Friday, August 17, 2012

Guest Review: Back to the Future Part III (1990)

by ScottDS
As I mentioned in my last review, I watched the Back to the Future films in reverse order, so Part III was my first glimpse inside the universe created by filmmakers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. I don’t remember how I stumbled across it one Saturday night in the early 90s but something about it kept my interest and two hours later, I was a fan.

1955 Doc (Christopher Lloyd) has just sent Marty (Michael J. Fox) back to the future when, all of a sudden, Marty re-appears! Marty from the second film, that is, with news that the DeLorean was struck by lightning, zapping Doc back to 1885. From the Western Union letter, we find out that Doc has been doing fine, working as a blacksmith in Hill Valley. He buried the DeLorean in a mine, along with repair instructions, so Marty can take it back to 1985. Doc also warns Marty not to come get him, lest the space-time continuum get disrupted again. While retrieving the DeLorean, they stumble across Doc’s tombstone. It turns out that, one week after writing the letter, Doc is shot in the back by Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), the great-grandfather of Marty’s nemesis Biff Tannen. Marty decides to go back and rescue him.
Marty, dressed in a ridiculous faux cowboy outfit, arrives in 1885 in the midst of a Cavalry charge. He hides the DeLorean in a cave but discovers that an Indian’s arrow has punctured the fuel line. He takes off and falls down a hill, where he’s awakened by his great-great-grandparents, Seamus and Maggie McFly (Fox and Lea Thompson). The next day, he makes it into town where he’s accosted by Buford and his goons who try to hang him, but is rescued by Doc. While figuring out how to get the DeLorean up and running again, they notice an out of control buckboard and rescue it’s driver: the lovely Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen). It’s love at first site for Doc and Clara. That night, Buford tries to kill Doc but Marty intervenes – he’s ready to leave well enough alone but Buford calls him “yellow” which Marty can’t deal with. Buford challenges him to a duel the next morning.

After loading the DeLorean onto a rail spur (only a train is fast enough to push the car to 88 m.p.h.), Doc tells Clara the truth but she doesn’t take it too well. The next morning, Marty finds Doc, who falls unconscious after one swig of whiskey. Buford shows up but Marty wins the duel, thanks to the metal firebox door he has strapped to his chest (this was nicely set up in the previous film). Doc and Marty then take off for the train, hijack it in the name of science, and use it to push the DeLorean to 88 m.p.h. Clara discovers Doc’s model of the time machine in his workshop and catches up with them. Doc uses the hoverboard (which Marty had kept in the car) to rescue Clara from falling off the train as Marty is sent back to 1985, where the DeLorean is quickly destroyed by a passing train. It turns out everything is okay, with alternate 1985 having returned to normal. On the way back to the wreckage, he and Jennifer (Elizabeth Shue) run into Needles (Flea), who challenges him to a street race. Marty thinks for a moment, having learned his lesson, and reverses instead, avoiding a terrible accident. Jennifer opens the “You’re fired!” note she kept from 2015 and the words vanish.

After checking out the wreckage, a time-traveling train appears, manned by Doc, Clara, and their two kids (Jules and Verne). Doc gives Marty a framed photo of the two of them that had been taken in 1885 in front of the new town clock. Jennifer inquires about the “You’re fired!” note but Doc reminds them that their future hasn’t been written yet. “No one’s has! Your future is whatever you make it! So make it a good one!” The train then takes off for the friendly skies as the words “The End” appear on the screen. Cue the ZZ Top song and away we go…
I’m sorry but I can’t stress it enough – I love these movies. They’re not perfect, mind you, but taken together as a whole, they don’t get much better than this. As far as this movie goes, it’s... good but not great. The love story between Doc and Clara is sweet and I always liked the idea that the thing that brought them together was their mutual love of all things science and science fiction. It was geek love before geeks became a pop culture thing. Oddly, this is the second time Mary Steenburgen fell in love with a time traveler, having fallen for Malcolm McDowell’s H.G. Wells in Nicholas Meyer’s 1979 film Time After Time. As per usual, the visual effects and other technical details are more or less top-notch. A couple of split-screen shots don’t hold up but the art direction and costume design are excellent. This was, for all intents and purposes, my first western. I even refer to this film as a “gateway western” for parents who want to introduce their children to the genre without going straight to John Wayne and Gary Cooper.

