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30 Years Later: Back to the Future Part III

11 July 20 words: Miriam Blakemore-Hoy

On its 30th anniversary, we once again go “Back to the Future” for the iconic trilogy’s final instalment.

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen
Running time: 119 minutes

After so long, it’s hard to imagine a time when Parts I, II and III of Back to the Future weren’t all available to watch like a mini-series, and what it was like not to know the end of the story. But back in 1990, when Part III was released, it almost felt like a bit of an afterthought, following on the heels of Part II which had disappointed viewers and gained some criticism. While many plot lines between 1985, 1955 and 2015 held the first two films together, Part III went off at a bit of a tangent, careering all the way back to 1855. Maybe it started as a studio-led strategy to make money, but it seems more likely it started life as a pet project for Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, inspired perhaps by Michael J. Fox’s comments that he’d always wanted to act in a Western.

And what a Western it is! The film reads as a list of all the most Western-like things you could possibly include in one sitting – Cowboys! Indians!* Shootouts! Steam trains! Saloons! Runaway carriages! Lassos! Whiskey! It’s all in there. But so too is the screwball, frantic Back to the Futuresque comedy that we know and love. The regular old storyline gets recycled for a new era in a very satisfying way. There’s the chase around Hill Valley but with horses rather than hoverboards. There’s a country dance rather than a school dance. There’s the old “chicken” scenario and consequent chaos. Yet somehow, Part III feels like it has grown out of the shadow of Parts I and II, and adds something all of its own.

This instalment, more than either of the other two, carries the most heart

While Part II dealt with the dark and twisted consequences of time travel, Part III lightens the mood back up. And this time the focus is set more firmly on Doc. While Marty attempts to swoop in, once again, to the rescue, it is Doc Brown who becomes the hero, and Doc who falls in love. Christopher Lloyd’s frenetic and frenzied acting softens as a new side to him appears. It seems clear that the Doc who has journeyed through all the time periods has matured and mellowed. Mary Steenburgen’s Clara is the perfect soulmate for Doc Brown as they bond over their mutual love of science and science fiction. And it’s fitting that as Doc has matured and grown wiser, so too does Marty, who learns how to defeat his own personal demons.

In this respect, I’d say this instalment, more than either of the other two, carries the most heart. Not only does it tie all of the loose ends up from the other chapters, but it leaves its heroes better off because of it.

Did you know? According to producer Bob Gale, “every great stuntman in Hollywood” wanted to work on the film due to its Old West setting. Thomas F. Wilson, who plays Biff and his great-grandfather Buford, learnt to ride a horse and throw a lasso so he could do his own stunts.

*Please note this term is being used strictly in the context of the old-fashioned terminology used in the film.

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