Underappreciated movies: Back to the Future Part III

Has there been a better end to a trilogy in the last 20 years? Simon thinks Back to the Future Part III is almost without rival...

The sorely underappreciated Back to the Future Part III

Just what is people’s problem with Back to the Future Part III?

Why, in a trilogy that’s earned admirers right across the planet, is it the third film that cops the flack, when it’s clearly better than the second and a major rival to the first? Because I’d contend the following: even though millions upon millions of people own the trilogy, it tends to be the first two films they watch. The third is there to complete the set.

My theory as to the reason why is simple: Western-phobia. That by choosing to move the action to 1885, and into the genre of the Western, it turned off the overwhelming young demographic that the films were squarely aimed at. They wanted gadgets, flash cars and special effects, and instead they got a smart script, proper action and a far tighter narrative than the second film served up. In short, it’s arguably the most grown up of the three films. No wonder nobody seems to like it.

Now before I go too much further, some context. I love the Back to the Future films, every one of them. The first is imaginative, superbly executed and pitch perfect. The second, when viewed back to back with the others, is a muddle. It’s a very good muddle, but it’s a film that, when compared to the other two, lacks a real core to it. The first third is spent furiously covering the cliffhanger the first film left things on, while it also lacks a core central adversary – the alternative 1985 Biff, for instance, is brushed over simply because there’s so much plot to get through. It’s ambitiously entertaining, and I have no problem with the more-complicated-than-usual plotline, but it never settles in an era long enough, and doesn’t spend anywhere near as much time developing its characters. Ironically, taken as a standalone and not watched in sequence, it works a little better. But to be clear: I still rate it very highly.

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Back to the Future Part III, however, is built on more solid foundations, and it really benefits the film. Here, the focus moves more to Doc Brown, to the point where he’s arguably the focal figure of the film. Marty McFly was pushed as far as he realistically could be in the first two, with the third merely requiring him to realise that reacting when someone calls him chicken is bad. Doc, though, loosens and softens a little. He’s still the maniacal scientist we know and love, but the addition of a well-executed romance (and that’s also something that fans of the first two films probably weren’t expecting) throws in another mechanic, to the point where he questions all the zipping around that his life involves. In short, it tries to evolve and do something a little different from the film before it.

That said, it’s still very much a Back to the Future film. The staples of each movie are there, from the initial walk across the street – choreographed perfectly again – to the references to the earlier films and the distant relations of their characters. There’s also some witty Western references that certainly went over my head at first, to the usual faces from the genre in the saloon through to the multitude of Eastwood-esque gags. And, having since embraced the Western, the film’s simply got better for me.

But perhaps more importantly than that, Back to the Future Part III is a proper end to a story. It’s intelligently and logically concluded, replete with a pulse-pounding railroad denouement to race the Delorean up to the requisite 88. Perhaps the steam train at the end oversteps the mark a little, but it keeps well with the tone of the franchise, and I have little problem with the makers having fun with their creation.

Back to the Future, for me, is the finest blockbuster trilogy Hollywood has produced. Better than Star Wars, better than Indiana Jones (which, granted, pushes it close), and casually urinating all over Pirates of the Caribbean and its ilk. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, and unlike virtually all trilogies Hollywood has been responsible for in recent times (don’t worry Jason Bourne, not looking at you), it has an end chapter worthy of what went before. Even its weakest link shames the likes of Return Of The Jedi in an instant.

Perhaps, then, it’s time for more people to watch it, and give it the recognition it deserves?