Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Recap: "Back to the Future Part III" Part 1: Time After Time

Out of all the genres that went out of style, none seems as resistant to returning in force than the Western. Heck, even the swashbuckling genre had a resurgence with the Pirates of the Caribbean films. And when you factor in the fact that this was a pretty huge change in setting for the series....

Well, this movie looked doomed from the start.

So let's take a look at one of the first failed attempts to mix sci-fi and Westerns before Wild Wild West ended that particular sub-genre before it could even begin.

If Doc builds a giant robotic spider, I'm done.
Before the film begins, the Universal logo used for the previous films is replaced with every Universal logo up to that point as well as what was then a brand-new one, made to celebrate Universal's 75th anniversary. I only bring this up because I can't help but think using an old 1955 studio logo might have been something nifty to do for the previous movies.

Anyway, the movie begins.

Saturday. November 12th, 1955. 10:03 PM.

We open with the same scene that showed up in both of the previous films, Doc Brown repairing the cable and sending Marty McFly back to the future just as lightning strikes the clock tower.

Seriously, somebody high up must have really liked this part.
Doc Brown looks at the flaming trails left by his future creation and dances in the streets. But just as he turns around to go home... somebody runs after him.

Marty: "It's me! It's me! It's Marty!"
Doc Brown: "It can't be! I just sent you back to the future!"
Marty: "Yeah, well, I know, you did send me back to the future, but I'm back. I'm back from the future."

This is heavy. So heavy that it knocked Doc down.
After Doc faints, the opening credits and titles roll as Marty gets the unconscious Doc back home to his mansion. Once there, both Marty and his friend get some well-deserved shuteye as the storm outside continues. The TV, which was left on all night, eventually changes from static to the Howdy Doody show, waking up a frantic Doc Brown. He turns of the set and goes to his personal tape recorder to make notes of the previous night and his success. But not much else.

Doc Brown: "After that... after that.... I can't recall what happened. In fact, I don't even remember how I got home! Perhaps the jigowatt discharge, coupled with the temporal displacement field, generated by the time vehicle, caused a disruption of my own brainwaves resulting in a condition of momentary amnesia!"

Whoa, Doc, if you're going to extract that much out of your own rear end, you might want to eat more fiber.

He also notes that he remembers hallucinating that Marty was still in 1955, talking to him. Marty, who is very much still here, stops diddly-bopping around in the background to talk to Doc. He doesn't take it well, tripping over the hoverboard and landing on the convenient organ in the corner of the room. In an amusing touch, as he leans away from Marty in horror, he accidentally plays some melodramatic tones on the keyboard.

Doc Brown: "Nooo! It can't be you! I sent you back to the future!"

Marty tries to explain the situation, but Doc has had enough and runs into the bathroom to get some space. Again, Marty explains that he came back from the future, and also tells him about how the future Doc Brown got sent back in time to 1885 by a stray bolt of lightning hitting the car.

Doc Brown: "It's a very interesting story, Future-Boy."

Uh.... why are you calling him "Future-Boy" again, like you don't believe he's from the future? He proved that little factoid in the first film.

I understand that this scene is supposed to be a callback to that one, but Doc's sudden skepticism doesn't entirely make sense. Although, to be completely fair, it could easily be that Doc Brown is starting to doubt his senses and thinks he's going insane. After all, he's already noticed a hole in Marty's explanation of the events of last movie. And it has nothing to do with Old Man Biff returning to a future he prevented.

Doc Brown: "If the me in the future is now in the past, how could you possibly know about it?"

Marty simply shows him the letter. Doc ends up reading it while Marty plays with the Cerebro shown in the first film. He reads farther than what was shown in the last film, reaching the point where the letter explains that the DeLorean is broken, and while it can’t be fixed in the 1800’s, it can be fixed in 1955. As such, Future-Doc hid the car in an old mine for Marty and 1955-Doc to find and repair so Marty can get home.

"This is how you use a magnifying glass, right? With your mouth?"
But there's one part of the letter that Doc's left a bit confused by: the part where his future self orders the destruction of the time machine after Marty returns to the future.

Marty: "Yeah, well, it's a long story, Doc."

Good call. Telling Doc Brown why the time machine is a bad idea might cause him to never invent it, which would probably be lead to a very bad paradox. And the last thing we want to have in this movie is unexplained paradoxes, right?

Doc reads the final part of the letter (a request that Marty should not come to rescue him, instructions for taking care of Einstein, and a heartfelt goodbye), and Marty has himself a mini-breakdown at the thought that his get-rich-quick scheme led to all this. But Doc's just glad that he ended up in a time period he had always loved.

Doc Brown: "I could've ended up in the Dark Ages. They probably would have burned me at the stake as a heretic, or something."

