We've all been there. You’re sitting around talking about movies or TV shows, carefully avoiding any discussion involving the real issues of life like mortgages, mortality, or what kind of beans should be used to make vegetarian goulash. The discussion becomes a indictment of sorts, bringing up pointless charges against the various “crimes”* perpetrated by pop culture over the years.
Inevitably, there is no forward momentum to these discussions. At best, we collectively revel in our knowledge that we know what these artists did wrong. All too often, all we can detect is a general sense of badness that is not terribly more evolved than Donald Sutherland’s famed reaction in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).
We don’t seem to ever have any answers for how we would do things better, do we**? Well, let’s change all of that today. Here, I offer the first of what may end up being several pop cultural solutions. These fixes can’t cheat. We can’t have Heath Ledger play his Joker in Suicide Squad. He’s unavailable. We can’t go with simple answers, either. It isn’t enough to say that George Lucas shouldn’t have made a movie about a ten-year-old Anakin Skywalker; we’ve got to come up with the framework under which the prequel trilogy, or even a film with li’l Darth Vader, could work better.
I’ve written a little bit about it in this blog previously, but despite my absolute untempered love for Back to the Future Part III (1990), the movie is not without its flaws. It has one flaw that completely unravels the film when one subjects it to the amount of scrutiny that I have over the last 25+ years.
The ending doesn’t make a lick of sense. The moment Doc’s time traveling train shows up, the logic of all three movies breaks down, just so that Doc and Marty can share one last exchange, and Doc can get his dog back. Final exchanges between the two heroes are fine, and just leaving Einstein to fend for himself would have been a pretty callous fate for the pup. I’ll admit that much. However, a large amount of the tension in the trilogy is predicated on trying to get the DeLorean time machine to work with limitations of pre-1985 technology. Doc can’t get the time machine to work when he first arrives in 1985, but now that he’s a known train robber, he can make one out of a train, no problem.
It’s a set piece. It’s a nice image. The movie still needs a better framework for its ending.
So I went ahead and fixed it. I had planned on just pitching the beats of my alternate ending to Part III, but as I continued to work on it, I just went ahead and re-wrote the last five pages of the script from scratch. Like to hear it? Here it go.
EXT. HILL VALLEY - TRAIN TRACKS - DAY
MARTY and JENNIFER approach the wreckage of DeLorean.
You’re right. There’s not much left.
Doc’s never coming back***.
Marty leans down and among the parts of the car, finds a torn shard of the picture of DOC BROWN at the dedication of the Clock Tower. He examines the picture.
I’m sure gonna miss him, Jenn.
She has only a moment to give him an ounce of sympathy, before they are interrupted by the sound of a car approaching. They turn to see an old truck approach. A frail, OLD MAN wearing a suit exits. He looks stern; world weary. He holds a clipboard.
I feel ridiculous asking this, but are
you Martin McFly?
Marty and Jennifer exchange a worried look. How do they explain the pieces of the DeLorean? Marty still hasn’t put together where he last saw this man.
The man grimaces and through a limp, approaches. He reaches into his jacket pocket and as Marty and Jennifer both wince, he pulls out an envelope.
I’ve got a letter for you!
It’s only at this moment that it dawns on Marty although the preceding thirty years may not have been kind to him, it is the WESTERN UNION MAN who brought Marty a message from Doc Brown thirty years earlier. Marty takes the envelope and eagerly takes the envelope.
WESTERN UNION MAN
Sign on line six, please!
Half-way through the envelope, Marty stops to sign the man’s papers. He then goes back to the letter. The Western Union Man continues, but neither Jennifer nor Marty are paying attention, as they look at the letter.
WESTERN UNION MAN
I almost forgot, I’ve got a package as
You know, I’ve been working for Western
Union for forty years, and you’d never
know it, but we get a lot of strange
requests. You see, we’ve had that
letter in our possession for nearly
100 years! 95 years, 5 months, and 2
days to be exact.
You weren’t here at the moment we
were instructed to deliver the letter,
but my supervisor figured I better
I nearly asked him who’d be around
to complain, but who needs that kind
I tell ya, the weirder the request, the
more likely the recipient is actually
going to be there to take possession!
Close in on the letter as Marty reads.
EXT. SHONASH RAVINE - 1885 - DAY
DOC BROWN and CLARA observe the wreckage of the train. Marty’s hoverboard floats nearby.
Once again, let me assure you that
I am alive and well.
The entire town (including SEAMUS and MAGGIE has come out to see the re-dedication of the ravine in favor of their fallen hero, Clint Eastwood.