Speaking of John Wayne, the filmmakers used this opportunity to pay homage to him and John Ford. Marty’s arrival in 1885 was shot in Monument Valley, which you’ll recognize from many John Ford/John Wayne westerns. John Wayne stock company regular Harry Carey Jr. appears in the saloon, along with Dub Taylor and Pat Buttram, with Richard Dysart playing a barbed wire salesman who tries to console Doc, and whose small talk on the train tips off Clara that Doc still loves her. This film has what the second film lacked, which was colorful supporting characters and a sense of fun. The second film has its fun moments, too, but with a very dark and serious second act. Mention also needs to be made of Tom Wilson’s performance as “Mad Dog,” which is an absolute tour de force!
I want to use this opportunity to mention Roger Ebert’s review. He gave the film a marginal thumbs down, claiming that the Old West of this film was the “sitcom version” – he preferred a more realistic portrayal, citing McCabe and Mrs. Miller as an example. For what this film is and for what it sets out to accomplish, 1885 Hill Valley is just fine. It’s a family movie from the Spielberg/Amblin Entertainment factory (back when that meant something) and a dark, gritty setting wouldn’t have been appropriate. Plus the filmmakers were huge western fans and simply wanted to pay homage to their heroes. I also learned that, since westerns were mostly out of fashion by this time, every stuntman in Hollywood wanted in on this film since so many of them grew up on the genre and you don’t get to do horse falls every day.

Now… here’s where I give this film a thumbs half-mast: while Doc’s story is sweet, Marty’s is kind of frustrating. His Achilles’ heal was set up in the second film and, once again, if he didn’t care about people calling him “chicken” or “yellow,” it would’ve made things so much easier for everyone. There are so many close calls and a few dei ex machina, that after watching this film so many times, one begins to see the wheels turning. To be fair, you can watch any movie enough times and start to see the flaws, but with any story dealing with time travel and paradoxes, either the science needs to be perfect, or the film needs to be so damned entertaining that we don’t have time to think about the problems. The first film is borderline perfect but the sequels, not so much.

I also had a recent epiphany which explains why I prefer the second film to this one. In Part II, the major conflict is caused by character: Marty buys the sports almanac, thinking he can cheat the system by placing a few bets in 1985, knowing he’ll win since he has all the scores. This is a perfectly understandable and human thing: greed is something we all have to deal with and it makes you wonder, what would you do if you had access to forbidden knowledge? However, in Part III, the conflict is caused by an Indian’s arrow. The reason they can't go back to the future is because a random arrow, shot by a random Indian we never actually see, causes the DeLorean’s fuel line to leak. If only the DeLorean had been a few feet to the left or right, everything would’ve been fine. I understand why they made this choice but it’s just one of those forehead-slapping moments. Also, the second film has so much going on with it, that the viewer is left with much to ponder, whereas this film is more of a straight western/romance, with all the clich├ęs thereof.

As of this writing, the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios has been replaced, but the actual ride footage can be found online and on the latest DVD/Blu-Ray releases. There was also a Saturday morning animated series, of which I have fond memories. There was also a recent video game, though I don’t know much about it. I’ve remarked on more than one occasion that I wish these films had a series of novels to go with them. There is so much backstory and so many alternate universes and “what-if” scenarios that I’d love to explore one day. If seemingly every background character from the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises can get their own backstories, why not this one?