He checks the location of the car on the map, and says that they might have to blast. The next day, one blasting later, the two of them, joined by Doc's dog, Copernicus, enter the abandoned mine as Doc waxes nostalgic about the time he read Journey to the Center of the Earth and attempted to dig all the way through the planet himself.

Doc Brown: "Of course, I was only twelve at the time."

He continues that it was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that made him want to devote his life to science as they find Doc's initials on a boarded-up section of the mine. After prying the planks loose, they find the intact DeLorean and Doc takes a look at the damaged microchip.

Doc Brown: "No wonder this circuit failed. It says 'Made in Japan.'"
Marty: "What do you mean, Doc? All the best stuff is made in Japan."

"What about cars, Marty?"
"Oh, yeah. Toyota, Honda, you name it."
"Then why did I build the time machine into a DeLorean?"
"I can only imagine it's because you like to see me hit my head on the door."

Doc loads up the car onto his truck as he talks about how excited he is at the prospect of retiring in the Old West. And who knows? Maybe he's in the history books? Marty discourages him from learning too much about his own destiny, and heads off to fetch Copernicus so they can leave. For some reason, Copernicus is whimpering at a gravestone. And when Marty gets a good look at what it says....

Died at the ripe old age of -35. Shame.
Marty: "Doc! Doc! Come here, quick!"

It's not so much the fact that Doc is dead as it is exactly when Doc died.

September 7th, 1885. One week after he wrote that letter.

Marty: "'Erected in eternal memory by his beloved Clara.' Who the hell is Clara?"

She's the impossible girl.
Marty gets a picture of the gravestone so they can assess the situation elsewhere as Doc reads the part of the inscription that explains that Doc was shot in the back by Buford Tannen over a matter of $80.

Doc Brown: "What kind of a future do you call that?"

Well, technically, it’s the past.

You know, the conflict that gets Doc shot by Buford Tannen is actually the first time in the trilogy that Doc Brown interacts with any member of the Tannen family. And the last, unless something can be done. So they end up at the library, looking up the historical records of Buford Tannen.

Marty: "Buford Tannen was a notorious gunman whose short temper and a tendency to drool earned him the nickname 'Mad Dog.' He was quick on the trigger and bragged that he had killed twelve men, not including Indians or Chinamen."

Oh, 1800's. You so racist.

Marty: "However, this claim cannot be substantiated since precise records were not kept after Tannen shot a newspaper editor who printed and unfavorable story about him in 1884."

As such, there are no records of the Doc's death. Doc, apparently getting distracted, finds a record of William McFly and family, which will establish some more McFly family hijinks later in the movie. Doc can't find anything on himself, though. Marty suggests that maybe it was a different Emmet Brown, but alas, there were no Browns in Hill Valley until 1908.

Doc Brown: "And they were the Von Brauns. My father changed our name during the first World War."

Which means that Doc might be related to Wernher von Braun, the German scientist who helped invent space travel after the Nazis made him build missiles for a while. Interesting; space travel and time travel from the same family. No joke here, I just really like that detail.

But Marty finds a picture of Doc standing alone in front of the Hill Valley clock before it was installed into the clock tower, dated September 5th, 1885.

Eight after eight. Get it?
With no doubt that Doc dies in 1885, Marty vows to use the time machine to save him. And soon enough, we cut to a disused drive-in theatre, where Doc puts the finishing touches on the DeLorean. It's definitely seen better days. The hover conversion doesn't work, the tires had to be replaced, and now there's a big honkin' mess of wires and vacuum tubes on the hood to replace a single microchip. And Marty's heading for a place where absolutely none of this machine can possibly be fixed. No pressure.

Speaking of which, Doc checks the tire pressure as Marty emerges from the bathroom, dressed in only the most authentic of cowboy outfits.

If you're trying to look like a member of the Village People, that is.
Doc Brown: "Haven't you ever seen a Western?"
Marty: "Yeah, I have, Doc. And Clint Eastwood never wore anything like this."
Doc Brown: "Clint who?"

In a nice touch, there are posters for some decidedly non-Western Clint Eastwood movies on the side of the building.

Marty, disliking how uncomfortable his cowboy boots are, tells Doc that he'll put them on in 1885. And so, as they pack Marty's things, Doc explains the plan to him. The drive-in theatre is in the middle of what was once wide, open plains. No pesky building, or rocks, or trees to worry about in the past.

Doc Brown: "Remember, where you're going, there are no roads."

Which is a minor snag, considering that the lack of a working hover mode makes roads a bit necessary.
Doc sets the time machine for September 2nd, 1885, and tells Marty to hide the car in a nearby cave and find Doc's blacksmith shop. So all Marty has to do is drive straight at the drive-in's mural of attacking Indians, and he should hit 88 miles per hour before he runs into it. Marty's worried about crashing into the mural, but Doc insists that after traveling through the fourth dimension, he'll reappear in the past and avoid hitting any Indians.

