Back to the Future Part III (1990)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #7

They’ve saved the best trip for last…
But this time they may
have gone too far.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 118 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 25th May 1990 (USA)
UK Release: 11th July 1990
First Seen: VHS, c.1991

Stars
Michael J. Fox (Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, The American President)
Christopher Lloyd (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead)
Mary Steenburgen (Parenthood, Step Brothers)
Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future, Born to Be Wild)
Lea Thompson (SpaceCamp, Some Kind of Wonderful)

Director
Robert Zemeckis (Death Becomes Her, The Polar Express)

Screenwriter
Bob Gale (Used Cars, Back to the Future)

The Story
With Doc stuck in 1885, Marty McFly must travel back to save him before he’s killed by Biff Tannen’s ancestor, Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen. With the DeLorean damaged during his arrival in the past, they also have to come up with a plan to get back to their correct time…

Our Heroes
Marty McFly finally grows as a human being as he learns some stuff this time, while Michael J. Fox also gets to ham it up a little as his Irish ancestor, Seamus. Christopher Lloyd, meanwhile, is still the one and only Doc.

Our Villain
It’s Thomas F. Wilson again, this time as Biff’s trigger-happy Wild West ancestor, Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen. Who also gets covered in excrement.

Best Supporting Character
Mary Steenburgen is one of the few wholly original characters in either sequel, the love of Doc’s life, Clara Clayton. She’s also a confident, competent, and capable female character — a character type that’s only now ceasing to be a rarity in effects-y blockbusters, 25 years after this was made.

Memorable Quote
“Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one, both of you.” — Doc

Memorable Scene
Marty and Doc hijack a train in the hope of using it to get the DeLorean up to the required 88mph. As the looted locomotive heads towards a mighty fall off an unfinished bridge, it turns out Clara is on board too. Tension! Action! Excitement! What more do you want from a climax?

Truly Special Effect
With the DeLorean destroyed, the film ends with a reveal of Doc’s new time machine, and it’s awesome.

Making of
There are tonnes of lines, jokes, characters, locations, and even background details referenced back and forth across the whole trilogy, but only one actual scene appears in all three: the moment Marty travels from 1955 to 1985. It’s the climax to the first film, then appears at the end of Part II, and consequently is in the ‘recap’ at the start of Part III.

Previously on…
Part III indeed: this picks up exactly where the second film left off, and they were shot back-to-back. It’s fundamentally standalone other than that, mind.

Next time…
As mentioned on the first film, Back to the Future has continued in an animated series, theme park ride, video game, and a comic book that started last year. Plus Doc Brown turned up in A Million Ways to Die in the West, so… there’s that…

Awards
2 Saturn Awards (Supporting Actor (Thomas F. Wilson), Music)
4 Saturn nominations (Science Fiction Film, Director, Supporting Actress (Mary Steenburgen), Costumes)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
Back To The Future Part II teed off a lot of critics by not being a remake of the first film, and for daring to be a) complicated, b) very fast and c) heartless. Part III, which is slightly less fleet of foot, restores heart interest of the first film and has a satisfying complete storyline.” — Kim Newman, Empire

Score: 74%

What the Public Say
“One of the clearest indications of an excellent series is an ending is so satisfying you can’t even be mad the adventure is over. Part III delivers a happy ending so well-rounded […] there is no yearning for more story. I remember feeling quite content after seeing that movie for the first time; actually more like thrilled that the trilogy ended on such a great note.” — Avril Brown, Comics Waiting Room

Verdict

The consensus used to be that Part III was unquestionably the weakest part of the trilogy, a slightly bizarre Old West-set addendum to the first two. These days, I feel like an increasing number of people say it’s definitely better than Part II. Personally, I’ve always had a particular fondness for it. I’m not entirely sure why. Much like the second film, it can’t attain the perfection of the first movie, but it can be the next best thing — a fun and funny adventure with these great characters. And even as I say “they’re not as good as the first one”, I don’t wholly believe it: to me, Back to the Future never has and never will be just one film, or one film and its two sequels — it’s a trilogy; a three-parter. (So there.)

#8 will be… an alliterative origin.