Lastly, I have to give props to co-writer/producer Bob Gale. While he’s mostly been working in the comic book world all these years, he’s been a great steward of the Back to the Future legacy. He’s there to supervise DVD and Blu-Ray transfers, he’s there to contribute to audio commentaries and documentaries, he’s available to consult whenever a company makes a licensing deal, and don’t worry, as long as he and Robert Zemeckis are still standing, there won’t be a fourth film! (I only wish certain other filmmakers cared that much.)

“You're just not thinking fourth dimensionally!”


tryanmax said...

Scott, since you list so many of the spinoff material, I thought I'd clue you in to an almost-homage that Pixar didn't quite pay to the BttF franchise. Among the bonus features on the Mater's Tall Tales DVD collection of shorts are animated and narrated storyboards for some of the abandoned concepts.

One concept, still under the working title of "Backwards to the Forwards," features Mater as a time machine going back in time and meeting his 1955 self, going further back to the founding of Radiator Springs (and inadvertently naming it), and going back even further still. I think it's too bad they let this one go, but treading so near to another production company's property was probably seen as too risky.

T-Rav said...

Scott, I thought the fuel line was cut when Marty drove the DeLorean into a cave and it went over rough ground, not from an arrow (which would have had a hard time puncturing something underneath the car anyway). I only remember one arrow, stuck in the door.

It's kind of splitting hairs, I admit, since your larger point stands--the conflict in the film occurs through random chance, rather than a character's actions. Just thought I'd point that out.

Anonymous said...

T-Rav -

I think we're see a couple different things at work. Marty sees the arrow, removes it, then smells the leaking gasoline, and says, "Damn, I ripped the fuel line."

The way the scene is cut together, along with his line of dialogue, it's almost implied that the arrow shot the fuel line (even though it wouldn't be that high) and Marty removing it is what causes the leak.

But yeah, my point still stands. :-)

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

Cars wasn't my favorite Pixar film (yeah, I'm one of those people) but that sounds like an awesome concept, and I suppose there's novelty value in seeing Larry the Cable Guy pay homage to Marty McFly. :-)

I'm sure Futurama paid homage to BTTF on more than one ocassion and even Family Guy parodied the end of the first film with Brian the dog playing the guitar on stage at the dance. (I hadn't watched Family Guy in years when I just randomly stumbled across this episode - lucky me.)

tryanmax said...

The Family Guy homage is a good one, though it underscores the fact that the show is about 80% swiped material.

Larry the Cable Guy has kind of a love-him-or-hate-him personality. I find his happy-go-lucky attitude infectious. I will admit to feeling some Nebraska kinship, though it stems from actually knowing guys like him. He's the kind of guy you can count on to help you move a couch.

I wish I could say more about BttF itself, but I think you really nailed it. Especially when you say that, taken as a trilogy, it is one of the best. I can add that the Seamus McFly character is a very nice touch, one of my favorite supporting characters, even if he is played by Fox.

BIG MO said...

Nice exploration of the BTTF movies, Scott. Ebert wanted a more series III, eh? That's ... strange. I guess he missed the whole "this is a fun romp through time comedy family movie" theme.

And BTTF III was your first western? Interesting introduction! You mentioned Richard Dysart playing a role in BTTF III. He was the chief bad guy in my first western, Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider" from 1985.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

I stopped watching Family Guy years ago but it doesn't say much about their writing since all I liked about the show was the swiped material! Chris falling into an A-ha music video? Funny. The actual plotline of that episode (whatever it was)? Not funny.

And I have nothing against Larry the Cable Guy. I'm neutral in that area. :-)

Anonymous said...

Big Mo -

Thanks! Yeah, I guess Ebert wanted a more serious "Old West" instead of what he thought was a fake movie version of it. Whatever...

And yeah, it was my first western. The film was released when I was 7 years old which means it would've aired on TV when I was 8 or 9. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood weren't quite on my radar yet. :-)

T-Rav said...

