Back to the Future Part III mixes up sci-fi and the American West to give audiences a thrilling conclusion to the time-traveling trilogy.
One thing I love about the Western aspect of the film is that they pay homage to John Ford. Rick Carter has his work cut out by designing the production in Monument Valley. They also pull another homage by casting three Western veterans to hang out at the saloon: Pat Buttram, Harry Carey Jr., and Dub Taylor. I certainly agree with Steven Spielberg when he says that the Western portion of this film can challenge any others that came before it. Well, minus the whole time travel part of it all! And again, choosing Monument Valley is one of the best decisions that they can make in concluding it all.
After learning that Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is living in 1885, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) works with Brown’s 1955 counterpart to repair the time machine. Marty also veers off the path from the instructions. He is told to return to 1985. Instead, he decides to go to 1885 in order to save Doc Brown from Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) killing up. Overall, there is no shortage of comedic material that filmmakers can draw from the situation. Marty, once again, is a man out of time. The Clint Eastwood joke only manages to write itself. It certainly is no different than the first film where Lorraine refers to him as Calvin Klein. I suppose he could have called himself John Wayne but Eastwood was the biggest Western star at the time of production.
The filmmakers manage to give audiences one final thrilling set piece–this time, it involves a train. It’s one hell of a set piece that does not get pulled off without miniatures in use. Thankfully, they are able to get the shot. That speaks to the thrill of watching these explosive set pieces in action. One wrong move and it means having to redo the entire shot altogether.
We also manage to learn a few things about the McFly family in this film. One, they are of Irish descent. However, there is something here that always troubles me no matter how many times I watch the movies. Lea Thompson plays Maggie McFly, the wife to Seamus McFly (Michael J. Fox). It begs the question of wondering if George McFly and Lorraine Baines-McFly are cousins. If so, I have some questions. How closely or distantly related are they? There’s nothing against Lea Thompson as a performer because I’m sure they were just looking to utilize her skills for another role in the franchise.
In concluding the trilogy, the film also continues some running gags. Thomas F. Wilson ends up in manure in every film. Michael J. Fox always has to respond to someone calling him a chicken or something similar. Meanwhile, the film also does something different from the two previous outings. They manage to give Doc Brown a girlfriend, Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen). Steenburgen’s role mirrors her previous role in 1979’s Time After Time.
Alan Silvestri returns to compose the score. Silvestri approaches the film by paying homage to the great American Western movies. In listening to the third film, Silvestri calls back the earlier themes during the opening titles. However, the end credits theme feels like Erich Wolfgang Korngold could have written it during the 1930s and 1940s. I just love the way it sound and honestly, I’m trying to figure out if I like this theme better than the first movie! Mind you, I have also been on a Western kick of late. I wake up every morning to Alan Silvestri’s theme for The Avengers so maybe I’m due for a new alarm tune in the rotation. Next to John Williams, Silvestri has given us several ringtone/alarm worthy theme songs but this is another article in and of itself.
Nostalgia has become a big deal lately. We’re seeing it in May with Star Trek, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Top Gun: Maverick. Let me just say that there’s no need to follow this up with another Back to the Future film. It certainly could not be done without Marty McFly and Michael J. Fox’s health issues prevent him from doing another film. I suppose they could follow the adventures of Doc Brown’s family but again, it just would not be the same without Marty. Some films should just be left alone after the conclusion of their trilogies and Back to the Future is one of them. Even though Part II goes to darker places than we’d like, the overall trilogy is one of the best in cinematic history. All of this said, there’s the Doc Brown Saves The World! short film to go over some of technological advances in recent years.
Back to the Future Part III is a return to form for a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy and a fun time in the Old West. What we ultimately learn from the movies is that our futures are whatever we make it.
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
SCREENWRITERS: Bob Gale
CAST: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson, and Lea Thompson
Universal released Back to the Future Part III in theaters on May 25, 1990. Grade: 4/5
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