One of the most touching moments in the entire Back to the Future Trilogy comes about halfway through Part III when Doc (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty (Michael J. Fox) get their picture taken in front of the brand new clock, which will soon sit atop the new town courthouse. If there is one image that ties the three movies together, it is that clock; and seeing the two of them standing beside it in its infancy, reminds us what it is all about: time.
This installment takes place right where the second film left off. A bolt of lightning has zapped Doc and the DeLorean back to the old west. Right after the incident, Marty receives a letter from Doc, saying how he is alive and well, living happily as a blacksmith in the year 1885. He has no intentions of ever leaving 1885 and has left instructions to fix the time machine (which he left buried in an abandoned mine) only to get Marty home to 1985. However, when Marty discovers a gravestone saying that Doc will be killed less than a week after he wrote the letter, he decides he has no choice but to travel back in time and save his friend’s life.
Getting him out of 1885 should be easy, right? Just crank the DeLorean up to 88mph and “poof” they’re home. The solution is not so easy, however, because Marty has punctured the fuel tank and gas is not readily available in 1885. Now Marty and Doc must avoid the dangerous Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), while finding a way to get their car up to speed.
Back to the Future Part III may lack the immediacy of the original film and the wacky time paradoxes of the second, but it is probably the most playful and fun of all three films. In many ways, the film works as a spoof of Hollywood westerns. Director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Bob Gale must have had a lot of fun coming up with ways to both poke fun at and pay homage to the deceased genre. Little did they know that thanks to movies like Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven, the genre was about to make a comeback.
Many of their best gags come at the expense of Clint Eastwood (in good humor of course), whose name Marty uses as an alias. “If you don’t go out there . . . everybody everywhere will say Clint Eastwood is the biggest yellow-belly in the west” has to be the most ironically funny line in the entire trilogy. You probably didn’t notice, but the two movies playing at the drive-in where Marty departs for the Old West were playing movies in which young Clint Eastwood had bit parts.
Part III also introduces a new love in Doc Brown’s life, the sweet schoolmarm Clara played perfectly by Mary Steenburgen. Steenburgen plays the role with a perfect balance of intelligent woman and love struck girl. Meanwhile, Christopher Lloyd proves that he has the acting chops to play a romantic character, something that has never been explored in any of his other films.
Part III is not all in-jokes and romance, however, and the movie doesn’t fail to stage its fair share of rousing action. The signature sequence, of course, is the final push to get the DeLorean up to 88mph. The threat of the incomplete bridge adds another dimension to the suspense. Suddenly are characters are dealing with time and space.
Back to the Future Part III is a worthy ending to one of Hollywood’s best trilogies. I give it an A-.