Back to the Future Part III [Time Travel Week]

“If you don’t go out there, everyone will say that Clint Eastwood is the biggest yellow-belly in the west!”

The Scoop: 1989 PG, directed by Rovbert Zemeckis and starring Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Mary Steenburgen

Tagline: They’ve saved the best trip for last… but this time they may have gone too far.

Summary Capsule: Marty and Doc travel to the ooooooooooold west and battle the Lone Ranger and Tonto and camp out on the Ponderosa while singing Oklahoma.

Justin’s Rating: Amtrack saves the day

Justin’s Review: Somehow Back to the Future Part III suffers from what I call “Star Trek IV Syndrome”; in trying to make the series more accessible to the general public, it removed a lot of the sci-fi elements that drew the huge fan devotion. I guess it’s a rare syndrome, but when a popular series resorts to time traveling to a nostalgic locale just to draw in the numbers, it hurts me way deep inside. Back to the Future Part III sends Marty and Doc back to 1885, which would be sorta okay, except that the film just stays there for the most part. The car doesn’t even fly anymore, for crimminy’s sake! It takes this great time traveling series and turns it into a mere western. Not to say it’s bad, but they did completely sell out like common prostitutes.

Doc’s trapped back in the past, and Marty travels from 1955 to 1885 to save him. Of course, this cannot resolve itself easily, as Doc falls in love and Marty faces a death-dealing duel. I know you love my alliterations, save your autograph requests for the end. It’s a light-hearted western romp, and it’s neat to see Doc use old technology for new purposes. While every western cliché is explored — from the saloon to the duel at high noon — with Marty’s 80’s-savvy worldview, it’s given a fresh face. Unfortunately, since the time period is so much before 1985, the anachronisms and culture compares aren’t as ironic as they were in the first Back to the Future. The one encounter Marty has with his family line is dull and a bit confusing (why would his grandmother, or great-grandmother, look like his own mother? Only inbreeding can answer this quandry!).

My other grump with Part III is the Doc Brown romance subplot. Up to now, the focus of the series was pretty much on Marty; now, Doc takes the spotlight and spends most of the film mooning at Clara (Mary Steenburgen). Moving? Not quite. Romantic? Hardly. Slightly charming? I suppose so. Again, I felt that this took the focus off “saving the future history” and putting it smack on “here’s a cute romance so you non-sci-fi chums can purr with contentment”.

But… all in all, I can’t complain too much. It’s a solid film with several comedic high points, and the climatic end with a runaway train regains much of the energy that was previously lost. It was nice to see the series wrapped up so nicely (yet quickly); I just wish some other time periods could’ve been explored as well.

Did I mention we have a cameo by MR. HOVERBOARD? Oh, you knew… okay. I’ll go now.

Hill Valley 1885 Yearbook: Most Likely to Travel in Time

Intermission!

  • Doc keeps facing Tannen in the festival scenes because he knows from the tombstone that he’ll be shot in the back
  • At the drive-in, the 3 films listed on the marquee are all sequels and all Universal films
  • When Marty encounters the Indians, the editing makes them appear much closer, then much farther away with each shot
  • The west didn’t have great filtered water
  • Doc’s western pad has a similar automated breakfast-maker that was in the first movie
  • In Back to the Future Part 2, Biff watches Per un pugno di dollari in the alternative 1985, in which Clint Eastwood’s character uses steel plating underneath his poncho. Marty (calling himself “Clint Eastwood”) uses the hatch from a stove under his poncho in 1885.
  • The sign at the train crossing in 1985 identifies the location as “Eastwood Ravine”.
  • ZZ Top cameos as the band playing at the festival
  • Michael J. Fox plays both Marty McFly and Seamus McFly
  • The train takes a full minute to traverse the last quarter-mile of track, corresponding to a speed of 15 mph, nowhere near 88 mph.
  • Doc and Marty both arrive in 1885 in separate DeLoreans. The second one is completely ignored in their search for gasoline.
  • They said that the ravine was named for Clara when she fell in and died. On Doc’s tombstone, it said it was erected by his beloved Clara, who he met when he saved her FROM falling into the ravine. Since she was supposed to fall in, Doc and Clara should have never met. [Thanks Jonathan J.]
  • NitroFishing rebuts: “Doc and Clara still could have met. The Mayor asked Doc to pick her up and only decided not to when he and Marty were talking in the Blacksmith shop. The problem is that Marty should not have known about a teacher falling into the ravine if she had saved her from falling in. Nor should the ravine ever been named Clayton Ravine. But I suppose they could use the excuse that everything changed around them and that’s how they remembered.”
  • For those craving more Back to the Future, there was a special on TV in 1990 called “Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy”. Also, from 1991 to 1993 there was a Back to the Future cartoon (with Dan Castellaneta, who does the voice of Homer Simpson, doing some of the voices).
  • The filmmakers were editing the second movie while shooting the third.
  • This movie featured Christopher Lloyd’s first on-screen kiss.

Groovy Quotes

Doc Brown: Reach!
Engineer: Is this a holdup?
Doc Brown: It’s a science experiment!
Doc Brown: Clara was one in a million. One in a billion. One in a googolplex!

Tavern guy: If you don’t go out there, everyone will say that Clint Eastwood is the biggest yellow-belly in the west!

Marty: You’re my… you’re my… who are you?

Marty: Great Scott!
Doc: I know, this is heavy.

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7 Comments

  1. RE Clayton/Eastwood Ravine: Marty and Doc knew the ravine as Clayton Ravine because in the *original* timeline–before any of the time traveling took place–Doc was not there to save Clara when her horses spooked. In the timeline where Buford shoots Doc in the back, he may not have made the connection that Clara was the namesake of the ravine He greeted her at the station, drove her to her homestead, and fell in love. She never needed to be “rescued” in that timeline. When Marty shows up, altering the timeline yet again, he remembers that the ravine was named for a schoolteacher who had died. I don’t have a copy of the movie handy; but as I recall, Marty’s arrival delayed Doc from greeting the schoolteacher, it was not a conscious avoidance.

    Really geeking out now, but I would say that even though the characters’ decisions don’t always make sense other than to move the plot along (i.e., Doc dragging Marty to 2015 instead of writing a letter), the timelines themselves are pretty consistent, a great job by Zemeckis and Gale.

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