This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Back to the Future Part III.”
The Movie: “Back to the Future Part III”
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Enjoying a peaceable existence in 1885, Doctor Emmet Brown is about to be killed by Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen. Marty McFly travels back in time to save his friend.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 74 percent
Froemming: I seem to be on a kick here with beloved franchises, but truth be told, I have wanted to do a “Back To The Future” film here at the JOE-DOWN for quite a while.
And while it seems over the years the first two of these films are most remembered — what with the white guy traveling back in time and inventing Chuck Berry’s career and hurling into the future and goofing around on hoverboards — I gotta say it is the third installment that heads to the Old West (looks around, whispers quietly) I like the best. Which is odd, because westerns are not a genre I am particularly into.
These movies, partly through nostalgia and partly because they are incredibly well-made films, are often go-tos for me whenever I am bored and have a day off. I grew up on these films. And now I am going to tear one of them apart. Because I am a terrible person.
As I find ways to call you “yella” throughout this review, Brown (Editor’s note: Not sure if related to Doc), what are your first thoughts on this sci-fi western?
Brown: Science was one of my weaker subjects in school, so I don’t think I’m related to Doc. If I can reference last week’s movie, “Bio-Dome,” I’m more Bud or Doyle than
Rick Sanchez Doc Brown.
I’m glad you said that you think this one is the best, because this one is awfully polarizing. Because, you know, a movie about a boy traveling back in time 30 years and almost (REDACTING) his mother, going into the Wild West is somehow too much for fans.
I hope everyone could feel my eye roll there.
With that said, sequel baggage does hover over this movie like the Delorean train… wait, save that for the end.
So, I’ll let you get to the start of this movie before we start breaking the space-time continuum.
Froemming: This picks up immediately after the events of “Part II,” where Doc disappeared in a bolt of lightning in his flying Delorean and Marty gets a letter from him from 1885.
Look, I am going to assume the readers have already watched these films. If you haven’t, being lost on the plot is on you.
Brown: And that is something you need to know about this movie: Don’t go in blank. Watch the first two. It’s humor comes from a lot of the development from three movies.
Seriously, go watch the first two “Back to the Future” movies. We’ll wait.
Did you like how Marty invented rock and roll?! How about Flea all of a sudden being in the movie to fire mid-life crisis Marty?!
Wait, we’re reviewing the third movie. Carry on, Froemming.
Froemming: Now, 1955 Doc has just sent Marty back to 1985, turns around and sees another Marty.
And he promptly faints. I do not blame him. This is pretty heavy for a man whose era believes electronics made in Japan are garbage.
He comes to after Marty brings him home, and gets caught up to speed: Future Doc and Marty keep screwing up timelines, mucking with both the past and future, and all of this information could have, you know, prevented the man from turning a spendy car in the 1980s into a damn time machine.
Brown: A spendy ‘80s car, brought to you by a man who was charged for cocaine trafficking.
So Doc Brown… ehh, future Doc, traveled back to 1885 and has hidden the Delorean in a mine that somehow goes undisturbed for 70 years in a state (California) that is ripe with fault lines. For a man who delves into all sciences, geology is one that the good doctor is a little weak on.
What Future Doc asks Marty and Past Doc to do is use ‘50s technology to bring the Delorean up to speed, get Marty home to 1985 and destroy the time machine. He also says to leave him be in the past, for he likes the ol’ west.
They reluctantly agree to this until Marty literally stumbles into Future Doc’s… ahem, future.
… I’m already confusing myself.
Froemming: Doc’s dog finds a tombstone, and Marty sees Emmett Brown was shot and murdered by Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen in 1885.
Which brings me to the genes of the McFly/Tannen family. Am I the only one troubled that every generation of these people look the same, minus George McFly? I get the joke of using the same actors and whatnot, but when we meet Seamus McFly later on, it got to be a bit much for me. It reminds me of the “Futurama” joke about Fry becoming his own grandpa.