Back to the Future Part II (1989)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #6

Getting back was only the beginning.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 108 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 22nd November 1989 (USA)
UK Release: 24th November 1989
First Seen: VHS, c.1991

Stars
Michael J. Fox (Doc Hollywood, The Frighteners)
Christopher Lloyd (Clue, The Pagemaster)
Lea Thompson (Red Dawn, Casual Sex?)
Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future, High Strung)
Elisabeth Shue (Adventures in Babysitting, Leaving Las Vegas)

Director
Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cast Away)

Screenwriter
Bob Gale (1941, Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road)

The Story
Marty and Doc travel forward to 2015 to save Marty’s son from imprisonment, but this allows future-Biff to steal the DeLorean, taking it back to 1955 to allows his younger self to profit from future knowledge. Faced with a nightmare version of 1985, Marty must travel back into the events of the first movie to fix things.

Our Heroes
Michael J. Fox is not only Marty McFly, but older Marty McFly, and his son, Marty McFly Jr., and also… his daughter, Marlene McFly. Just in case you’d forgotten these were comedy movies, I guess. Christopher Lloyd, meanwhile, is the one and only Doc.

Our Villain
It’s Thomas F. Wilson’s Biff again, but this time he’s not just a bully, but someone who — thanks to his meddling in time — represents a threat to Marty’s whole lifestyle. And he’s a right nasty piece of work in the dystopian variant of 1985, too. Still gets covered in excrement, mind.

Best Supporting Character
Spare a thought for Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer. The end of the first film has her getting in the DeLorean with Doc and Marty, because she was there and the ending was never intended to lead to anything (yes, kids, once upon a time movies weren’t made with the assumption there’d be sequels). Come the second film, Zemeckis and Gale were stuck having to integrate her into the story, which they did by… knocking her out early on and leaving her out of it.

Memorable Quote
“The time-traveling is just too dangerous. Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women!” — Doc

Memorable Scene
30 years in the future, they’re still making crappy Jaws sequels. (The irony now is, in the real 2015 we were still getting often-crappy sequels to pretty much every major ’70s/’80s franchise except for Jaws.)

Technical Wizardry
You’ll believe a board can hover. Well, you probably won’t, but some people did. That’s just testament to how well made the sequence is.

Truly Special Effect
Quite apart from the hoverboard, the sequence where they first arrive in 2015 — a ‘road’ of flying cars in a rainy nighttime sky — is a triumph of model work.

Making of
For various reasons (possibly moral, possibly financial) Crispin Glover refused to return as Marty’s father, George McFly. Instead, the filmmakers used outtakes from the first film, as well as an actor wearing prosthetics made from casts of Glover taken for the first film. Glover objected to his likeness being used without permission, sued, and Universal settled out of court. More than that, it led to a change in contract rules at the Screen Actors Guild to stop the same thing happening again. (See also: The Four Musketeers.)

Previously on…
Not only does Part II pick up exactly where the first film ended, it goes back into its events and interacts with them.

Next time…
Part II ends with a huge cliffhanger, leading directly into the series’ final trilogy-forming instalment.

Awards
1 Oscar nomination (Visual Effects)
1 BAFTA (Special Effects)
1 Saturn Award (Special Effects)
3 Saturn nominations (Science Fiction Film, Costumes, Make-Up)

What the Critics Said
“Like its predecessor, Back to the Future Part II does not merely warp time; it twists it, shakes it and stands it on its ear. But as before, the film’s technical brilliance is the least of its appeals. Satirically acute, intricately structured and deftly paced, it is at heart stout, good and untainted by easy sentiment.” — Richard Schickel, TIME

Score: 63%

What the Public Say
“the biggest prediction the film nails is not any one piece of technology, but our reaction to it: indifference met with annoyance of its imperfections. The movie focuses not on what the technology can do, but on what it can’t. The skyway’s jammed. Marty’s hover board doesn’t work on water. The voice-activated home-entrance lights don’t turn on when Jennifer enters. […] What we get is “the future” as “the present.” None of the doom, destruction and dystopia of Blade Runner or The Time Machine. 2015 Hill Valley and 2015 Chicago are just like 1985 Hill Valley and 1985 Chicago, only with cooler stuff.” — Jack M Silverstein, ReadJack.com

Verdict

There are some who consider Back to the Future an all-time classic and think the two sequels are meritless wastes of space. There are others who see them as a complete trilogy of more-or-less equal quality. Considering that ever since I’ve seen them all three parts have existed, it isn’t much surprise I’m one of the latter. Part II may not have the elegant simplicity of the first film, but it still has plenty of original and exciting ideas, not least using the time travel conceit to go back into the first movie. It may not be as good, but it’s a fine adventure in its own right.

