Words by Blythe Alspaugh
“Back to the Future, Part III” is the final installment of Robert Zemeckis’ time-travel trilogy. In Part II, the DeLorean is struck by lightning with Doc Brown still inside and he is sent to 1885. Marty McFly then receives a letter from Doc telling him he is alive and doing well. He instructs Marty to repair the DeLorean he hid in an old mine shaft with the Doc from 1955. He tells Marty not to come back to 1885, and instead return to 1985 and destroy the DeLorean, because it’s caused too many problems for them both. When 1955 Doc and Marty leave the mine, they discover Doc’s gravestone in a neighboring cemetery which says he was shot in the back in 1885 by Buford Tannen over a monetary dispute. Because of this, Marty decides to go to 1885 and save Doc.
In his journey to 1885, Marty accidentally rips the fuel line to the DeLorean, and so Doc and Marty have to find a way to push the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour, so they can return to 1985. They decide to use the train that comes into town the same day Doc is supposed to get shot by Buford. In the midst of formulating their way home and trying to save Doc, they save a teacher named Clara Clayton from certain death, and she and Doc fall in love almost immediately.
Clara Clayton is a teacher who comes to Hill Valley in 1885. From the history that Doc and Marty know, her horse gets spooked by a snake, and she ends up getting tossed off a cliff and into a ravine that is named after her as a result of her untimely death. However, due to Doc and Marty being in the right place at the right time, she is saved—and for Doc and Clara, it’s love at first sight. From this point on, Doc and Marty switch the roles they started out in at the beginning of the trilogy, where Doc becomes ruled by his emotions and his infatuation with Clara, and Marty becomes the one relying on logic and reason. The only time Marty doesn’t act with a rational mindset is at the town festival, when Buford calls him a coward and Marty gets himself challenged to a shootout the following Monday, right when the train they plan to use to push the DeLorean is set to leave.
When director Zemeckis and producer Bob Gale wrote the script for Part II, they ended up writing out Part III in the process. Knowing the complete script would be too long for one film, they split it into two parts–the second of which became “Back to the Future, Part III,” and was filmed back-to-back with Part II. They decided on the old west because Michael J. Fox said he would most like to visit there while filming the first “Back to the Future.”
Because Part II and Part III were written at the same time and filmed back-to-back, Zemeckis and Gale were able to add foreshadowing into the second film. In 2015, Doc is wearing a shirt with a horse-riding cowboy chasing a speeding train. This foreshadows the final scene in 1885 where Doc and Marty put their plan to get back to 1985 into action. In Part II, Doc talks about destroying the DeLorean once they’re back in 1985, saying that he’ll never get to visit his favorite time period (the old west) and that he’ll devote himself to studying “the other great mystery of the universe… women.” This foreshadows not just the trip to the old west but also his relationship with Clara Clayton.
Many people dislike the third part of “Back to the Future” for various reasons, but it’s my second favorite of the three, coming behind only because Part I came first and has many of my favorite moments from the entire trilogy. However, I was always fond of Part III, because I grew up watching westerns with my father and grandfather. When you take out the elements of time travel in Part III, the film can still stand as a western. Also, my favorite scene in the entire trilogy is in the third film, which is the final train sequence at the end of the film that sends Marty back to the future.
There are several layers to the train sequence that make it an excellent scene. To start, Doc and Marty are not completely sure the experiment will work. It’s their only chance to get back to 1985—if they fail, they die. Likewise, Clara ends up chasing the train on horse and jumps onto it while Marty is in the DeLorean and Doc is climbing out to it, holding onto the speeding train as he does so. Just as the DeLorean starts reaching 60 miles per hour and Doc is preparing to climb onto the back of the car, Clara pulls the cord to the train’s horn and then yells out to Doc, professing her love for him. Doc and Clara start climbing out toward one another on the speeding train but run into some trouble. Just as Clara nearly falls to her death, Marty slips Doc the hoverboard, and Doc catches Clara before they fly off into the sunset. After waving them goodbye, Marty is sent back to 1985, and the train falls off the unfinished train tracks into the ravine, exploding into a spectacular wreck.
One of the best parts of this scene, naturally, is the music. It accounts for at least half of the reason why I love this particular scene as much as I do. Just like in the first film with the clocktower scene, the music in the train sequence is constantly building and gaining momentum with the scene. The musical cues match the action on screen effortlessly, and for me, it puts me at the edge of my seat as I feel a mixture of excitement and anticipation. Will Marty make it back to 1985? I know the answer, and time and time again, I still ask the question.
“Back to the Future, Part III” is the perfect end to a truly timeless trilogy, and for that, I am giving it four and a half out of five stars.