In honor of October 21st, the world's official Back to the Future Day, let's take a look at all three films in the trilogy from worst to first. For me, it's a pretty clear but maybe not popular ranking. How about you?
#3. Back to the Future Part II
Following the huge success of the original film, Robert Zemeckis and his cast shot two sequels to the film at the same time, releasing them a year apart. The first sequel released in 1989 is the lesser of the two, BACK TO THE FUTURE II.
It seems that the older version of our loud villain Biff (Thomas Wilson) overheard Doc and Marty talking about the time machine when they came back from the past, so he manages to steal the Delorean and go back to the past, to give younger Biff a cheat sheet for the future, allowing he and his descendants in the future to be garishly wealthy.
The biggest problem with Part II is that it hops back and forth in time so much that you end up with multiple versions of Marty and Doc and Biff in the same scene.
Sometimes, especially in the last twenty minutes, that's a lot of fun and perfectly timed for suspense and laughs.
But for most of the muddled middle of the movie, it just becomes a bit repetitious.
We are talking a Robert Zemeckis movie so there IS plenty to enjoy. Their vision of 2015 is pretty hilarious, and Elon Musk and Steve Jobs HAVE managed to make some of what they envisioned come pretty close, but we are still a long way from freeways in the air loaded with speedy flying machines.
Michael J. Fox is great, playing many versions of himself, his dad and hilariously, even his alternative future sister at one point.
Christopher Lloyd keeps his energy at full tilt as every version of Doc, always explaining the timelines just enough to keep things rolling.
The biggest problem of the film for me is Wilson as Biff. He is so LOUD, so over the top, so one-note, that every version of him in the film becomes grating and unpleasant. It drags the whole film down.
That being said, we'll all remember the hoverboard sequence, the holographic ads for JAWS 19 (Directed by Max Spielberg) and the rousing finale chase between the airborne Delorean and Biff's vehicle in 1955.
The best parts of the film are Zemeckis' visual brilliance in giving you different angles to the original from 50 yards away, or through a well placed window, giving us a whole new perspective on the original film.
In those moments, its every bit as exciting as the first film.
The film concludes with scenes from Part III set in the old West, which is far better than Part II.
As for this first sequel, it made only about half as much money as its predecessor. I'll call that Biff Burnout and give this second installment a B-.
#2. Back to the Future
Back in 1985, BACK TO THE FUTURE arrived on screens and kicked off one of the most enjoyable trilogies of the eighties.
Produced by Steven Spielberg and Directed by Robert Zemeckis (Contact, Castaway, Forrest Gump, Allied) its a blast from (and to) the past and enjoyable from start to finish.
Michael J. Fox had his first big screen role as Marty McFly, a high school student suddenly thrust 30 years into the past and meeting his Mom and Dad as teenagers.
I had forgotten just how much fun the set up was and how cleverly Zemeckis and his writers get Marty back in time.
Christopher Lloyd is Kramer-hilarious as the wacky genius Doc Brown, the eccentric Crispin Glover has his most successful mainstream role as Marty's Dad, George and Lea Thompson is sweet, funny and perfect as Marty's Mom Lorraine.
So many classic moments from the time-traveling DeLorean, to Marty (Is your name Calvin Klein? It's on your underwear.") dealing with his Mom's flirting, Doc's madcap plan to go Back to the future and the climactic high school dance.
It's exciting, funny and a lot of fun, cleverly setting up two sequels that would appear in the following five years as the eighties came to a close.
Zemeckis is one of our best directors and his ability to balance big budget special effects, thrills and comedy has turned out some of the most enjoyable movies of the past four decades.
Huey Lewis's music adds to the fun and that's him in a cameo as one of the judges at the talent show.
The curse of time travel movies is that you tend to spend too much time looking for holes in the logic of the story. Fox and Zemeckis give you NO time to think about logic, knocking you out with laughs and one great set piece after another in this fast moving blockbuster hit.
BACK TO THE FUTURE holds up perfectly 33 years after its release and gets an A.
#1. Back to the Future Part III
For me, the best film by a gigawatt in Robert Zemeckis' time travel trilogy is BACK TO THE FUTURE III. The original set the tone brilliantly, Part 2 was a confused mess for most of its running time and Part 3 brings all the pieces together for a fantastic sci-fi/traditional western mash-up.
It seems the Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd in his best performance as the mad scientist, adding some quiet romance to the mix) has got sideways with an 1800's bad guy, Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, Biff's old west relative.
Marty (Michael J.Fox) must go back in time to save Doc from his fate, or the future will never happen.
This gives Zemeckis and his great cast the chance to present a full blown Western, complete with a love interest for Doc in the person of new schoolteacher Clara, perfectly played by Mary Steenburgen.
From a town dance that's staged perfectly (look for ZZ Top in a surprising performance), Marty deciding his name in the 1800's is Clint Eastwood, to a fantastic conclusion in which Doc and Marty must use a locomotive to get that famed Delorean up to speed, its pure fun and loaded with laughs.
Fox makes it all look deceivingly easy as Marty, he's excellent.
The music score by Alan Silvestri is almost constant and one of his best, adding to the old west setting and the suspense.
It's great to see classic Western actors Dub Taylor (The Wild Bunch, The Getaway), Pat Buttram (Mr Haney on "Green Acres") and Harry Carey Jr (Tombstone, The Searchers) as old cowboys in the saloon, laughing it up at Doc's tales of the future.
That's just one of many deft touches Zemeckis brings together for this excellent closing chapter.
Talk about a perfect ending...
Part Three gets an A+.
(Roads? We don't need roads where we're going......)