The last film in the renounced Back to the Future trilogy departs from much of the formula that made the previous ones more successful. For one thing, it is based less on the strange and wonderful paradoxes that held the previous films together. This is perhaps the most linear of the three flicks. The film picks up with Marty (Michael J. Fox) standing in the dark lost in time. A letter is delivered telling him that Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is alive and living in the old west version of Hill Valley. Of course, Marty managers to get back in time once to rescue his friend and mentor. Once there he learns that Doc is happy in the low tech world and is reluctant to go back to the future. To make matters worse Doc falls in love with a science loving school marm, Clara (Mary Steenburgen). The main departure in thematic elements that this film makes is it goes from a time travel film to almost a parody of western films. This crossing of genres is enjoyable considering Marty meets his ancestors and does not fit in to the western ethic at all, but ultimately the film becomes a horse opera. The main special effect is the use of a train to push the time machine to the required 88 mph and that waits until the very end. So we have a special effects, time travel film that seeks to depart from both aspects of that genre. Once again the saving factor is the examination of relationships. The changing bond between Doc and Marty is tested once again as his best friend seems so willing to let go of the science he lived for in order to live a simpler life. Eventually Doc must come to accept the problems his machine has caused and decides to leave Clara to return to his own time. Marty now must act not only to save Doc's life but play matchmaker as well. In all the film ties up the loose ends of the saga nicely but there is a nagging feeling that more was needed. The emptiness is augmented by the lack of realism that the sets presents. The western version of Hill Valley is put seemingly together from bits and pieces of old film sets. I was reminded of a tourist town in Arizona that presents the old west not how it really existed but rather how the public expected to view it. The other two films could get around this since the fifties are very idealized for most of us that remember it and the future has always been a matter of conjunction.
The cast is for the most part the same as the previous films. Fox gives his best in the role of Marty, a role he is naturally very familiar with. More in the way of emotional expression is required from Lloyd in this film but although this actor usually gets the strange characters he is more than up to the task. The addition of Mary Steenburgen to the cast is another case of excellent casting. She portrays Clara as a young woman out of place in her own time. She enjoys learning, relishes science and wonders about what is beyond the world she knows. These where not proper for a young woman in that time but she shows the internal strength to take on her interests with little regard to the narrow minded thoughts of others.
Robert Zemeckis is an excellent director but here he was running a bit on impulse power alone. The genre change in the film and the loss of the paradox that entertained for the last two movies left him with less to work with here. The film was necessary. The second film left the audience hanging and waiting for the conclusion to tie up the loose ends. While technically a bit better than the other two it lacks the focus that would earn it an extra half star or so. I did enjoy the film, I enjoyed all three as parts of a grander film, but this installment seemed to need something rather then let you sit back and say "That clears everything up!"