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Movie Review

Back to the Future 3

MPAA Rating: PG-Rating (MPAA) for unspecified reasons
Reviewed by: Brett Willis

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Sci-Fi Action Adventure Romance Comedy
1 hr. 58 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
May 25, 1990 (wide)
Relevant Issues
Box Art for “Back to the Future Part III”
Featuring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Mary Steenburgen, Elisabeth Shue
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Producer: Bob Gale, Neil Canton, Amblin Entertainment, Steve Starkey, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Steven Spielberg
Distributor: Universal Pictures

Since everything was left in an unresolved state at the end of Part II and there was a “To Be Concluded” message followed by built-in previews, we knew this film was coming eventually. Actually Parts II and III were filmed together, and Part II was released on video at the same time that Part III hit theaters. There are problems in Hollywood, but lack of marketing skills isn’t one of them.

Most of the action takes place in the Old West of 1885, where Marty (Michael J. Fox) travels to rescue Doc (Christopher Lloyd) from Buford “Mad Dog” Tannin (Thomas F. Wilson). Marty meets his great-great-grandparents, Seamus and Maggie McFly (Fox and Lea Thompson); and Doc meets, and instantly “falls in love” with, school teacher Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen).

The action includes a lot of standard Western scenes (a Cavalry and Indian chase; a rescue from a runaway buckboard before it goes over a ravine; a gunfight in the street; boarding a train from horseback etc.), all given a time-travel twist. Even some simple sub-scenes are “borrowed” material that we’ve seen many times before; the image of someone taking cover while a stampede runs or jumps over him has been used in “Bambi,” “Andy Burnett and the Mountain Men” and “Jurassic Park.” The barroom scenes include a trio of old geezers (played by veteran cowboy actors Dub Taylor, Harry Carey Jr. and Pat Buttram) just sitting at their special table day and night and talking smart. Many of us older folks can remember each of those three from some favorite film or TV show. All of this “visual identifier” material is mixed with some original humor to create a very enjoyable story.

Content Warnings

Not as offensive as Part II, but requires caution if children are watching. The profanity is milder, and although there’s a lot of violence it seems less realistic and more tongue-in-cheek. it’s refreshing to hear Clara just saying “golly” after almost falling from a train. On the other hand: There’s a scene of Marty in just his long underwear and a gunbelt practicing his draw, and the flap is open so that one buttock is hanging out. it’s implied that Doc spends a night with Clara after knowing her only a day or two; and when he later tells her he must leave her because he’s going back to the future, she accuses him of having played up to her just so he could “take advantage of” her. Does that mean what it usually means? I suppose. So the level-headed scientist not only mistakes infatuation for love but also sets a bad example. (Also, after loudly demanding that his time machine be destroyed, Doc builds another.) Even if Part III were squeaky clean, everyone is going to watch Part II also; so the objectionable content level of the series as a whole is dictated by the lowest common denominator episode. And the screwy theology of the backward time-travel element, including bringing people back from the dead, is again a factor in Part III. On the positive side: At least Marty finally learns his lesson about not taking dares.

Conclusion: This episode wraps the story up neatly, and things basically turn out the way we’d want them to. The entire series is a lot of fun; but as in almost any film, there’s a certain amount of overhead. Each viewer, and the parents of younger viewers, must decide whether the fun is worth the price.

Viewer Comments
Positive—This third movie is not as good as the two that came before it, but it’s still good for some amusing moments. There is no time hopping back and forth like in the second film; most of the action is contained to the Old West. The Marty and Doc characters are just as manic as ever. Western film buffs will like the use of the older actors in the film, most of whom are Western movie veterans. All in all, a satisfying ending to a great story.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3]
Hillari Hunter, age 39