Ruining Old Movies Wednesday: back to “Back To The Future”

Keri had never seen Back to the Future before, so on the weekend we sat down and watched it. And much as I love the movie, there’s a lot about it that doesn’t make sense. When I say “doesn’t make sense”, I am fully aware that we’re talking about a movie involving a car that travels back in time. I mean “doesn’t make sense according to the rules the movie has established”.

(Spoiler warning, for people from 1985 who’ve travelled forward to 2009 and haven’t seen the movie yet.)

  • After all Marty’s interference in his parents’ courtship has ceased, and they’re on the dance floor together while he plays, there’s a moment where some red-haired kid pushes George out of the way and it looks, briefly, like he’s not going to end up with Lorraine after all. Marty starts to disappear – not from the head first, like his brother did in the photo (which also didn’t make sense: was there a probability of Marty’s older brother growing to adulthood without a head? Surely he’d either be born or not!), but from the hand… until George grows some balls, takes Lorraine back and kisses her. Suddenly Marty’s fine. But why was he disappearing? He’s the only one altering the timeline from what it should be, and if he doesn’t do anything to influence George’s behaviour, and George does by that point have the balls to push red-haired kid out of the way, then why even the moment of disappearing?

  • And while we’re there, why does the Marvin Berry band ask Marty to play something of his own after he’s just completely buggered up a standard? He fell all over the ground and played random strings that made the singer wince, for god sake.
  • Clearly a DeLorean going at 88mph is only going to contact a wire across the street for a miniscule fraction of a second. Which means calculations would have to be PRECISE precise. How do they know the clock actually stopped at EXACTLY 10.04? It’s shown moving in discrete intervals each minute – so it could have stopped at any time in that minute. I suppose it’s lucky that the DeLorean stalled and buggered up Doc Brown’s erroneous calculations: if it hadn’t, Marty would’ve got there a few seconds earlier and missed the lightning entirely.
  • How does Marty survive running a DeLorean into a shop front at not much less than 88mph? Why is the DeLorean not even dented?
  • Why is the DeLorean not all cold and coated with ice except on the first trip?
  • How did Doc Brown know where he was going to be shot? All Marty’s note says is that he’s going to be killed by terrorists. For all he knows, they’re going to shoot him in the head, which makes the “oh, I’ll just wear a bullet proof vest and I’ll be fine” approach a bit mad.

And the new timeline created by Marty’s week in 1955 raises some interesting questions (ignoring the obvious ones like – how did everyone turn out pretty much the same, living in the same house, Marty going out with the same girl, etc, with such fundamental changes in their living circumstances?):

  • How did the Doc get out of being blamed for the destruction of the town clock? The police officer saw him tying a whole lot of “complex weather testing equipment” up to the thing, shortly after which the clock NEVER WORKED AGAIN. Come on.

  • Why the hell do George and Lorraine have Biff working for them? The guy who tried to rape her on the night they got together? And why is Biff, who lost all his power once George punched him in the face, all happy for George’s success with the book?
  • And wouldn’t George have got suspicious, as Marty grew up, at just how much like “Calvin Klein” he looked? How did Lorraine explain THAT one away?

There are also questions raised by the sequels – like, how did “Old Biff”, after buggering up 1955, get back to the original 2015 to return the DeLorean to Marty and Doc Brown, given that the rules apparently state you can only go forward along the present timeline?

Of course, I don’t think any of these could’ve been fixed and still allowed the movie to work. The reality is that the sorts of things Marty changes in 1955 would have “serious repercussions on future events”, which would’ve completely ruined the cute ending we enjoy so much. And at least it makes more sense than the time travel gibberish in the Terminator films and TV series*, in which events are entirely circular (or are they? Maybe Kyle Reese’s son is a completely different person to the original John Connor, and Kyle inadvertently achieved Skynet’s aim of getting rid of their enemy. KYLE REESE ACTUALLY KILLED JOHN CONNOR).

Can you tell? I love this stuff.

*Man, that was awesome. Please, please give us a third season.

UPDATE: I’ve removed the bit about Marty and the three and a half minute mile: the Lyon Estate is two miles from the centre of town, not the Peabody farm where the mall will be. Oops!

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29 responses to “Ruining Old Movies Wednesday: back to “Back To The Future”

  1. You’ve just ruined a perfectly awesome trilogy with pettiness :(

  2. if the delorean hitting the wire at 88mph at EXACTLY the right time was necessary, why couldn’t the doc have built a rolling road(, so the delorean stood still, connected to the powerline?

    also, shut up… that’s why.

  3. Andy – Mwoo. Haha.

    L – where’s it say “the wheels have to be going at 88mph”? If it’s just on a treadmill, and not moving forward, it’s not going at 88mph.