Scott, now that I think about it, Part III was the first one I saw, too. Or part of it, anyway. I think we were eating in a restaurant when I was eight or nine and they were playing the movie on TV, and I saw the last 20 minutes of it. Even with that small amount, I thought it was pretty cool. It was several years before I saw all three movies in their entirety, though.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Sorry I'm late -- it's been a long morning. I'll be back shortly with some comments. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Nice reviews of both films! As I said in the other review, I like II better simply because it felt like they swung harder on that one. This one struck me as too safe. That's not say I didn't enjoy it, I did. I think this is the better film-film between II and III, I just don't think this one is as good as it should have been. I think you said the other day that people were disappointed that a time travel story would end up a cliched western. I would quite go that far, but they could have worked harded with the time travel stuff for sure.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I agree about your point about random chance. This film doesn't feel as tight as the rest where every event is caused by some prior action. This one feels more like a series of events strung together to create the plot.

ellenB said...

I like the first one the best, though I watch the third one the most. This one is easier to watch for some reason.

Did anyone hear that Michael J. Fox is going to start acting again? Good for him!

DUQ said...

Scott, I enjoyed both reviews. Well done. Like you, I love these films and I don't have any problems with the inconsistencies or less than believable moments. These are comedies and take them in the lighthearted manner in which they are offered.

AndrewPrice said...

By the way, Scott and T-Rav, That's a huge flaw in any story which makes it feel less interesting to the viewer -- when random events affect the story. And the more important the random event is to the story, the less real the story becomes because people start to feel like it was all too coincidental.

Anonymous said...

T-Rav -

It's funny what we remember seeing as a kid. I'm sure there are plenty of films I now call favorites that were on TV when I was younger and I had no idea what they were (or how they'd affect me later).

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

It's interesting. I read a review of Part III where they guy bashed the film for daring to give the characters more than two dimensions. His reasoning was, Marty and Doc are more or less cartoon characters (albeit well-written ones) so why would we care if Doc meets the woman of his dreams?

I can't agree with that sentiment... but it's obvious the filmmakers had nowhere else to go with the McFly family (such as it was) so they decided to give Doc a story. And after all the craziness of Part II, I imagine it was a little disappointing.

HOWEVER, I did read one interesting theory about this film... when Doc discovers Marty has arrived in the DeLorean in 1885, which now has no fuel, couldn't Doc have sent another Western Union letter asking Marty to bring some extra gas with him? In 1955, Marty would've received two letters: the old one, and the new one!

Anonymous said...

ellenB -

Yeah, I heard Fox was working on a TV comedy that was being shopped around to the different networks. I thought he was funny on Curb Your Enthusiasm last season.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's a good point about the letters and the best I've ever seen that handled was in Bill and Ted as he's making mental notes of things to remember and they suddenly appear as he mentions them. LOL!

Anonymous said...


Thanks! Yeah, these films are light-hearted comedies and I take them as such. But like all good movies, these leave audiences with much to ponder on the way home from the theater. Too many movies are simply forgettable.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

The thing we have to assume about Bill and Ted is that, after the movies end, they actually do go back and take care of everything on their to-do list!

Re: random events, I agree with you. Now, the thing is, random events happen all the time and sometimes a movie character needs to forget a phone, or get pulled over for speeding thus delaying something else, or a computer needs to take a long time to do something, etc.

But man, it's unsatisfying!

There's a Seinfeld episode where the creators needed to get Jerry away from the table in the diner so Elaine and George can share some secret (or something like that). Instead of having Jerry go to the bathroom or make a phone call, they have him recognize some extra in the background that we'd never seen before or since. "Hey, isn't that so and so?"

Now that sort of thing happens a lot, but it came across as too "writerly."

ellenB said...

Scott, I understand that new medication has helped him overcome or reduce the shaking. I hope so. Not only would I like to see science beat this disease, but I always liked him as an actor.

Tennessee Jed said...

nice job on both films. I noticed this one was playing on the free Cinemax weekend at DirecTV, although I missed it. Been a long time since I had seen either Part 2 or Part 3, but they were a lot of fun.

