Review: Back to the Future Part III

In 1955, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) finds out that Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) has somehow ended up in 1885 and is set to be killed by Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). So Marty has to get in the DeLorean, travel back to 1885 and stop this from happening. Wild West-related gags ensue. Mary Steenburgen plays an 1885 school marm named Clara, Lea Thompson and Michael J. Fox (again) play Marty’s 1885 era ancestors, whilst a host of veteran character actors and one kick-arse Texas boogie band turn up in 1885.

Filmed back-to-back with the heavy-handed “Part II”, I actually saw this 1990 Robert Zemeckis (“Romancing the Stone”, “Back to the Future”, “Forrest Gump”) conclusion to the trilogy in cinemas when I was about 10. All I remembered was that it was a bit better than “Part II”, still forgettable, and ZZ Top performed one of their less appealing songs (‘Doubleback’). Looking at it again in 2017, and yeah…that’s still a pretty accurate summary on my thoughts of the film. It’s watchable but nothing special, and this should never have been a trilogy. In fact, the sequels do tarnish the rather fun original a little bit if you ask me. It’s pleasant, Mary Steenburgen was born to play an Old West school marm, and the rousing music score by Alan Silvestri (“Back to the Future”, “Flight of the Navigator”, “Forrest Gump”) is by far the best thing in the film.

It might take a little time for those of us not gifted with the largest of brains to find one’s bearings in the opener. We’re pretty much thrust into the middle of something, however it’s a really fun segment. In fact, for me it’s the most fun the film gets until the finale. Last time out I felt Michael J. Fox was phoning it in and Christopher Lloyd picking up the slack, this time out Christopher Lloyd is the one unconvincingly feigning enthusiasm. He also says ‘Great Scott!’ way too many times for one film (including three times in the first ten minutes). His best scenes are with Steenburgen, who is perfect. Basically this is lightweight western fare with fish-out-of-water humour for the most part, the latter of which I’m not often a fan of. The Clint Eastwood gags in particular are pretty lame. As to the western aspect, we get an appropriately Elmer Bernstein-ish score from Silvestri, and appearances by old favourites Matt Clark (as a bartender), Harry Carey Jr. and Dub Taylor (as barflies), as well as the unmistakable voice of Disney animation veteran Pat Buttram basically filling in for Slim Pickens. Meanwhile, Thomas F. Wilson is nearly unrecognisable and far better than in previous films playing ‘Buford’ Tannen (AKA, ancestor to Biff Tannen). He gets into the right spirit of things here without laying it on too thick like his performance in the previous film. Look for a pretty funny cameo by “Deliverance” hick Bill McKinney as a dirty-looking train engineer. It’s a shame he and the always wonderful Burton Gilliam are given very little screen time. It was a clever idea for the climax to combine a steam engine with the more modern technology of a car (and ‘future’ technology of the time machine). The ending is pretty terrific and very fitting, one of the best things about the film for sure.

This isn’t good, but it’s pleasant and a damn sight easier to bear than the previous film. I just wish the original film was left without any sequels or TV shows after it. Its legacy has been tarnished somewhat. Scripted once again by Bob Gale from a story by he and the director.

Rating: C+


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