I am also pleased to report that we
are completely free of any legal trouble
after our latest experiment…
INT. HILL VALLEY COURT HOUSE - 1885 - DAY
MAYOR HUBERT officiates at the trial of BUFORD’S GANG. Doc is on the witness stand. It is clear from the looks on the gang’s face and Doc’s pantomime that he is implicating them in the train robbery for which Doc and Marty are responsible.
Although I can only hope Buford’s
gang are never released from their
If my calculations are correct, you
will receive this letter immediately
after you returned to 1985…
The entire town has come out for Doc and Clara’s wedding, Mayor Hubert officiates and the town has taken the same seats for the event.
Although I hope you will forgive me
if my calculations prove to be incorrect.
I’ve been a bit distracted as of late.
INT. DOC’S HOME/BLACKSMITH SHOP - 1886 - DAY
Clara is giving birth. The doctor hands Doc his first son, JULES.
Even if the technology were available
to somehow reach you in the future, I
can’t deny that my life has moved on
from trying to rebel against the tyrannies
of the space-time continuum. As it
has been several years since I last saw
you, I can only assume that you have
done the right thing and destroyed
LATER - EARLY 1890
Doc now has two children, Jules, and VERNE, both toddlers. They wobble around the blacksmith shop as Doc works off in the distance.
But you can’t keep a good scientist
Doc working on a rudimentary television. He’s almost nailed it, over forty years before we know them to have been invented.
I find any number of ways to keep
myself busy during my semi-retirement.
EXT. HILL VALLEY TOWN SQUARE - 1895 - DAY
Doc has concocted a rudimentary flying machine and is getting ready to test it. Clara and the boys are watching along with the rest of the town. In the background, construction on the clock tower has been completed.
Sometimes I worry that my work in
the past will have unforeseen consequences
on future events…
Doc’s flying machine takes off and amazes the collected crowd as it flies circles around the clocktower and the town square.
EXT. EMMETT L. BROWN ENTERPRISES HEADQUARTERS - 1900 - DAY
The blacksmith shop has been replaced by a plant. Doc is master of ceremonies at the dedication of the plant. All around the place are billboards for items that Doc he “invented.” A couple of his flying machines zoom by overhead. We can see it in Doc’s eyes; this is just the beginning.
EXT. TRAIN TRACKS - 1985 - DAY
But I can’t worry about that anymore.
Which brings me to two requests I have
for you. First: Your future hasn’t been
written yet; no one’s has. Your future
is whatever you make it, so make it a
Jennifer stops reading and tears up the fax from the future.
And second, see that Einstein gets a
good home. As we discussed previously,
walk him twice a day, and he only likes
The Western Union Man has returned from his truck. He hands Marty a flat package held together with aging, frayed twine. Marty takes the package and opens it. Is a nice, framed copy of both of them in front of the newly-minted clock. An inscription reads on the bottom: TO MARTY - PARTNERS IN TIME - SEPTEMBER 5TH, 1985. He stares at the picture and fails to pick up with the letter where he left off.
What should we do, Marty?
He grasps the photograph and puts both it and the letter under his arm.
I don’t know. Let’s go see what the
future has in store for us?
She smiles and nods. They join hands and walk back to his truck, leaving the befuddled Western Union Man behind. As the camera pans up, we see the entirety of Hill Valley before us. The clocktower square, Lyon Estates, Hilldale, the High School, maybe even the Lone Pine Mall. Only 1985 isn’t quite how Marty left it. Flying cars are everywhere. His present is a lot closer to the future he saw in 2015. As a flying car zooms into the camera, we:
FADE TO BLACK
All right, I’ll admit it: I may have gone a bit overboard here. I've also had the advantage of twenty-six years to come up with a different answer. But I think this a) keeps the beats of the ending that work, b) is of a similar tone with the rest of the movie(s) and c) doesn’t leave too many loose ends. Is my head way too far up my own ass to ever be rescued again? Is there another, even better ending for the movie? Do you have an impassioned defense of the original ending? Let me know in the comments.
*We have a real problem, on a societal level, regardless of ideology, of confusing annoyance and inconvenience with injustice. Injustice is quite real, but lets try and reserve that term for prejudice and hatred, not the lady in the office who sneezes too much.
**And by we, I mean “I.”
***Case in point. He does come back, like, thirty seconds from now. I guess he wasn’t thinking fourth dimensionally, but I submit that Marty’s just about the only one thinking fourth dimensionally at this moment.