Rogue Element #127: In Defense of ‘Back to the Future: Part III’
By Avril Brown
Recently a good friend and most excellent writer wrote a fantastic article on the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy, in particular the second installment and how it helped shape the series. The essay is quite the enjoyable read not only for the obvious love and passion he feels towards these iconic films, but for the thought-provoking nature of his interpretations.
However, I have to strongly object to the shade thrown towards ‘Part III.’
I have never understood the lack of love for the final piece of this time-traveling trilogy. What is not to adore about this movie? We’ve got Old West adventure, romance, great humor, new takes on familiar lines, a new milestone in an unbreakable friendship and one of the best happy endings to a movie ever. ‘Part III’ was the perfect wrap up to an ageless series, and it deserves some respect.
While my first experience with ‘Part II’ gave my little seven-year-old brain a bit of a time travel headache (hell, even the series title confused me at first; how does one go back to the future if the future is ahead?), I remember ‘Part III’ as being non-stop fun. Marty literally hit the ground running as soon as he arrived in 1885, between the Indians, the bear and later being dragged through the town square by his neck; you could tell right away this was going to be one hell of a final ride.
Now that I’m a little older I can more fully appreciate the delicate balance of themes this film managed to find. Of course, Doc and Marty’s friendship is at the forefront. You can’t necessarily call it an evolution; it was more of a fortification than anything else. Their friendship didn’t need to be tested; it was tried and true from the beginning. The trilogy allowed us to see all aspects of it from several different perspectives, and ‘Part III’ gave us the most bang for our buck. We get Marty and Doc from the past, but he doesn’t need to convince this Doc of his legitimacy as a time traveler like he did in ‘Part I;’ they’re already bros. Then we have the ‘original’ Marty and Doc, hanging out in the past, keeping each other alive and in trouble. Finally we have future Doc popping by for a quick hello to let his friend know that not only is he ok, but he’s living the dream with his beautiful family, and will probably stop by here and there for a visit and an adventure.
Some argue that the running gags present in all three movies are overdone, but I say they’re all part of the trilogy’s inherent cheesy charm. Plus, they were already repetitive by ‘Part II’ which is mostly ‘Part I’ seen from a different angle. ‘Part III,’ however, gives them new life and whimsy. Marty and Doc switch up their signature lines, with Marty uttering “Great Scott!” during a moment of stress and Doc following with, “I know, this is heavy.” Marty once again wakes up to a familiar face after yet another blow to the head (he really should get a MRI; his concussions probably have concussions at this point), only this time he has no clue whom this familiar face belongs to. Of course there was another dance, but this time the tuneage is provided by ZZ Top; try and argue against their awesomeness and you’re dead to me. Of course there’s also the jargon confusion, but ‘Part III’ has the best scene, and possibly the most hilarious moment in the series. In ‘Part I’ Doc questioned Marty’s use of the word ‘heavy,’ concerned there was something wrong with the Earth’s gravitational pull in the future. In ‘Part III’ a pissed off Mary storms up to ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen and tells him to, “Lighten up, jerk!” The look of pure bewilderment on Tannen’s face, and his cronies whom he turns to for a translation, is gold. Not wanting to lose face in front of his foe, Tannen nevertheless recognizes fighting words when he hears them and responds, “Mighty strong words, runt!” despite having no clue what those words really mean.
There was also an abundance of strong women in ‘Part III’ which were distinctly lacking in ‘Part II.’ Young Lorraine in ‘Part I’ represented; I have mad respect for a woman who is confident in her sexuality and isn’t afraid to go after what she wants…even if it is her son from the future. ‘Part II’ unfortunately dropped the ball, with an overexcited Jennifer either babbling to the point where Doc puts her out, or she freaks and makes herself faint, two times over if you want to get technical about it. I’m not going to hate on trophy wife Lorraine; I’ve seen people in abusive relationships and they get points for just surviving. ‘Part III’ has two, count ‘em TWO women who kick supreme ass. First up is the unknown relative who turns out to be Marty’s great-great-grandmother. From her first lines you know this is not a woman to be trifled with as she introduces herself to Marty with a strong reiteration of the ‘Mrs.’ She’s a married woman and she won’t tolerate any shenanigans. She also practically lectures this almost stranger on his need for an attitude adjustment and considerations for his future.
Then we have Clara Clayton, a woman of education, grace and violence. She makes almost being killed via runaway horse meets cliff look positively ravishing, hair all perfectly tousled and cheeks red from exertion. She latches onto Doc’s obvious intelligence, wanting to pick his brain about his science background and gush over their mutual love of Jules Verne. She also knows how to protect her man, put him in his place and find him when it’s clear love will prevail. When Mad Dog shows up at the dance with murder on his mind, she willingly dances with him to get him, and his gun, away from Doc. She’s not about to put up with his shit, though, and gives his shin a solid kick with her stylish, and pointy, boots when he gets handsy. When she felt Doc was mocking her as well as breaking her heart she didn’t hesitate to crack one across his face saying she deserved respect. Yet when Clara realized his feelings were genuine she again jumped into action, pulled the train’s emergency brake and ran to find her love.
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 I was practically hugging myself in joy as I left the theater. Everyone survived, everyone is happy and in love, and Doc is still traveling in his new, super slick train time machine which means he can visit whenever he wants, so the Doc/Marty bromance is alive and well. There is nothing lacking (save for the poor kid they named Verne; he’d probably get beat up a lot if he had a normal childhood), so 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. And if anyone even THINKS about making a sequel or ‘revamping’ the series, I’m going to run a DeLorean over their face.
So do yourself a favor and watch ‘Back to the Future: Part III’ once again so you can see what I see: an amazing amalgam of everything that makes this trilogy great, and a truly complete conclusion. Doc Brown and Marty McFly, on their final ride into the sunset and into cinematic history, showing us how time travel, and friendship, is done in style.