Now, what we learned from the previous two movies about not knowing too much about your own future is thrown out the (REDACTED) window, because 1955 Doc now knows he is murdered in 1855. This leads to our two heroes once again playing God with time and deciding to go back and rescue Doc from the wrath of the Tannen bloodline.
Brown: Something that bears mentioning: When Past Doc and Marty blow up the entrance of the mine to find the Delorean, how does that not attract police attention? They get through all that trouble and don’t get hassled once. THERE WAS AN EXPLOSION IN A GRAVEYARD. CHECK THAT (REDACTED).
Froemming: These are the same two who were shot at by Libyan terrorists at a mall parking lot in the first film and the police also failed to show up.
Brown: What kind of lawless hellhole is Hill Valley? I’ve seen more manure carts (three) than policemen (a couple from 2015 that arrest future Biff if I remember correctly?).
So, disobeying the Future Doc’s wishes, Marty is set to go to 1885. So he and Past Doc go to a drive-in movie theater to have the open space necessary to do that.
Now, how the hell do they get the Delorean up to 88 MPH within an enclosed gravel lot? Having driven on many gravel roads, you’re bound to lose control if you’re going over 40 MPH. Eighty-eight sounds like a swerving death wish.
Froemming: They also dress Marty up in goofy old west clothes. Well, how a color blind drunk might envision the old west. And Marty adopts Clint Eastwood’s name when talking about the old west, which baffles Doc because Eastwood wouldn’t be famous for another decade or so.
So, with Marty’s apparent death wish gamble of driving 88 MPH on loose gravel and heading into a painting of Native Americans, he takes off to save Doc.
And the painting of Native Americans become real Native Americans in 1885, because we need Marty to run into trouble right off the bat in the middle of a California wasteland.
After driving like a professional stuntman, Marty hides the Delorean in a cave, where he finds the fuel line for his ticket home has been cut. Marty, dude, you can’t just let the car leak out all the gas man. There are no gas stations in an era where people got around riding horses.
Brown: I’m more concerned about how the technology will hold up. Know what’s a problem with modern-day technology? A (REDACTED)-ton of dirt and debris getting into everything and messing it up. You know what I imagine 1950s technology would struggle with? Dirt and debris getting into everything.
So, what does Marty have to handle when he gets to 1885? Driving in a desert, with an air ripe with dirt and debris.
Forget the fuel line breaking. I doubt any of that technology that’s on the hood of the car is going to work properly. He’s gonna die of either old age or the rickets in the 1800s.
Froemming: Didn’t all that technology also get rained on in the second film? Like, wouldn’t that have shorted some circuits or something? It certainly doesn’t seem like Doc weatherproofed this invention.
Also, for a kook scientist, Doc’s home in 1955 was shockingly nice. Where the (REDACTED) did he get the cash for that kind of house? My guess, he was the Walter White of the ‘50s and sold dope to the beatniks.
Brown: Well, at least we know the McFly’s humble beginnings when Marty is saved by his Irish immigrant great-great grandparents, Seamus and Maggie McFly. And in baby form, Marty’s great grandpa, William.
Now, to your point about all the characters of the movie being reused, I did jot in my notes that “Back to the Future” uses the Ben Stiller strategy with its characters by just placing a mustache on characters to make them completely different. Who is Seamus McFly? Why, he’s Marty… with a mustache. Mad Dog Tannen? Biff, with a mustache.
After the unforeseen family reunion, Marty makes his way to 1885 Hill Valley and runs afoul with a Tannen because of course he does.
Froemming: These movies all follow a similar beat: Marty is in a new timeline and almost instantly butts heads with a Tannen, almost each generation of likes to call people butthead.
This time, Marty goes to a saloon and orders a water. This, rightfully, causes laughter among the patrons who are hammered at 9:30 in the morning. Because it was the old west and alcoholism wasn’t known to be the awful disease it is.
