I think Bob Gale and director Robert Zemekis forgot one thing about “Back To The Future Part III.” It was supposed to be a time travel movie. Sure, Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) travels back to the Hill Valley of the Old West in the year 1885, but once he gets there, there is not a lot of material for the beloved DeLorean.
The film picks up immediately where the last film cliff hanged. Marty is left trapped in 1955, and he receives a letter sent to him 70 years earlier from his present day Doc Brown companion (Christopher Lloyd) originally from 1985. You still with me? When Marty realizes that Doc gets shot in the back by Mad Dog Tannen (character actor great, Thomas F Wilson), he arranges with the 1955 Doc to send him back to the Old West and prevent that from ever happening.
From there, the film turns into a staple Western. There’s the calvary, Indians on horseback, quick draw duels in the street, a saloon, stage coach and wagons. Most importantly, there’s a steam engine to push the DeLorean to the necessary 88 miles per hour to send our heroes back to the future. That dilemma is solved quickly and early on. They now just have to wait for the train to arrive.
So the film calms down to allow a charming Mary Steenburgen as Clara Clayton, a schoolteacher, to capture the affection of the good ol’ Doc. When the romance seems impossible though, we get a depressed Doc. A depressed Doc Brown is never good for a movie. Consider this. It’d be so easy to just wait for the moment to travel back in time. However, obstacles get in the way, right? In the fantastic first film, Marty has to play guitar at the school dance to get the necessary first kiss between his parents thereby solidifying his existence. That’s fun…and then he kills it while performing “Johnnie B. Goode.” Here, the moment to time travel is approaching but it can’t happen because Doc is depressed. What’s so fun about that?
Like “Part II,” “Part III” is watchable. It’s not terrible by any means. It’s just a little stale. The best gag however, is Marty taking on the name of “Clint Eastwood” to build his status in the town. This allows a lot of inside jokes. What would’ve sent this film into the stratosphere is if they got the legend himself to make at least a cameo. Alas….I can dream and wonder.
“Back To Future Part III” ends the film on a sweet message like you get from other fantasies like “The Wizard Of Oz” or “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.” It reminds me that despite its shortcomings, the entire “Future” trilogy is great to share with the whole family. No doubt, there’s always something to look at and focus on.
Still, some movies that require focus specifically takes work. The first film allowed me to wonder. Wonder if all of this could be true one day. Wonder how they thought all this up. Wonder how Marty is actually going to get back to the future.
If I have to choose, I’d rather not focus. I’d rather just wonder.