Doc Brown: "See you in the future."
Marty: "You mean the past."
Doc Brown: "Exactly!"

Doc fires a starting pistol, and Marty floors it, hitting 88 mph right before he hits the mural.

"Doc, you're a damn liar!"
To escape both the Indians and the Cavalry charge attacking them, he hides the DeLorean in the cave Doc told him about. In the aftermath, he notices three problems. First, a stray arrow hit the car. Second, he ripped the fuel line. Third, a bear happens.

For some reason, it and Marty have a contest to see who can open thier mouth the widest.
After imitating Shakespeare by exiting, pursued by bear, Marty manages to throw his boots to distract it, and runs over a nearby ridge. Well, more like "falls over." He bonks his head on a fence, which makes him lose consciousness as a nearby farmer comes over to take a look at him.

Farmer: "Maggie! Fetch some water, we got a hart man here!"

Yes, that's Michael J. Fox doing his best Oirish accent.

And unlike last time, this actually is an Irish accent.
For the sake of brevity, I'll speed through this next rehash of a familiar scene. It's dark, Marty's in a bed, he hears his mom's voice, he tells her about the nightmare he had, she tells him he's safe and sound at the McFly farm.

Marty: "McFly farm!?"

He wakes up, stammers for a bit at Lea Thompson (here playing Maggie McFly), and offers up the fake name of "Clint Eastwood,” since the real Clint Eastwood was kind enough to allow the filmmakers permission to use his name.

Maggie explains that Marty hit his head, and he's been out all day. You know, from Marty's perspective, he's been concussed three times in about ten days. How is he not suffering any permanent brain damage?

Maggie heads off to look after her baby, William, and Marty gets up to take a look around. Soon enough, the master of the house, Seamus McFly, returns with some fresh-caught rabbit for dinner.

Man, is anyone else getting an urge to play Oregon Trail?
So... let's talk about the casting here. Seamus McFly was originally going to be played by Crispin Glover. This would not only fulfill the running gag of Crispin Glover playing most of Marty's male relatives (as well as Marty's daughter), but a later scene would reverse a scene from the first film. Instead of Michael J. Fox advising Crispin Glover, it would be the other way around. But alas, Crispin Glover declined to return for sequels, and a McFly played by Michael J. Fox finds himself married to a woman played by Lea Thompson.

According to the two Bobs, Maggie here isn't related to Lorraine by way of the Baines family. McFly men all just naturally have a predisposition to be attracted to women who remind them of their mother. Really puts the first film in a new light, huh?

Anyway, Seamus wonders exactly what Marty's doing so far from the nearest town, and Marty lies that his horse broke down, a bear ate his boots, and he forgot his hat. As Marty gets poured a glass of dysentery, Seamus offers to let Marty spend the night in the barn. And tomorrow, he'll take Marty to the railroad tracks so he can follow them into town.

Seamus: "I'll even give you a hat."

"I've got plenty left over from when I hosted the Dum Dum Dugan Lookalike Contest."
But that's the last straw for Maggie, and she discusses her dislike of this mysterious stranger in the other room with her husband as Seamus gives William to Marty to hold for a bit. Seamus insists that there's something about this odd man, though. After all, William stopped crying as soon as this "Clint Eastwood" started holding him.

Seamus: "It's almost as if... he's connected to us."

...Really, Bob Gale?

After two previous movies with some of the best dialogue and tightest plotting... one of the characters has a funny feeling that this mysterious stranger is connected to them? What happened?

I mean, imagine if in the first film, there was no "Darth Vader from Planet Vulcan scene." Imagine if instead we got a scene where George McFly says, "I feel like I should listen to what you have to say, Marty. Like it's my density." We even find out later that Seamus had a brother named "Martin McFly." So why not have Seamus tell her that he reminds him of his brother, and he feels like he has a duty to perform in helping him?

Anyway, after Marty gets peed on by the first McFly born in America, we cut to the next day, where Marty McFly and his new hat are walking down the railroad tracks, soon arriving at the train station of Hill Valley. And as he walks into the town, the first thing we see are the eponymous hills that the town finds itself between. Probably got bulldozed between here and the fifties.

Marty has yet another Mr. Sandman sequence, but this one features sufficiently Old Western music and sights. Whether it be the ancestors of the owners of the Statler car dealership selling horses, a public bath house, the meat market, or the banner asking for money to build the Hill Valley Clock Tower, things are vaguely familiar, yet still strange. Unfortunately, the Marshal is currently off in Haysville for the hanging of Stinky Lomax, so there's plenty of opportunity for Marty to get into trouble.