Then comes Buford (who, by the way, is my favorite Tannen because he seems to have more skills, like riding a horse and lassoing people. And the mustache) looking for Emmett Brown, who owes hims $80. And of course, Marty lips off to the guy. Problem this time is that the Tannen he is agitating HAS A (REDACTED) GUN!
Brown: And Mad Dog starts shooting at Marty’s feet, making him dance in his sweet Nikes. Marty even moonwalks, which, yeah, ‘80s and all, but it’s a more off-putting moonwalk than when Christian Bale did it in “American Psycho.”
When Marty completes his MJ impression, he hits a loose board that turns a spitoon airborne and splashes all over Mad Dog.
As someone who has accidently drank his brother-in-law’s spit can because I thought there was leftover cream soda in the can, what just happened to Mad Dog is revolting. And they, rightfully, drag Marty across town and try to hang him.
But, who is there with a homemade sniper rifle, but Doc Brown, who’s able to shoot the rope and save his Morty Marty.
Froemming: I am starting to suspect that if Doc is around in 2018, he is an InfoWars style Libertarian with a cache of homemade guns and accessories and rants on Facebook comment sections.
Now we find out as Mad Dog airs his grievances that he blames Doc for his horse’s shoe to break and causing him to shoot said horse in frustration. I’m not surprised that Biff in the second film was modeled after Donald Trump. Mad Dog seems to be modeled after a time Trump thought America was great.
Brown: You’re not confusing this movie with “Part 2” where Biff pretty much was Trump, right?
Froemming: It was confirmed Dark Timeline Biff was modeled after Trump. Mad Dog seems like the essence of the #MAGA movement.
Brown: Thanks to what is the most detailed headstone in graveyard history, Marty is able to fill Doc in on his eventual death: Shot to death in the back by Mad Dog in five days.
And it always says that Doc is survived by his “beloved Clara.” But he doesn’t know a Clara. And thanks to the magic of happenstance, the mayor of Hill Valley comes by Doc’s shop and reminds him he volunteered to pick up the new teacher tomorrow at the train station.
Her name: Clara. What an M. Night Shyamalan-style twist!
And, it turns out they screwed with history AGAIN. Clara was supposed to lose control of her carriage and plummet to her death. But no, we’ll just play fast and loose with history because Doc finds love at first sight. And that came shortly after me praising this movie in my notes for having Doc deal with the consequences of his prized invention.
Froemming: Not only that, but we find out from Marty that Hill Valley’s famous old canyon was known as Clayton Canyon, named 100 years ago after the events that should have transpired. We will get back to this at the end when it is renamed, because I never caught that before in my viewings of this film.
What were Marty and Doc doing by a canyon? Well, because Marty probably failed every history exam in his life, turns out there is not gasoline in 1885. So, the figure if they can get a train to push it up to 88 MPH in time, instead of Marty being crushed to death by Delorean in a canyon, he will zoom back to 1985!
Brown: So my brother-in-law is a train conductor with Amtrak and formerly with Canadian Pacific. His estimate at how fast trains could get in the 1900s: 70 MPH. So, I am gonna call (REDACTED) on this train hitting 88 MPH, even after they pull their shenanigans.
Speaking of time travelers, we have a festival in Hill Valley and get live music performed by ZZ Top.
I mean, if there is one band where I take a look at them and think, “Yeah, it’s plausible they would be time travelers,” it would be ZZ Top.
What isn’t plausible is Marty being an amazing shot with a Colt pistol because he played a bunch of games at 7-Eleven.
During the festival, Mad Dog comes in and harasses Marty and Doc and gets kind of rapey with Clara. I’m OK with all the things that happen to anyone in the Tannen family tree.
Froemming: In all of these movies, Tannen is always a sexual predator. They really hammer that home each time.
Also, I have fired handguns before. First time, the kick shocked me the whole time. Marty being able to just learn that fast….I guess to move the plot along I guess. But I don’t believe this scenario at all.
