Monthly Archives: April 2009

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!