Thursday, 22 October 2015

Film Review: Back to the Future III


We've seen the past, the present and the future; now, in the third and final Back to the Future film, director Robert Zemeckis transports us back in time further than ever before to 1885 and the Old gun-slinging West. Here are my thoughts on the concluding chapter of this iconic cinema series.

Back to the Future II ends with an excellent cliffhanger - having reset the present (again), the Doc and Marty are preparing to return to 1985 when, out of nowhere, the Doc and the DeLorean are zapped back in time to 1885. By this point there are multiple versions of the DeLorean dotted around 1955 and, aided by information 1885 Doc has given him in a letter, Marty is able to travel back in time to rescue Doc from the past.

A lot of people prefer Part II, and a lot of people prefer Part III. In my experience, it's pretty much an even split. But, personally, I've always liked the second entry better; looking back on Part III now, it almost feels like a self-parody of itself. In trotting out the same catchphrases, premises and ideas for a third time, the series is starting to feel more than a little stale by the time the Doc and Marty return to 1985 for the last time.

For example, the series returns to this idea of Marty reacting negatively to being called 'chicken', and is goaded into fights by numerous generations of the Tanner family. It's funny at first, but the joke wears thin eventually. However, it does come back around and tie in with the rest of the series at the end - Marty refuses to street race with Needles and avoids the car crash that would consequently cause him to lose his job in 2015. It's obscure, but does show how tightly these films are written. The hoverboard makes a return in the climax of this film too, having been a key part of the second movie - it's the little details like this (and hundreds of others) that make this film worth revisiting. Even now, I'm discovering new things that I'd never seen before.

One positive for this third film is that it does have a much clearer three act structure than the preceding one. Where Part II is loopy and complicated, Part III returns to the simple premise of the Doc and Marty finding a way to return to 1985 using technology they have on hand in that time period. Unable to rely on lightning to power their car, the Doc and Marty devise a plan where they propel the car up to 88 miles an hour using a steam locomotive - and onto a bridge that isn't built yet, but will be when the car reappears in 1985. It's clever because the characters (and the audience) are made to think in four dimensions, and the scene at the drive-in cinema introduces this concept really well.

Even though Part II and III were filmed back to back, they're quite different tonally - this final chapter is lighter and funnier, with countless references to classic Hollywood Westerns; some, like Marty calling himself Clint Eastwood are on-the-nose, whilst others are a bit more subtle. I really like the Western genre so I've always enjoyed this aspect of the film - even if characters like 'Mad Dog' Tannen are silly caricatures of cliched Western baddies.

Another element that works really well is the love story between Clara and the Doc - it's a great idea to give Christopher Lloyd's character a happy ending, even if their courtship is a bit rushed (less than a week and he's ready to give up everything? This kind of stuff only ever happens in movies). Anyway, Clara (Mary Steenburgen) is a great addition to the cast and the perfect partner for the eccentric Doc. The ending does feel like it jumps the ship a little - Zemeckis takes a lot of liberties with Doc's steampunk locomotive time machine - but the series still ends on a high note where everything that matters, ties together in a neat little bow.

On the other hand, the less said about Doc's creepy youngest son, the better (seriously, what is that kid doing with his hand in that final scene?!)

The Verdict: 6/10


There is a lot to love in Back to the Future III, but the series is starting to overstay its welcome just a tad. Don't get me wrong, it's a timeless trilogy that rings true to this day - the final farewell is fitting, and the introduction of Clara gives this last chapter extra heart - but the incessant running gags make this third outing feel a little too goofy in places.

Thanks for reading my series of Back to the Future reviews this week - I'd love to hear your thoughts on this final film, and on the series as a whole. Be sure to leave me a comment down below!

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