Doc Whoa said...

Scott, It's not satisfy for some reason when things happen randomly in a story. I can't explain it, but it just seems like the story doesn't hold together as well and like it isn't really story about the characters so much as a story involving the characters. I guess I like stories about people driving thier own fates.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Bill and Ted would have worked the same way in this instance, all the Doc had to do was remember to post another letter right after realizing they had no fuel and it would have been in the trunk.

Random events do happen all the time because that's the nature of story telling. Plus, you can call almost anything random when push comes to shove because you could always say "why did he pick that moment, etc." But I think the bigger point is that when your story relies on random events to work, then you've written a bad story unless the random event is something which starts the story off.

Anonymous said...

Jed -

I never need an excuse to watch them, though only recently have all three aired together. When I was growing up, it seemed each film ran on a completely different channel: one on USA, another on TBS, etc. I guess the studio never bundled them together in the same package for some reason.

Now that I think of it, I asked Bob Gale about this in an online chat almost a decade ago. I tracked down the transcript:

ScottDS: Hi Bob! I remember when I first saw the trilogy on reverse order.
You can imagine my confusion!

Bob_Gale: For some bizarre reason, the Universal TV packagers do not have all 3 BTTF movies in the same package! That's why you never see them all run back to back on the same network.

This has obviously changed in the last decade.

And sadly, even 10 years ago, this stuff was on my mind. I just never had an outlet for it. :-D

Anonymous said...

Doc -

I agree. In fact, I was recently watching Die Hard with a Vengeance the other day, while listening to the screenwriter's DVD commentary (spoiler alert: I hope to write about that film next - I've always been a fan).

Anyway, the screenwriter admits to being embarrassed by having Bruce Willis: a.) lose a cell phone, then b.) get a new cell phone but lose reception.

Sometimes you just need to get the plot moving. I guess it's like anything else: if it's done well, you don't think about it.

I once proposed a murder mystery story to a friend but I couldn't figure out the villain or the motive. A friend suggested maybe the villain was a friend of the protagonist but I argued against that, explaining that I hate "small universe syndrome" where seemingly everyone and everything are related.

Sadly, many people are killed by total strangers who do it because they're crazy. There isn't always a reasonable explanation - sometimes it's just random.

(I kinda went off on a tangent there.) :-)

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I agree with that. I think, in this case, after everything we'd seen, it was disappointing that a random event is what caused the conflict... in a second sequel... to a film noted for its perfectly-structured screenplay, no less!

(I'm referring to the first film in that last sentence.)

T-Rav said...

Scott, my theory? Doc probably didn't want to risk a paradox by clueing Marty in on future(ish) events. He's big on that, you know.

Maybe a better idea would have been to siphon off just enough gas from "DeLorean Prime" in 1885 to power its future self, yet leave enough for when Marty found it in 1955.

Joel Farnham said...


I like the sequels but not as much as I liked the first one. I hated it when the Delorean was destroyed, but I understood why. Then the Doc comes back with a flying train?

I saw someone earlier mention the Heinlein stories, All you Zombies and By His Bootstraps. They are about as definitive time loop stories as you can get. By his Bootstraps has the protagonist impregnating himself.

Anonymous said...

T-Rav -

I don't know. All I know is, Doc would've most likely drained all the car's fluids in 1885, and then it was refilled in 1955, only to go back to 1885 and leak.

But yeah, the less they knew about the future, the better, though I read one negative geeky review about this film and the author states that, since Clara was supposed to die, then what does it matter what Doc and Marty did in 1885? After all, preventing the death of someone (and all subsequent events) is pretty big, so why stop there?

Anonymous said...

Joel -

Yeah, it hurts when the DeLorean is destroyed... and the train looks cool but it's just a big tease... it shows up, then the movie ends a minute later! (My wish is to get all three die-cast DeLorean models one day to display on my already-crowded bookshelf.)

And like I mentioned earlier, I'm not up on my Heinlein but I'll have to add those to the reading list.