#7 will be… wicky wicky wild wild West.

Back to the Future (1985)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #5

He was never in time for his classes…
He wasn’t in time for his dinner…
Then one day…
He wasn’t in his time at all.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 116 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 3rd July 1985 (USA)
UK Release: 4th December 1985
First Seen: VHS, c.1991

Stars
Michael J. Fox (Teen Wolf, Stuart Little)
Christopher Lloyd (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, The Addams Family)
Lea Thompson (All the Right Moves, Howard the Duck)
Crispin Glover (Willard, Alice in Wonderland)
Thomas F. Wilson (Action Jackson, The Heat)

Director
Robert Zemeckis (Romancing the Stone, Forrest Gump)

Screenwriters
Bob Gale (I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Trespass)
Robert Zemeckis (1941, A Christmas Carol)

The Story
After Marty McFly travels back to 1955 in a time machine invented by his friend, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown, he accidentally prevents his teenaged parents from meeting. It’s up to Marty to make them fall in love and therefore ensure his own existence.

Our Hero
A star-making turn from Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, cocky teen and guitar hero.

Our Villain
Thomas F. Wilson is Biff Tannen: in the ’80s, McFly Sr’s bullying supervisor; in the ’50s, McFly Sr’s high school bully. Prone to getting covered in excrement.

Best Supporting Character
An equally iconic turn from Christopher Lloyd as Doc, mad scientist extraordinaire.

Memorable Quote
“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” — Doc

Memorable Scene
The climax: Marty’s one hope to get back to 1985 is a bolt of lightning that will strike the town’s clock tower, which he can use to power the DeLorean. As the moment approaches, Doc battles to connect the wiring, and Marty must make sure the car is travelling at the right speed at the right moment… Well, of course they succeed, and Doc skips happily between the time machine’s flaming tyre tracks.

Write the Theme Tune…
In a rare case of an iconic movie theme from the ’70s and ’80s not composed by John Williams, Back to the Future’s memorable motif was composed by Alan Silvestri.

Technical Wizardry
To some, the DeLorean is a failed automobile. To a generation (and, probably, every generation since) it’s one of the most iconic movie cars of all time. “Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?” “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” Genius.

Making of
It’s now quite well known that Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty, and had even started filming before it was decided he wasn’t right and was replaced with Michael J. Fox. This wasn’t after just a day or two of production, though: Stoltz filmed for four weeks, completing a significant chunk of the film. So much, in fact, that it wasn’t all re-shot with Fox: most of the material without Marty actually on screen was retained (Fox had to film reverse angles for dialogue scenes without the other actors present), and a couple of long shots in the finished film actually feature Stoltz.

Next time…
Two direct sequels (the first of which picks up immediately from the end of this one), as well as an animated series, an iconic theme park ride, a computer game from adventure maestros Telltale, an ongoing comic book that launched last year, and a semi-disastrous Secret Cinema event.

Awards
1 Oscar (Sound Effects Editing)
3 Oscar nominations (Original Screenplay, Sound, Original Song)
5 BAFTA nominations (Film, Original Screenplay, Editing, Production Design, Visual Effects)
3 Saturn Awards (Science Fiction Film, Actor, Special Effects)
6 Saturn nominations (Director, Supporting Actor (Crispin Glover and Christopher Lloyd), Supporting Actress (Lea Thompson), Music, Costumes)
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
“though it is hardly one of the greater flights of cinematic imagination to be seen since science fantasy reared its head as mass appeal material again, it would be virtually impossible not to enjoy it in some way or another.” — Derek Malcolm, The Guardian

Score: 96%

What the Public Say
“nothing short of an example of screen-writing brilliance. Tightly pack[ed] and interwoven from the opening scene to the final ‘cliffhanger’ which, let’s face it, was never meant to be a cliffhanger as much as just a cool and intriguing ending to a stand alone film.” — nEoFILM

Verdict

Who knew a movie about mother-son incest could be one of the most entertaining family comedies ever made? That’s because it’s magnificently written, faultlessly performed, packed with inventiveness… oh, and because the mother is the same age as the son, doesn’t know he’s her son, and the incest doesn’t actually happen. Ah, time travel! A notoriously difficult sci-fi nut to crack, another reason BTTF succeeds is because it isn’t really about time travel. One of those times where talent and good fortune come together to craft perfect movie entertainment.

Roads? Where #6 is going, it doesn’t need roads…