"Shot in the back by Buford Tannen, over a matter of eighty dollars? What kind of a future do you call that?”
We Follow Marty and Doc to the Old West in Back to the Future Part III
Back-to-back film production doesn’t occur often because it could potentially prove costly for the production company. With the success of Back to the Future, however, Universal saw it had an audience and likely could earn back the budget if they shot the second and third films back to back. So even though largely the two films are in completely different areas (and times) with widely different casts, Robert Zemeckis and his team set out to make both films in 1989. Back to the Future Part II released in 1989 as he was finishing up post on the third installment, which he finished to release six months later, and Universal more than made their money back. Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we wrap up our Back to the Future series with a look at Zemeckis’ 1990 film Back to the Future Part III.
How does it work after the problematic second film?
Largely, we both enjoyed this one much more than the second film but not as much as the first. If there’s one thing that makes itself quite apparent, it’s Zemeckis’ and his co-writer Bob Gale’s struggle with time travel logic and exposition across the second and third films. This one largely stays in the same setting through the bulk of the film, so at least it’s not bouncing across five distinct settings like the second film was, and this film focuses on the love story between Doc Brown and Clara, the new school teacher. We love that part of the film.
But it still raises a lot of questions. Why do relatives in the McFly and Tannen families always look like Michael J. Fox and Thomas F. Wilson, respectively? It feels like it’s just there for them to play with the motion control cameras and to be riding the edge of film technology. It’s fun and it fits in a certain comic book tone the films have, but it also doesn’t line up with rules established in the first film.
This film also really highlights that Zemeckis and Gale didn’t know what to do with the female characters. Jennifer’s been largely abandoned. Lea Thompson plays Marty’s great-great grandmother now (is there another great- in there?) but doesn’t get to do much. And Mary Steenburgen – who shines as Clara – also feels a bit underwritten.
Still, it’s a story about Marty and Doc and to that end, it works and we have fun with it. Plus, the effects are great and the stuntwork is top notch.
It’s definitely a film worth revisiting as it’s a ton of fun, but like the second also ends up feeling like something that doesn’t have to be revisited again. Perhaps we’ll just stick with the first one. Regardless, it gives us a ton to discuss, so check it out again then tune in. The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins!
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