T-Rav said...

Joel, that brings to mind one of the problems I did already have with the third movie. The attempts to get the gas-less car to 88 mph--first of all, I can't believe even Marty would have thought it could achieve that speed being dragged by HORSES. I mean, come on. Furthermore, how could a scientist as brainy as Doc Brown not immediately think of steam as a locomotion device (no pun intended)? Maybe refitting the DeLorean that way would have taken too much time--on the other hand, Doc did have time to create an elaborate scale model of how the train-pushing would work. In hindsight, it just seems kind of obvious.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I don't think saving Clara would have affected the timeline. For one thing, they gave another victim, so everyone thinks Clint Eastwood died there. So it's not like it didn't happen, it just happened to someone else who didn't have a future either, i.e. he's not missed. Finally, she's taken out of the timeline, so her survival doesn't affect anything because she's still gone.

Anonymous said...

Love the BttF movies and your reviews. Time travel has always been a favourite for me, I love it in TV, Movies and books, I read a lot of Alternate Reality books.

Being a bit older I saw all 3 of the movies in the correct order and I have always enjoyed them for what they are. Just simple well made movies that you can watch with friends and family.

I liked the first movie the most, then the second then the third (like most people I guess). I don't think to hard about the flaws in the Time Travel logic in comedies but I really did like how Bill & Tedd did it. As Andrew said, making those mental notes then it appears, it makes sense and was well done.

And I too love Die Hard WAV which was an improvement on the second one. Again, you have to just turn off the brain and enjoy them as great action movies.


T-Rav said...

Scott, as far as the Clara plotline goes, I don't think what he's asking is a big deal. For one thing, they didn't know who she was when they saved her, so they're not guilty of anything other than being decent human beings. Also, as Marty said later, "So what? One ravine doesn't get a name." Speaking relatively, since Clara never had any interaction with the community other than to fall into the ravine, whether she lives or dies isn't that big a deal in the time-continuum scheme of things. Plus, one of the themes of the movie is Doc learning that your future has to be determined by you and not the fabric of spacetime, so it seems fairly in line to me.

Anonymous said...

Anon/Scott -


Yeah, something about time travel really interests people, even people who aren't sci-fi geeks. I guess it all goes back to the "What if?" scenario. I'm not up on my time travel literature but I understand there's a huge sub-genre of alternate historical fiction (I think the guy's name is Turtledove who does a lot of those "What if the South had won the Civil War?" stories.)

I don't know... in my experience, most people seem to prefer the first, then the third, then the second. I guess they prefer comfort food over the dark stuff in alternate 1985.

Yeah, I love the third Die Hard film. It's been on HBO a lot lately and seems to get a bad rap from people - I think it's a blast (though I enjoy the second one as well).

I won't be starting that review for a while, but stay tuned... :-)

Anonymous said...

I had no issue with them saving Clara, that is human nature and quite understandable even for Doc who doesn't want to change the past.

I meant things that others have mentioned, like sending another note about the petrol. Also why didn't Marty go back a week or two earlier to give Doc plenty of time to escape. Same with Bill & Tedd, they could have got back hours earlier to be ready for their Presentation. But I guess they don't do that to heighten the drama of the stories otherwise it would be pretty boring.

If we want to get really picky when Doc gets trapped in the past he hides the car for Marty to find in 1955. How did he move it and how come no one found it over the years? And how did he build a Flux capacitor in the past? They could say he had a spare in the car I suppose. But then why was Doc not in jail for stealing a train? I'm pretty sure that was frowned upon back then and so on.

But I don't generally let these types of things get in the way of a good story.


Anonymous said...

T-Rav -

Yeah, that sounds about right. I can't seem to find that review at the moment but the guy seemed to have a hardcore grudge against the film.

Anonymous said...

Anon -

As far as creating a flux capacitor in the past (I assume you mean 1885), one can speculate that he reverse-engineered the technology from the hoverboard. At least that's my friend's theory.

