The first of the two simultaneously-filmed Back to the Future sequels wasn’t exactly well-received, but at least it stuck to (or caustically undermined) what worked about the original: cheeky Oedipus reversals, culture shock gags, and Möbius strip scenarios juxtaposed against kinetically forward plot momentum. Back to the Future Part III, in which Marty McFly and Doc Brown get lost in the Old West, can only summon a last-act burst of superfluously choreographed action, which is hardly any way to run a railroad, especially since it’s clear by this point in the series that Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale meant for Part II and Part III to function as a revival of action serials. By sending our matinee heroes back into Hill Valley circa 1885, they’re essentially sending them to the very outskirts of the prehistory of cinema. Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope wasn’t patented until 1893, but early experiments in motion pictures date back to the moment Biff’s great-great-great-great-grandpunk Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen’s face takes a pratfall into a rickshaw filled with grass-fed cow shit. Thus, Marty manages to avoid swift death in a high noon duel in the sun by using everything he’s learned from the movies (hiding a bulletproof vest under his poncho and calling himself Clint Eastwood); in theory, his cliché-savvy antics might be taken as the inciting incident that informs every filmed storyline that follows in his time-skewing wake. Unfortunately, the meta references end there, and the sophistication of the first installment’s narrative mechanisms and the freewheeling (if moronic) energy of the second are as hopelessly lost as Marty and Doc in a world without unleaded. Worse than that, the teasing time paradoxery is reversed in Doc’s final speech, in which he sermonizes about the future not being written so live life the best you can; science-fiction literally reverts to neo-creationism. In other words, it ain’t only the DeLorean that’s out of gas.
The transfer is on equal footing with Part II, which makes sense as they were filmed simultaneously. That said, the quality of the image is superior given the comparative lack of ungainly visual effects that marred the faux-futuristic first half of Part II. (The only dud shot in Part III is the train reprising the first film's finale: "Tracks? Where we're going we don't need.tracks.") The colors are obviously more muted, all browns and tans, but the overall look is nice and sunny. The sound is as clearly problematic as it was on the other two discs. Some music cues sound crumpled, and even some voice tracks have stuttering blisters, almost as though the movie had been compressed to fit on network TV.
Like the series' increasingly derivative in-jokes, the special features are but another carbon copy of what showed up on the first two discs. Only instead of Leslie Nielson's introduction to the first film, we get Kirk Cameron stifling his urge to proselytize while reading fans' questions about evil, science-tolerant topics like hoverboards (i.e. witchcraft). And there's a ZZ Top music video that makes 1885 look fresh and youthful in comparison, as well as a solitary, brutal deleted scene that plays more like an outtake from Deadwood.
Doc Brown's threatened time paradox is no match for the final installment's dreary life lessons.