Sunday, February 10, 2008

Back to the Future Part III

1990, US, directed by Robert Zemeckis

For the final part of the Back to the Future trilogy, Robert Zemeckis and his scriptwriter Bob Gale return to the sources, finding again the seam of wit that animated the original film, and plundering the rich storehouse of the western to beguiling effect. It's clear that the filmmakers are enjoying themselves, and the re-workings of scenes from the previous installments have a freshness this time around which sometimes seems missing from the rather more mechanical - though also quite deliberately darker - second episode. Sequences such as that which confronts Marty with his Irish forebears, or the bit with a scale model re-creation of the plan to send Marty back home, re-visit old haunts from the first film with enough wit and skill to ensure that they seem worthwhile trips down memory lane.

When he's returned to 1885 near the beginning of the film, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) himself reaches into the pop culture trove - so well employed throughout the films, whether in the references to Jerry Lewis, Chuck Berry or sci-fi magazines - to give himself a western persona, employing the as-yet-unused moniker Clint Eastwood, only to find that the locals think it's a hearty joke rather than a tough-guy appellation. The real local tough is Biff Tannen's forebear Griff; again, Thomas F. Wilson does a fine job creating a new character while also ensuring that the links with the other members of the Tannen clan are clear (it's interesting, too, to see how the filmmakers find the common link between the generic characters of the bad seed cowboy and the juvenile delinquent of the 1950s).

The film also inserts some of the sweet romanticism that characterized the1955 segments of the original film, giving Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd, manic as ever) a love interest. Though Mary Steenburgen is a welcome addition, it doesn't really excuse the fact that Marty's own girlfriend is abandoned on a porch for two entire movies; inherited from the resolution of the first part, the girlfriend is treated as a plot inconvenience that the filmmakers clearly didn't want to grapple with, perhaps because they felt it would upset the Marty/Doc dynamic that is so central to the films' success. Though Marty and the Doc have to contend with the evil intentions of Griff Tannen, unlike in the downbeat second installment there's rarely a sense of real menace, not least because the confrontations here always have a comic undercurrent; the whole enterprise has a sunnier feel that has little to do with the authentic old west - even though the filmmakers play with the 1950s spin on tales of that west - and much to do with old-fashioned rousing entertainment.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States