But yeah, I don't let this get in the way... it's just fun to think about. :-)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Great review, Scott!

BTTF is a very enjoyable trilogy, and I like the fact that the sequels were good and not horrible, like many sequels tend to be.

IRT random events: I also think most people like destiny driven films where the characters chose their own future with all the good and/or bad consequences their choices entail.
I also enjoy those themes more.

However, randomness can be interesting in some circumstances if it's presented in a way that demonstrates we can't always think of everything that may or may not occur because of our own choices and the choices of others.

Also, and Andrew's books are a good example of this, there can be unknown unknowns that occur.
What appears to be a perfect crime becomes unravelled because of one little thing that throws a monkey wrench into the works.

However, it must be presented properly and it can't be overused.
The series Dexter does a fantastic job with the unknown unknowns and the writers are good enough to mix it into the plots and make the characters more interesting as bedlam ensues.

On a more cosmic level, Michael Crichton called this chaos theory, IIRC, which doesn't mean that chaos dominates order, it simply means that we can't, or don't always know everything, and that lack of knowledge makes it unwise to act sometimes because we don't see the big picture.
And acting befdore we know what we're really doing can and often does lead to disaster.

There are many examples of this throughout history. Communism, socialism, totalitarianism, crony capitalism which is actually anti-free markets, ddt, etc., etc..

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

IRT my last comment: The BTTF films do highlight how unwise it is to act before thinking about the consequences which is pretty neat.

Those films are a lot deeper than they appear, although one can definitely enjoy them without thinking about all the implications and questions the films bring up. :^)

AndrewPrice said...

Hey, did somebody mention my books? Major brownie points there Ben! :)

Ben, I concur about randomness and the unknown unknown. Those can be used very well, but they need to be handled carefully. Simply having something random happen to make the plot work out isn't it. Too often, I've seen films where the characters basically have to say, "well wasn't that lucky!" to complete whatever they were doing.

Another thing I hate is when someone hands the hero something like a squirt gun with dishwashing liquid in it at the beginning of the film in a random scene (like they take it from their kids) and then it becomes the only way to win the movie. That's pathetic writing.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I concur, Andrew. Smart writers know how to handle that with a natural flow that makes sense.

BTW have you seen the trailer for season 7 of Dexter?

Wow! They are really cranking it up a whole lotta notches! :^)

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Your squirt gun example might be a bit cheesy but it is a classic example of setup and payoff. It's the old Chekhov's Gun rule:

"If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."

(Chekhov the playwright, not the Trek character.) :-)

Signs is a good example of setup/payoff done poorly IMHO, with the "swinging" baseball line, which somehow comes in handy later.

At least where comedies are concerned, the best setups work as gags on their own, so you can appreciate it on a couple of different levels.

Anonymous said...

What! All these people seeing number III first?!!! I guess that makes me an oddball here, but yeah, ever since I saw the first one with a friend of mine on a stormy day, I found them a pretty entertaining set of films.

Ben, I loved the films for their relatability. In all honestly, I will admit, I am one of those young 'uns, out there, but I liked the second and third for the character development of McFly, and their odd (compared to most films I have seen involving time travel) case of having a comedic nature, and lighthearted nature.

Anonymous said...

USS Ben -

Thanks, as always, for the kind words. :-)

In addition to not knowing things, I think the problem is seeing characters who are otherwise in control, finding themselves out of control, if only for a minute or two. That's why, in addition to becoming a cliche, it's so annoying to see characters lose cell phone reception, just when they need it the most.

Yeah, these films, like many sci-fi/time travel films, are much deeper than they initially appear, and that's a hallmark of many great movies.

Anonymous said...

obiwan -

I've since seen all three BTTF films in the theater (the New Beverly and Grauman's Chinese Theater in LA) but the first film is one of those that I wish I could've been there when it first opened... but I was only two!

