Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: May 25, 1990
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Dean Cundey
WRITER: Bob Gale
MUSIC: Alan Silvestri
“Back to the Future Part III” has actually enjoyed a bit of a reevaluation since its initial release in 1990. At the time, though, plenty of fans didn’t really care for this Western themed entry. They either criticized it as an entry into the “Back to the Future” series or as a lackluster Western, with critic Roger Ebert describing at the time that the Western themes are “a sitcom version that looks exactly as if it were built on a back lot somewhere.”
First, let me explain the story for the few that may not have seen this film yet. At the end of “Back to the Future Part II”, Doc is accidentally zapped back to 1885 during the early frontier days of Hill Valley. Doc leaves instructions on where to find the DeLorean time machine and tells Marty that he should use the 1955 version of Doc to help get Marty back to 1985.
At first, Marty is fine leaving Doc back in 1885 because Doc says that he is living a good life and enjoys the West. However, Marty soon decides to go back when he stumbles upon Doc’s grave, which states that he dies after being shot by Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen. Once in the Old West, both Doc and Marty are trying to get the broken down DeLorean working again so that they can both travel back to ’85 and destroy the time machine for good due to all the trouble it has caused them.
I do remember that while I liked this film back when I saw it for the first time, even I was put off by the Western theme. However, I was also not particularly a fan of Westerns in general at that point, so that was probably what informed my opinion at the time. Today, I’m a much bigger fan of the movie.
Namely, I’m a bigger fan because it feels like the filmmakers intended for the movie to look as though it was shot on a back lot as Ebert described. They were not really trying to make the best Western in the world as much as they were trying to fit the Western theme in with their time travel story.
In the first two films, Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc (Christopher Lloyd) had already visited multiple points in time. They had visited ’55, the youthful time of Marty’s parents. Then, they had gone to the future in the year 2015. Finally, they revisited the very same point in ’55 to stop Biff’s plan to change the future in ’85.
It only makes sense that the next step in Marty and Doc’s time travelling adventures would be somewhere in Hill Valley’s past. Going to the Old West actually makes sense from this perspective. It is also appropriate that Doc becomes the de facto main character of the third entry while Marty supports him.
Fox and Lloyd are always great together as Marty and Doc and this film is no exception. The difference this time is that they are joined by Mary Steenburgen as Clara Clayton, a school teacher that serves as the love interest for Doc. Thankfully, not only is Steenburgen great as Clara, she shares a genuine chemistry with Lloyd and it is great to see them together.
The only real movie sin for “Part III” is that I must admit that I like the first two films more than this entry. However, that’s not saying much as this film is still a hell of a lot of fun. I also like that it brings the trilogy to a satisfying close as Marty and Doc’s time traveling adventures finally come to an end.