Back to the Future Part III (1990)
Release Date: May 25th, 1990 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Robert Zemeckis Actors: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Lea Thompson, Elisabeth Shue, Thomas F. Wilson, James Tolkan
n November of 1955, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is miraculously sent back to his rightful place in the space-time continuum (the future of 1985, which was present day in the first film). But thanks to a complex mishap in “Back to the Future Part II,” where he’s sent further into the future (2015) to solve a problematic situation with his future self, he winds up back in 1955, once again leaving it up to the white-haired scientist Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) to straighten things out. The doc from 1985 has also landed himself in a fix – the simpler era of 1885. His current 1985 counterpart is the candidate for righting the circuitous wrongs, and the plot continues to get stickier when trying to sort out all the multiple versions of each character – for every new time jump, another set of Brown and McFly are introduced.
“It doesn’t make sense for you to be here!” screams the hysterical time travel wizard Brown, when he comes to his senses. Sadly, by this third film, the time travelling convolution is best ignored for witty bits of dialogue, hokey costumes, Clint Eastwood homages, and comedic references to the past, future, and previous two episodes (although great care was taken to maintain a consistency with the time periods and the multitudinous timelines). While digging out the DeLorean, hidden in a mineshaft bordering on a graveyard, they discover that the Brown of 1885 will die on September 7th of that year. As a slight detour, Marty is then sent back into the past with a five-day head start to save him (fortunately, he travels alone, so that only one Emmett Brown will be in 1885). At the heart of the whole film is the relatively simple idea that Marty will return to 1885, warn the doc of his upcoming demise, and then return safely to his 1985 origination. But, expectedly, nothing goes as planned – though the doctor finally gets a love interest (Mary Steenburgen) as the focus on Marty’s family is switched to Emmett’s pursuits.
Oddly, since each time jump creates awareness for a new set of characters existing during a specific time, one would imagine that in every alternate universe, the various consequences of interactions, interferences, and deaths would only affect that timeline – not all the other timelines, which is largely what McFly’s continual reintegration into his past and future is designed to alter. Another element that doesn’t line up is Crispin Glover’s un-involvement: Marty finds his past relatives looking too much like himself instead of his father, thanks to a behind-the-scenes falling out that prevented Glover’s return. At least, Thomas Wilson’s gross overacting in “Back to the Future Part II,” as the futuristic version of Marty’s father’s rival Biff Tannen, is actually quite fitting in “Part III,” as the notorious gunslinger Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen. The stereotypical caricature works nicely in this creative comedy setting. The Old West town, with all of its humorous references to the sets of the previous films, is a particular highlight.
Repetition might be drab in any other franchise, but here it’s absolutely hysterical. Many events purposefully mirror facetious gimmicks for a third time in a row, while quirky role reversals and memorable catch phrases abound; rather than appearing as if the writers have run out of jokes, this compounding just becomes funnier. Thrillingly, all the subplots come together with just seconds to spare, timed for coincidence, suspense, and laughs. With Robert Zemeckis once again at the helm, Bob Gale writing, and Steven Spielberg lending his executive producer enthusiasm, “Back to the Future Part III” is a fitting conclusion (despite an unbelievable climax) to a highly successful trilogy – even if it can’t outdo the pure genius of the original.
– Mike Massie