Science fiction westerns are hard. Need examples? How about Wild, Wild, West? How about Jonah Hex? When was the last time you re-watched Cowboys and Aliens? (It’s not that bad, really). Then there is Back to the Future Part III.
It’s the best sci-fi western, ever. Yes, really.
After the intricate time travel hi-jinks of Part II, the third part of Zemeckis’ and Gale’s trilogy centring around the adventures of Marty and the Doc sees the series beautifully slow down for a little bit, put the focus more on The Doc, inject a little bit of romance, a cool set-piece with a train and brilliantly brings the series to a satisfying close all the while hinting at what a fourth adventure would entail, albeit one that we NEVER need to see (I’m serious, Hollywood. NEVER).
Christopher Lloyd had never had an on-screen kiss before this movie, but he gets his chance at romance here, the tentative feelings between The Doc and Mary Steenburgen’s Clara is portrayed in such a sweet and lovely way, and after the incredibly intense intricacies of alternative timelines and Sport Almanac’s last time, it allows the series to end of a brilliantly bittersweet note. Some may not like it as much for these reasons, but the film is so damn charming that it’s hard not to get swept along with it.
Alan Silvestri’s gorgeous music comes in at the right moment, the Western themes he comes up will get stuck in your head for days, the way in which The Doc and Marty effectively swap roles (and catchphrases) is fantastic and the film is so damn charming that you will want to take it home to meet your parents.
Yes, the film revisits some of the same jokes, but they’re given a fresh spin. It’s not Marty’s mum who wakes him up after he is knocked out, but great-grandmother, also played by Lea Thompson. Thomas F Wilson is there being a jackass, but this time it’s a Mad Dog Tannen as opposed to Biff, and yes, a key scene involves manure. And it’s not Marty potentially playing with the space-time continuum for his own ends, but The Doc because he doesn’t want to lose Clara and who has to be reminded by Marty of what’s at stake.
Has there ever been a more perfect, charming end to a movie series such as this. Return of the Jedi? Yeah, it’s good, but Back to the Future Part III is on more on a part with the movie that started it all, (although Part II is easily the weakest, it’s still a damn fine movie too even if it gives you a headache when you watch it for the first time, especially if you’re five years old as I was).
To top it all off, the grand set piece finish where a locomotive is used to power a fuel-less De Lorean to 88 miles per hour (fuel didn’t exist in 1885) is stirring stuff, and the eventual destruction of the De Lorean upon its return to 1985 is truly heart in the mouth stuff.
Then, just when you think the movie is going to end of a bit of an emotional downer, it pulls out an even better time machine, the one that hints at further adventures, but ones we don’t ever really need to see, just the hint is closure enough (still serious about you NOT DOING THAT Hollywood).
Sure, The Doc’s parting words are sentimental, but given the time we’ve spent with both him and Marty, they’re exactly what we and Marty need to hear. You’ll have a spring on your step as ZZ Top play over the end credits.
Greatest science fiction-western? Most definitely. Best Western, period? Maybe, just maybe.