Case Number 15765: Small Claims Court


Universal // 1990 // 118 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 23rd, 2009

The Charge

They've saved the best trip for last...but this time they may have gone too far.

The Case

"Marty! What are you doing here? I thought I sent you back to the future!"
"You did, Doc. Now I'm back from the future!"
"Great Scott!"

And so begins the third and final adventure in the Back to the Future franchise. For reasons best left unexplained, the brilliant Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) has been stranded in the 1880s. Under normal circumstances, this would actually be okay. Doc Brown always wanted to live in the old west. However, these are not normal circumstances. It seems that Doc Brown is in grave danger. If he isn't rescued from the past, he will be subjected to a violent and untimely death. So, with the assistance of the Doc Brown currently residing in 1955 (please don't ask for explanations), young Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox, Family Ties) jumps in his time-traveling Delorian and takes a trip back to the wild west! Can he find Doc and convince him to come back to the future before it's too late?

The original Back to the Future remains one of the definitive films of the 1980s; a joyous time-travel adventure that became a big hit with both audiences and critics. Most were considerably less receptive towards Back to the Future Part II, which replaced that giddy sense of joy with a somewhat mean-spirited and impossibly convoluted plot. Fortunately, Back to the Future Part III set things right again. After a 20-minute opening sequence in which all of complicated time-traveling elements are sorted out, we receive a charming variation on the "fish out of water" genre, with young Marty McFly and the eccentric Doc Brown attempting to navigate the wild west.

Granted, there are some who prefer the complicated time travel elements of the second installment, but I find Back to the Future Part III a refreshing change of pace. The basic time-travel conceit that drives the franchises is inherently silly, and it's nice to have a film willing to take a break from the pseudo-science in order to provide some good old-fashioned fun. The film is Robert Zemeckis' love letter to western cinema, offering a version of the old west that seems primarily defined by the B-movies of the '30s and '40s (with a generous measure of Sergio Leone thrown in for good measure).

Comedy has played a role in all three of the films, but it could be argued that Back to the Future Part III is the funniest film of the franchise. A bit of the manic comic energy that informed Zemeckis' Who Framed Roger Rabbit? seems to be on display here (for a good example of what I'm talking about, check out the charming little gag early in the film involving a pipe organ). Bob Gale's screenplay provides plenty of amusing dialogue: "Marty, you're just not thinking fourth-dimensionally!" "Right, yeah, I have a real problem with that, Doc." I take immense pleasure in the presence of veteran western character actors such as Harry Carey Jr., Dub Taylor, and Pat Buttram, all of whom seem to be having a good time. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd have both hit plenty of highs and lows over the course of their careers, but one could argue that the actors were never more engaging than when they were playing these roles. There's also a lovely supporting turn from Mary Steenburgen, who shares some charming scenes with Lloyd. How cool is it that these two get hot over each other when they learn about their mutual passion for the novels of Jules Verne?

This is the first time the film has been made available individually on DVD, but the transfer and supplements seem to have been ported over from the original Back to the Future DVD box set released a few years prior. The transfer really is quite impressive, with rather deep blacks and surprisingly impressive detail throughout. The nighttime scenes offer above-average clarity, but I will say that flesh tones seem to be just slightly off. Audio is quite solid throughout, and really gives a strong boost to Alan Silvestri's robust score. There are a couple of room-rattling sequences that are quite impressive (listen to the hoofbeats of the horses when Marty first arrives in 1885), but the track is generally less aggressive than you might expect for an action-packed film like this one.

The extras may not be new, but they're solid. Several making-of featurettes are onhand: "The Making of Back to the Future Part III," "Making the Trilogy: Chapter III," "Q & A with Director Robert Zemeckis and Producer Bob Gale," "Designing the Town of Hill Valley," "Designing the Campaign," and "The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy." We also get a reasonably engaging commentary with Gale and co-producer Neil Canton, along with outtakes, animated anecdotes, a deleted scene, some FAQs about the trilogy, and a ZZ Top music video. Cool stuff.

While I'm not sure why anyone would want to pay fifteen bucks for this final installment of Back to the Future when they could purchase the entire series for less than twenty-five dollars, I suppose it's nice to finally have all three films available separately. Now how about releasing the series on Blu-ray?

This fun finale is not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile
Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)

* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Deleted Scene
* Featurettes
* Outtakes
* Production Archives
* Animated Anecdotes
* Music Video

* IMDb