Mad Dog is about to shoot Doc with his concealed weapon the police somehow missed because, like Brown stated, Hill Valley is a lawless hellhole. And Marty steps in to save the day.
Wait, now Mad Dog is after Marty! Who cares? Marty will be gone by the time they are supposed to duel it out, right?
Brown: That’s because Marty has “Dragonball Z” Vegeta rage whenever someone calls him chicken. Or in this case, yellow. I feel like if Princess Leia called Marty a scruffy-looking nerf herder, he would have joined the Empire just so he could fire the Death Star at Alderaan.
The town gets behind Marty, with the gun salesman giving him the Colt. Meanwhile, Doc and Clara go and, I assume, in the most scientific terms I can think of, bump uglies.
Now, the next day, Marty wakes up at Doc’s place, where there is a Rube Goldberg machine making breakfast for him. Seriously, between this and “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” what was the ‘80s obsession with breakfast machines?
We also see part of Michael J. Fox’s butt. Just wanna put that out there.
Froemming: And as Marty is strolling through town, he talks to Seamus, and we find out that Marty’s doppelganger here had a brother named Martin McFly. Turns out Martin was a hot head who lost his mind when people called him a coward, and was killed because of that.
We get an origin story of Marty’s fear of being called chicken. Something I don’t think we needed.
Now Doc wants to stay with Clara, but Marty convinces him this might cause more time travel issues. Yeah, sure Marty. Remember when you almost slept with your mom and became your own dad? I do.
Doc goes to Clara’s and confesses he is a time traveler who needs to go back to his own era, a breakup move that I am sure has a 100 percent failure rate, but I will probably try out if I ever date again just to see. Because I am a terrible person.
She is convinced this tale is stolen from a Jules Verne book, and I don’t blame her. But who falls in love this fast in real life? You are adults, act like it.
Brown: Well, for the 1880s, I think that’s probably an original way to ghost someone.
Now, I haven’t looked it up, but is Clara a reason for a lot of fans’ scorn? Or is that more the setting. Because I do actually like the dynamic of Clara and Doc. She’s nowhere near as annoying as Willie from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” I don’t like the damsel in distress thing at the end, but she doesn’t take away anything from this movie.
Froemming: Here is the funny thing. When this came out, I remember people liking it more than the second film. My friends and I liked it more, my dad liked it more, so I guess my world view was limited on this, but this is how I remember it.
I think maybe people don’t like it now is that this is a Doc Brown story, not a Marty story like the previous two. But I think we got enough of the McFly clan, and I like having Doc being more of a main character here. And I like the chemistry between Christopher Lloyd and Mary Steenburgen, who is also a favorite of mine on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
My point is that I like the changes here with Marty and Doc, and is one of the reasons I like it best. And the haters can go ahead and suck it.
Doc’s heart is broken and like everyone else in this situation, he heads to the bar. He orders a shot, and talks with the other patrons like he is wasted. Except….he isn’t. He just holds the one shot all night, which is something I really enjoy.
Brown: So Doc is three sheets to the wind after one shot of whiskey, so the bartender makes a “wake-up juice” that honestly, just looks like a Bloody Mary.
At the same time, Mad Dog is here to wreck Marty’s (REDACTED), which leads to my favorite bit of any of the three movies. Instead of biting on Mad Dog calling him a coward, Marty refuses. “He’s an a–hole. I don’t care what anyone says.”
FINALLY. Seriously, it was an applaudable moment to see Marty just be like, No, (REDACTED) this guy. Why keep stooping down to the Tannnens’ level?
Froemming: What’s the matter Brown? Too chicken to stand up for yourself?
Brown: You’re an (REDACTED). I don’t care what you think.
As it turns out, Mad Dog knows how to stoop even lower by kidnapping Doc. In another moment I really enjoyed thanks to my appreciation of Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns, Marty pulls a move from “A Fistful of Dollars” by putting an iron plate under his poncho and taking a shot from Mad Dog. It manages to both block the bullet and hurt Mad Dog’s hand when he tries to punch our hero.