After avoiding a horse-drawn carriage by jumping into manure, Marty enters the saloon, where several classic Western film actors are waiting for him. Western fans will no doubt recognize the names of Dub Taylor, Harry Carey, Jr. and Pat Buttram. Fans of Disney’s The Aristocats or Robin Hood will at the very least recognize Pat Buttram’s distinctive voice.

Anyway, the old-timers make fun of this stranger's clothes. One of them also shows off more of that old-timey racism.

Cowboy Pat: "Musta got that shirt off'n a dead Chinee."

Thankfully, no N-words being thrown around. Blazing Saddles used them all up.
After they have a laugh, Marty struggles to get a drink from the bartender.

Marty: "I'll have, uh... ice water."

This gets another round of laughs from the old-timers.

Bartender: "In here. We pour whiskey."

Scared of the shot that the bartender poured him, he asks for directions to the blacksmith as a familiar voice booms from the doorway.

???: "Hey, McFly! Thought I done told you never ta come in...."

It's none other than Mad Dog Tannen. Because if there's one thing Tannens are good at, it's telling McFlys to GTFO. But he realizes that Marty isn't Seamus McFly and, like the others, makes fun of his clothes.

"City boy, you've wandered outta Roy Rogers straight inta Sergio Leone. Yer in the wrong part o' town."
Mad Dog: "What's your name, dude?"

Funnily enough, this is actually accurate cowboy-talk. The word "dude" referred to a city slicker. "Dude Ranches" were places that the city folk could visit and stay at while in town. You know, like how tourists these days go to another country, see the locals pander to their expectations, buy some souvenirs, and talk about how "worldly" they are.

Anyway, Marty manages to muster a brave enough voice to introduce himself as Eastwood. Clint Eastwood.

Mad Dog: "What kinda stupid name izzat?"

Should have gone with "John Wayne," Marty.

They make fun of his white teeth and moccasins what say "Nee-Kay" on them before demanding to know where the "no-good, cheating blacksmith" is. Marty realizes exactly who this guy in front of him is and makes the mistake of using the name "Mad Dog" when he identifies Tannen. The saloon instantly clears out and Mad Dog starts shooting at the floor, demanding that Marty start dancing like this was Yosemite Sam going up against Bugs Bunny.

And Marty does the Bugs Bunny-esque trick of actually dancing in response. Being from the 1980's, he starts moonwalking, to the amazement of Mad Dog and his gang. According to the internet, the sounds of Marty’s shoes on the floor were done by human sound effect Michael Winslow. I wouldn’t have believed it if I couldn’t find the information from multiple sources beyond IMDb, so I’m simply left wondering… wouldn’t it have been easier to just have the foleys whip something up? Still, it’s amazing work by the good Mr. Winslow.

But a misstep onto a loose floorboard catapults a full spittoon up into the air, knocking its contents all over Mad Dog. Luckily, Mad Dog's gun jams, giving Marty the opportunity to make a quick getaway. With no skateboards around, Mad Dog and his gang easily catch up to Marty on horseback and lasso him. In no time flat, Marty's strung up for a hanging. But as Marty suffocates, so does Michael J. Fox, thanks to a problem with the rigging.

Luckily, not only was Fox let down in the nick of time, but Marty has a friend show up before it's too late. A mysterious old man with a Jules Verne-esque sniper rifle shoots Marty's rope and aims it at Mad Dog.

Doc Brown: "It'll shoot the fleas off a dog's back at 500 yards, Tannen! And it's pointed straight at your head!"

"So... yer gonna shoot the fleas off'n my head? Thanks, they itch somethin' fierce."
This defuses the situation, but Mad Dog has a bone to pick with Doc. It seems as though he wants a refund for the crappy job Doc did at shoeing his last horse, but Doc says it's already even, seeing as how Mad Dog never actually paid. So now Mad Dog's even angrier since when his horse threw the shoe, it broke a bottle of Tennessee Redeye. As far as Mad Dog's concerned, Doc owes $75 for the horse, and $5 for the whiskey. A matter of $80, it would seem.

"I'd rather die than pay up! And I'm 99% sure that this statement won't come back to haunt me in any way!"
Doc, oblivious to his impending fate, refuses to pony up, earning Mad Dog's ire as he rides off with his gang. Doc mildly chastises Marty for coming back in time, but says it's good to see him either way.

Doc Brown: "What idiot dressed you in that outfit?"
Marty: "You did."

"Doc, don't you have a briefcase containing a small fortune from various time periods?"
"Yeah, what's your point?"
"...Well, it's a funny story about that eighty bucks."
Coming up in Part 2! Hoedowns, hootenannies, and runaway horses!

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