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Back to the Future (Part 3)

Universal // PG // December 17, 2002
List Price: $49.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 19, 2002 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

While certainly isn't a bad piece of work by any means, the third in the "Back to the Future" trilogy still has a rather "was this trip really necessary?" feel to it. Made at the same time as the second picture, this film does thankfully feel a bit more dissimilar than the others, but it doesn't do a whole lot with its new setting.

As you may or may not recall from the second film (I wouldn't recommend watching them out of order, either), Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) had fixed the trouble he'd cause in his future (2015), by heading back to the past (1955) and fixing things for his present (1985). While I don't want to reveal all of the details of the end of that film, the picture closes with Marty getting a letter from Doc Brown, who is satisfied with his current (er, past) life in the 1800's.

Marty does find where Doc hid the DeLorean all those years prior, but after doing some additional research, he finds that Doc gets killed a week after he wrote the letter to Marty. In an attempt to save his friend, Marty travels backwards instead of forward. The remainder of the picture has Marty and Doc trying to figure out a way to save the both of them and get them - you guessed it - back to the future, even though Doc has fallen for a local woman named Clara (Mary Steenburgen).

The third film was right in theory to go to the West - it's an unusual setting that's far different than anything we've encountered in the prior two films. Unfortunately, nothing in the Old West is that terribly exciting - we're mostly offered some fairly bland, rather stereotypical elements from other Western pictures, only this time with the added layer of having Marty and Doc once again trying to figure out how the hell to fix the time machine in a time when it seems otherwise impossible. The romance between the Steenburgen and Lloyd characters is also fairly weak and seemingly unimportant. Given that this is the most thinly plotted of the three pictures, it also seems strange that it has the longest running time of the three, at a couple minutes short of two hours. Some editing down of the Western scenes could certainly have picked up the pace, athough that would not have solved all of this film's problems.

One thing that isn't lost here is the fact that Fox and Lloyd still do make a great team and both do offer fine performances once again. The third film is a nice try, but it's just not always entirely successful with what's an otherwise decent idea. Good ending, though.

Although an additional film wouldn't be a half-bad idea if Gale and Zemeckis could come up with another idea (and given the advances in visual effects). Maybe the series would be best left as is, but I still miss this kind of filmmaking - these kinds of adventures just aren't made anymore and seem to have ended largely with the early 90's.


VIDEO: The third film in the trilogy is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, as are the rest of the films. As with the second film, the third picture does suffer from some mis-framing issues that I found apparent at times (subtle, not enormous) and not at others. Still, it's certainly unfortunate that the picture couldn't have been framed 100% properly.

The most recent and biggest-budgeted of the three BTTF pictures, number three also boasts the finest picture quality of the three films, although not by a terribly wide margin. Sharpness and detail are quite superb, as the picture appears consistently crisp and detailed, even offering respectable depth to the image in many scenes.

Flaws in the image are present, but not too troubling. Grain isn't quite as much an issue here as it was on the other two films, while the print here also remains free of scratches and other signs of wear. A little bit of edge enhancement and a few traces of artifacts are spotted, but none of these problems were particularly distracting or even that noticable. The dusty colors of the old west are well-rendered here, looking natural and crisp. Black level is also solid, while flesh tones appear accurate. Once again, the picture quality is pretty nice, but it would have been nice if the framing was 100% accurate.

SOUND: A Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is included here, as it is with the other two pictures. As with the other two pictures, there's not a remarkable amount of activity, but the surrounds do kick in with some information on occasion. The real difference here is audio quality, as the third film sounds a bit more dynamic and less dated than the prior two. Audio quality is fine, as the Western-themed score sounds rich and lively, while effects and dialogue are crisp and clear.


Commentaries: Once again, we're offered a Q & A session with producer Bob Gale and director Robert Zemeckis, along with a full-length commentary from producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton. As with the other two pictures, the Q & A session is a bit more energetic, but does not run the full length of the picture (the one for the third film runs a minor 35 minutes or so). Zemeckis and Gale don't chat for very long, but their comments are very interesting and very in-depth, as they are able to cover a lot of ground about the lengthy shoot in only a little time. The commentary from Gale and Canton for the third picture is the least interesting of the duo's tracks for the three film, with some respectable information, but quite a few pauses of silence.

Featurettes: Three featurettes are offered on the DVD of the third film. While the original "Making Of" and a new "Making Of" are offered, we're also given a 20-minute "Secrets of Back to the Future" TV special that's hosted by Kirk Cameron (Yeah, that kid from that "Growing Pains" TV show). Interesting footnote about the "Secrets" special: it was directed by Peyton Reed, who went on to direct the Kirsten Dunst feature, "Bring it On". Anyways, all three features offer a fair amount of information, but none are particularly memorable. Best of the three is the newly produced piece, as it provides a good "look back" by Fox, Zemeckis and Gale at the experiences they had while shooting the picture. The other two pieces are a bit more promotional in nature. Smaller "Designing the Campaign" (some of the alternate posters are pretty cool) and "Designing the Town of Hill Valley" featurettes are also included.

Deleted Scene: Only one deleted scene here is included (with commentary from producer Bob Gale) and it was deleted because it was too violent and heavy for the picture.

FAQ: This text section offers a series of questions (all pretty interesting, some a little goofy) about various aspects of the trilogy, answered by the filmmakers.

Also: "Did You Know That?" subtitle fact track, production archives (stills gallery), trailer, ZZ Top "Doubleback" music video, production notes and bios. DVD-ROM features are also available.

Final Thoughts: The third picture has always stood out as the least involving of the three and continues to be a not particularly terrific - although it does have its moments - ending of an otherwise fine series. Still, there's something innocent and fun and good-natured about the "Back to the Future" films that I miss, which is especially evident towards the end of this one.

As for the DVD, the general image quality and sound quality of "III" is the best of the bunch, but it's unfortunate that (while rather subtle, in my humble opinion - and not always apparent, either), the mis-framing issue does occur again here. Three also includes a fairly strong amount of supplements, but the commentaries here are the least interesting of the three. Concerns (mis-framing, the packaging) aside, I had fun revisiting these pictures after not seeing them after several years and found most of the supplements to be pretty informative and insightful.

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