Froemming: Marty sees this scene from “A Fistfull of Dollars” in Evil Biff’s room in the second film and that is where he gets the idea. I like these callbacks that connect all the films.
Brown: Eventually, Marty gets the upper hand on Mad Dog, eventually knocking him into a cart of manure.
If there’s one thing I don’t like about this movie, it’s how much they lean on the tropes of the other movies.
Froemming: The Tannen family. Sexual predators doomed to be knocked into manure. And since they never learn their lesson, the Tannens are doomed to repeat their mistakes, like being tricked by Calvin Klein and Clint Eastwood into manure.
Now it is time for Doc and Marty to break many state and federal laws by hijacking a train to push their sweet Delorean over Clayton Canyon and head back to where they belong. No worries, as we have mentioned, Hill Valley is a lawless hellhole, so the authorities will never catch wind of this.
Clara, meanwhile, is heading back to San Francisco because she was dumped after a three-day fling with Doc.
Clara, you moved to Hill Valley for your career. Doc is gone. Why are you leaving?
But on the train, she hears gossip about Doc talking about his broken heart in the bar and decides to find the crazy old kook.
Brown: As Doc and Marty steal the train, this is all I could think of:
After taking the train, they detatch the cars and put the Delorean in front of the engine. Doc makes three long-burn logs that burn hot enough to (allegedly) get the train up to 88 MPH before flying off into the ditch.
Now, Marty is in the Delorean while Doc throws in the logs. Eventually, Clara shows up and hops on the engine, trying to catch up with her love. While all this goes on, Marty opens the door of the car.
… Isn’t that going to kill the aerodynamics of the car and slow things down, cutting down on their already paper-thin probability of reaching 88 MPH?
Whatever… Science hardly applies to these movies.
Eventually, Doc and Clare escape the exploding train on Marty’s hoverboard and the Delorean hits 88 MPH before the end of the tracks, sending him back to 1985… where an oncoming train is there to destroy the time machine shortly after his arrival.
Goodbye, you ugly, ugly stainless steel car.
Froemming: And we see now that Clayton Canyon is now Eastwood Canyon, because that’s where the townsfolk assumed Clint died after his victory over Mad Dog.
The Delorean is smashed, and again, no law enforcement to investigate a train smashing into a vehicle in town. Hill Valley must be an experiment in anarchy.
Marty finds his girlfriend Jennifer, and we see Biff is still washing the McFly family vehicles. He takes Jennifer out for a ride and suddenly is harassed by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which I am guessing everybody had to deal with in late ‘80s California. Instead of letting himself go into a rage at being called a chicken, he lets Flea just race himself into oncoming traffic, so Marty has learned one lesson in all of this. Not to mess with time lines, but not to get all hot headed when insulted.
Brown: Callbacks! The accident made Future Marty miserable in 2015 working for Flea. So, MORE disaster avoided.
While checking out the damage to the Delorean, a train just appears out of nowhere, looking like something Dethklok would have used as a set piece in “Metalocalypse.” Only, it has Doc, Clare, Einstein (Doc’s dog) and the couple’s two sons to show Marty that everything worked out for the better.
Finally, we get a movie in this series that doesn’t end on a cliffhanger!
And now, Christopher Lloyd could move past Doc Brown and play such standout roles like the dad from the Hulk Hogan vehicle “Suburban Commando,” which was made a year after this movie.
As for Michael J. Fox, I’m pretty sure every movie he starred in after this, I never saw.
So… happy ending?
Froemming: Let’s steal a train and ride over to recommendations!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yes. Again, this is my favorite of the three films.
Brown: For sure. I like the first one better, but I think I would put this over “Part 2.” I don’t get some of the criticism over this one just because “LOL, Wild West.” It’s entertaining as hell.