, I’d rather leave it as a trilogy.

      Liked by 1 person

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