    And seriously, isn’t the Kyle Reese kills John Connor thing freaky?

  4. “There are also questions raised by the sequels”

    That’s putting it mildly. BTTF2 must be the only movie in which a character gets out a blackboard and attempts to explain to the audience what the hell is going on. And it still doesn’t make sense, as you rightly point out. Although of course it does make sense in the world of the movie, which is unabashedly illogical. But that shouldn’t stop us from annoying our girlfriends and children and strangers in the streets with our incessant nitpicking about time loops and paradoxes.

  5. Actually, I reckon the time-stream diagram on the blackboard is one of the few parts of the movie that DOES make sense.

    Unfortunately, there’s already a counterexample that occurred ten minutes earlier when Old Biff broke the rule.

  6. Savvas Tzionis

    Are you channelling George McFly?

    I think there is a more historical question that should be asked.

    Is this last mainstram movie ever made where homosexuality is portayed so negatively?

    Remember at the end of the movie where Biff is George McFly’s ‘servant’ or something and he makes a mincing manouevre with his hand on his hip?

    (Although this is not as blatantly homophobic as Nighshift with Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton)

  7. Oh – I missed the issue of Biff. I’ll update the post.

  8. Savvas Tzionis

    Biff is happy because he has becomes servile (?) and eager to please his empoyer (he was always a weak person).

    People often repress their memories, and losing your status so dramatically as Biff did could easily have messed with his psyche.

  9. Savvas Tzionis

    But at least it allowed him to come out of the closet!!

  10. well if it’s the movement of the car, and not the wheels, then aren’t we all moving when we’re stationary? the earth rotates pretty quickly, (900mph if that monty python’s song to be believed) so therefore 88mph in relation to what?

    with the earth’s rotation? against the earth’s rotation? uphill? downhill? in a wind tunnel? really, it’s a bit silly…. but it’s still the most consistently enjoyable sequel of all time.

    it has a delorean, and no ewoks!

  11. Maybe, Savvas… but can you see Lorraine, almost raped by the psycho, happy for him to come anywhere near her house, let alone inside it?

    LGWS – sequel? I’m mainly talking about the original.

  12. oops, i meant trilogy, not sequel. my bad.

  13. I’ve removed the bit about the two minute mile, because I’ve suddenly clicked that the two miles is not to the 1985 site of the mall, it’s to the 1985 site of Marty’s house.

  14. Savvas Tzionis

    “Didn’t that guy ever hair?!!!”

    Which reminds me, it took me over 30 years to pick up on the teacher’s name… Strickland.

  15. One of the best comments about this trouble with time stuff was by William Goldman (Hollywood scriptwriter – he did “The Sting” and others) in his book “Tell me, What Lie Did I Tell?”* re. Terminator.

    He recounts the time-travel problem, notes that it’s a whacking great hole in the plot and then gives the budding scriptwriter the following piece of advice:

    “Ignore it, if you put enough script between the two plot points the audience won’t notice and they won’t care either”

    * The book is about how to write scripts for Hollywood

  16. IT’s pretty easy to get around all the time-travel “paradoxes” with parallel universes. ie, if a character goes back in time, that immediately creates a parallel universe. If he stops his parents from having him, then the version of him in that universe is simply never born – but he doesn’t disappear, because he wasn’t FROM that universe in the first place, and his life up until the time that he left his universe has nothing to do with anything that takes place within the altered one.

  17. Hello Jeremy,

    Tom Baker’s Dr. Who is still the only time-traveller with any credibility ;)

  18. I think “12 monkeys” does the time travel stuff much better.

  19. I wonder what Eric Stoltz thinks of your analysis. He had shot quite a few scenes as Marty McFly when he was replaced by Michael J Fox.

  20. Eric Stoltz: worst. Marty McFly. Ever.

  21. If the solution to temporal paradoxes is creating a parallel universe every time you time travel, then how does the multiverse know to make another universe? Is there a ‘Make Parallel Universe’ on the dash of the DeLorean? Sounds like you just shifting the problem….

  22. please tell me you are going to do this every Wednesday…

  23. Spock – considering Jeremy’s got a very long list of movies I “must” see, and they all fall under the heading of old, he’d certainly have the material.

  24. Can you tell us the list? I wanna see what’s good and what’s crap.

  25. If you want to see old films go and watch Citizen Kane.


  26. Pingback: Ruining old movies Saturday – Truman Show edition « An Onymous Lefty

  27. “How did Doc Brown know where he was going to be shot?”

    Didn’t he see the video of him being shot?

  28. No, he only knew from the note. He saw the video of “run for your life Marty!” earlier, but Marty didn’t film him getting shot.

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