Star Wars is another one where, if I could travel back in time, opening night in 1977 would be one of my destinations.

Yeah, they are definitely relatable, and I think that's a hard thing to pull off. Creating likable sympathetic characters. They don't all have to be Everyman, or suburban families like in a lot of Spielberg productions of the period, but they can't turn you off either.

(Of course, there are plenty of great unlikable characters, too.)

Kit said...

Saving of Clara was an unintentional act. Doc Brown did not intend to alter history when he did it nor did he go back in time for the purpose of saving her life and she was herself removed from the timeline when she and Doc Brown formed their family and time-machine train.
Paradox averted.

"HOWEVER, I did read one interesting theory about this film... when Doc discovers Marty has arrived in the DeLorean in 1885, which now has no fuel, couldn't Doc have sent another Western Union letter asking Marty to bring some extra gas with him? In 1955, Marty would've received two letters: the old one, and the new one!"

Someone mentioned it above. It would've caused a paradox. Marty had already comeback with the DeLorean when they found out about the lack of fuel.

Doc Brown could get away with the bullet-proof vest thing in 1 because Marty fled before Doc Brown got up and was probably distracted by the Automatic rifle-wielding Libyan terrorists. As far as he knew, Doc Brown had been killed.
Paradox averted.

Anonymous said...

Kit -

If Doc had sent the note about the gas, then I suppose the gas would've magically appeared in the car... but you are correct: if Marty had come back with more gas, then Doc wouldn't have had to send the letter... therein lies the paradox.

And now that you mention it, Doc getting "killed" in the first film is an example of great writing and upping the stakes. Marty doesn't just have to do X, he also has to do Y and Z.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I don't mind a set up and a payoff, I think that's almost necessary for a film to "feel right." But the problem is not when the gun gets used later, the problem is when the gun becomes the only way to solve the film.

In other words, if there are ten ways to kill a monster and they use the gun because it works, that's fine. But if the only way to kill the monster is something which was randomly given the hero by another character earlier in the film, then the film feels fake and the resolution become lucky chance rather than anything the hero has earned.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Yeah, I'll agree with that. Like I said above, Signs did this very awkwardly where the wife's dying words somehow come in handy years later during an event that she could never have predicted! That's M. Night Shyamalan for ya. :-)

Or the Bond films, where (for the most part) Bond manages to use every piece of equipment given to him by Q to get out of a jam. And it's not like he gets the same equipment in every movie - it's always different (and perfectly suited to that particular plot).

But it's Bond and it's fun so who cares? :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The difference again with Bond is that he could use any number of weapons to help himself out of almost all the dilemmas. He just happens to use that particular weapon. By comparison, in some films, you literally end up with the creature's only vulnerability being something like a crayon which was randomly handed to the hero and he stuck in his pocket. That's a big difference.

Anonymous said...

Is it bad that I actually want to see your "monster vs. crayon" movie? Crayola could get a good product placement deal. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Yes, that's very unhealthy. LOL!

Kylo said...

Not sure if any of you will see this, but I’m watching BTTF 3 and something about Clara Caldwell is causing me confusion.

Marty shows Doc a photo of his tombstone which says it was erected by his beloved Clara... So we are now wondering who this Clara is cause Doc has yet to meet her just a few days prior to his impending doom. But alas, we find out and new teacher is moving to town and her name is Clara, and then while Doc and Marty are looking at the railroad tracks, they save a damsel from flying into the ravine. This damsel is Clara Caldwell. Doc makes a big deal about saving her because now he’s altered history since the ravine was named after that Clara when she fell to her death. He regrets it, but my question is why? Apparently he must have saved her on his own while he lived out this timeline prior to Marty arriving because his tombstone was erected by Clara.

I know, I know, I should draw the line at time travel and therefore all suspension of reality and belief should be made already. I’m just curious if I missed something here.

AndrewPrice said...

Hi Kylo, That's actually an excellent point! Never thought about that before, but she must have survived him. Funny. :)

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