Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

[This article is part of Day Two of The Full Zemeckis series.]


Part 3

When Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) gets stranded in the Old West, it’s up to Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) to rescue him and bring him back to 1985. Unfortunately, in a classic Here We Go Again moment, the DeLorean can’t return, this time due to a damaged fuel line and a crippling lack of gas stations in 1885. So, it’s up to our heroes to get the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour by any means necessary, all the while dodging the trigger-happy Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) and prying Doc off of the charming new schoolteacher Ms. Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen).

You could argue that this film has the opposite problem of Back to the Future Part II and doesn’t have enough story, but I disagree. They’ve once again followed the Star Wars model and decided to ape the plot of the first film by stranding Marty in the past, but there are enough new elements to keep it fresh. There’s a love interest for Doc that brings up more time travel ethics discussions, we get to see the birth of the town that none of these characters can seem to move away from, and Marty learns about his family’s history and improves himself as a person. Also, the Old West is awesome.

Instant badass. Just add cowboy.

I’ll use this section to complain about one thing, though: why is this the most repetitive franchise I’ve ever seen? I mean, so many parts of the original movie were wonderful and unique, then in the second film, they decided to do as many of them as possible over again in a different time period.

Ha ha, this again, with the waking up and whatnot.

Okay, it’s entertaining to see two or three scenes recreated, but around the ninth or tenth time, what are you trying to say, movie? Time is cyclical? Nothing ever changes? The reason this really bothers me is that once you start cramming all these repeated moments into the third film, it has officially become a thing. It’s now a trademark of the Back to the Future franchise, and it carries over to every spin-off. I accept it as a quirk of the universe as a whole, but it makes the sequels feel more like a cartoon than the first film.

Even with touching scenes that make me melt a little.

Still, it delivers on both action and comedy, and there’s far more heart here than in Part II, especially with Doc and Clara being the cutest couple ever. Speaking of which…

We’ve seen Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox before, but who’s this lovely new lady?

Mrs. Ted Danson.

Why, it’s former H.G. Wells lover Mary Steenburgen, and this time she’s into Jules Verne and Doc’s sweet… uh, brain. She’s perfectly cast as the same sort of absent-minded science nut as Brown, and frankly, she gets to do enough stunts to qualify her for action chick status. And she brings the fury when Doc tries to give her the It’s Not You, It’s The Fact That I’m From 1985 talk. If the series hadn’t ended here, I would have loved to watch Steenburgen and Lloyd in their own Adventures of Emmett & Clara movies. Really.

Thomas F. Wilson is amazing.

Also, he needs a bath.

He plays Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen as both gritty and idiotic, which makes a portmanteau I refuse to type. You’re scared he might shoot you, but not because he’s a psycho; it’s because he’s a moron. He might pull a gun on you just because he’s confused and angry that he’s confused. Basically, he’s a man-baby with a sidearm.

Oh, and Lea Thompson and Michael J. Fox should be prosecuted for their horrible crimes against the Irish accent.

Not nearly as many as the insanity of Part II, but there’s still stuff like this:

Michael J. Fox having dinner with himself. Wow.

There’s also some fantastic model work, though I can’t always tell when it’s a model.

Probably not a model?


  • In addition to rehashing old scenes, the trend of casting the same actor as multiple family members in the sequels also irritates me. Michael J. Fox never played his own dad in the first movie, but damn, he’s every other relative in his past and future. This really shows Robert Zemeckis’s addiction to effects for the sake of effects.

Sure, Strickland too. Why the hell not?

  • I used to think this had less logic problems than Part II, but by the sheer fact that it takes place later in the trilogy, there are more opportunities for screwing up the timeline. Doc never warns Marty to keep away from his family members or Buford, even though that could be far more devastating to his existence than anything in the first movie. Doc willingly destroys a train, even though that would clearly affect the history of anything that happens in Hill Valley. Also, a problem with all three movies; if you know about a future event, can you stop it? Like, once 1955 Doc knows that 1985 Doc will get stuck in the past, can’t he pack some extra tools to repair the DeLorean when that event comes around again? Is that not possible? Or maybe that’s another wibbly wobbly thing. Don’t try to change your future. You’ll only screw it up. Oh, and I have no problem with the Time Train. There are all sorts of ways that could work. Some involving more letters from the past.
  • This easily has the most impressive music of the three films. Take the brassy Back to the Future theme, slam it headfirst into a sweeping Western score, and you’ve got magic, Mr. Silvestri.
  • I’m pretty sure I learned how to cope with a break-up from a single scene in this movie.

I don’t even care if Doc isn’t technically confused about time travel in this scene; it’s one of the greatest flip-outs ever captured on film.

“This can’t be happening! You can’t be here! It doesn’t make sense for you to be here!
I refuse to even believe that you are here!

Oh, here we go, the Great II or III Debate. The question that decides whether you’re relationship material or not. (At least in my circles.) Well, that’s easy, I pick Part III. It’s not a landslide, mind you, I just think it works better as a complete film with solid performances. Part II is a cluster of ideas; some great ideas, mind you, but if I want to kick back and enjoy a beautiful sweeping adventure with my time travelin’ pals, I go Old West every time. Also, this was the first Back to the Future movie I ever saw, so that might have something to do with it.

Now watch the whole trilogy and decide for yourself.

[Did you come over from The Full Zemeckis? You can click here to jump back to Day Two.]

A Christmas Carol (2009)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.