Wednesday, December 16, 2009

10 Things That Have Always Annoyed Me About The Back To The Future Trilogy…

First let me be clear that I love the Back To The Future trilogy. I loved the first movie, I really loved the second movie, and I loved the third one too. When the first Back To The Future (BTTF) movie was released in 1985 I was 10 years old and the mixture of a stainless steel clad DeLorean, Marty playing Johnny B. Goode on the guitar and the concept of time travel was pretty much everything I could wish for in a movie, therefore it instantly became one of my favorite films and remains so to this day.

However, that being said there have always been a few things which bothered me about the movies. I realize any film that deals with time travel requires a certain suspension of disbelief, and I’m not even going to get into the debate about whether time travel is theoretically possible or into long discussions about string theory, influencing the timeline, impacting future events etc, etc – but nevertheless I think there are few points which really don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to me… so why not put them into a top 10 list?

So – without any further explanation, here is a random list of ten things which have always annoyed me about the BTTF series of films:

1. At the end of the first BTTF film, Doc Brown arrives at the McFly house in a panic and tells Marty that something has to be done about his kids. Doc Brown puts Marty and Jennifer into the DeLorean and they proceed to fly off into the future.

But here is the problem – they are in a time machine, so what is the rush? The events that Doc Brown is concerned with don’t happen for 30 more years in the future, so why would he feel the need to rush off this very day? Since Doc Brown knows more about time travel than anyone, surely he would understand it would make more sense to plan ahead and not activate the DeLorean in the middle of the day where it could be (and is) seen.

2. In the first film, how did the Libyan terrorists that shot Doc Brown know he was at the Twin Pines Mall (or Lone Pine Mall in later scenes)?

The fact is, even if the Libyan terrorists figured out that Doc Brown had stole their plutonium, and assuming they knew his real name and real address… why would they think to look for him in the parking lot of a mall at 1:15am? It isn’t like Doc Brown left a note on his door telling them where he was, so this never really made sense. I won’t even bother asking the question how a VW minibus seems to be able to keep up with a DeLorean in the parking lot… that is a separate issue.

3. In the third and final BTTF film, the gas line of the DeLorean is punctured by an arrow which results in the DeLorean running out of fuel.

I can understand if the fuel tank itself was punctured since Marty was essentially driving through a desert at the time, but considering the fuel tank is in the rear of the car and the engine is above it, why on earth would there be a fuel line running on the exterior of the car? Doc Brown said himself that the “Mr. Fusion” reactor powered the time circuits (which eliminates the need for additional plutonium) so there was no logical reason for a spare fuel line in that area. To add to this, considering the line was above the fuel tank itself, one would think even if it was punctured there would still be ample fuel in the tank itself which could be used once the line was repaired.

4. In BTTF part III, Marty arrives back in 1985 on the railroad tracks only to have a train demolish the DeLorean meaning there is no way for him to ever return to 1885 and bring Doc Brown back to the present.

Fine – but wouldn’t the engineer of the train or any of the witnesses report the accident? Wouldn’t Marty be questioned or detained and wouldn’t the place be packed with emergency personnel within minutes? To make matters worse, when Marty returns to the scene hours later to look at the wreckage, Doc Brown suddenly arrives on a time traveling locomotive!

Ok, I can buy the fact that Doc Brown creates a new time machine. I can let slide the fact that the electronic components required to build it won’t be invented for another 80 years and that the train flies off with no concern about onlookers getting a view of a flying, disappearing train… but how on Earth did Doc Brown know precisely the exact moment to appear on the train tracks? Did he just time travel back 1200 times to find the exact moment when Marty was standing by the tracks? Seems to me it would have made more sense for him to appear minutes after Marty went back to 1985… but I suppose that wouldn’t have made for nearly as entertaining of a movie.

5. In BTTF part II, when Biff threatens to shoot Marty on the rooftop and Marty “jumps” off to land on the DeLorean, why would Doc Brown bother to rise up and give Biff a clear shot at Marty, the DeLorean, or Doc Brown himself?

They already had the date that they were going to travel back to in order to restore the timeline, so why bother dealing with Biff? What Doc Brown should have done was just float off into the distance because the second they go back in time the current time dimension/reality would no longer exist, so knocking Biff out is really of no benefit.

Then again, anyone who has ever been in a DeLorean will tell you the gull-wing doors actually open in a vertical manner, so it wouldn’t be possible for the door to swing out far enough to hit Biff in the head and knock him out… but I suppose I can let that slide for the sake of entertainment.

6. In the second film, Marty hides under what appears to be a tarp in the back seat of Biff’s car and even goes so far as to call Doc Brown on his walkie talkie without Biff ever hearing him.

Biff just got his car out of the shop where it was cleaned off all the manure. Don’t you think he might just be a tad interested to find out why there is a big tarp in his back seat? And don’t we think he might actually hear Marty (or see him in the rearview mirror) when he is talking to Doc Brown on the walkie talkie? Seems to me it would have made a lot more sense to put Marty in the trunk where the chances or being seen or heard would be exponentially less. There could have been a nice tie-in back to the scene where Marty gets locked in the trunk in the first film as well.

7. In the first film, Marty and Doc formulate a plan to use the lightning bolt as their source of power to send the DeLorean back to the future based upon the flyer that Marty has which tells them the time of the lightning strike.

Fine, so they know the minute that the clock stops, but when you are driving at 88mph down a city street (which coincidentally has zero other cars anywhere to be seen even though it is only 10:04PM) the difference of a few seconds could very well determine the probability of hitting the lightning at the exactly second required. Thus, if the lightning occurred at 10:04:55 but Marty drove through the cable at 10:04:25, he would have missed the lightning by a full 30 seconds and would have crashed into the movie theater without ever traveling back through time!

Now aside from the fact that Marty failed to start accelerating when the alarm clock went off and thus he would have most likely been late, and aside from the fact that the lightning bolt seemed to have been powerful enough to send the time machine back through time yet never caused any harm to any of the other electronics in the vehicle, and aside from the fact that there wasn’t enough stopping distance to prevent Marty from crashing through the movie theater and dying in a horrific car accident, I don’t see any way to time the arrival of the DeLorean to reach the cable at the precise moment of the lightning strike.

Instead, they should have used some form of an extension cord or long cable to connect the clock tower to the DeLorean so Marty could be driving away from the clock tower at he could hold his speed at 88mph for the entire 60 second time period. Another alternative would have been to rig up some type of a mesh such as the type used to connect a bumper car to the overhead electric service – but clearly unless they knew the exact second of the lightning strike and could time it to the exact second the hook comes into contact with the wire there would be no possible way for Marty to return to 1985.

8. The storm that results in the clock tower being hit by lightning doesn’t seem to involve any significant amount of rain (although the ground does appear to be wet) and the wind and lightning seem to be very strong but only to the point of the lightning strike on the clock tower.

Once the lightning strike hits at 10:04PM, the storm suddenly – and shockingly – ends. There is no more rain, there are no more high winds, there is no more lightning. I could buy the fact that there is no more lightning after that one strike, but surely the wind doesn’t go from 50mph to dead calm in the span of less than 10 seconds.

9. The “present day” (in 1985) Doc Brown has no memory of Marty or the events that took place in 1955.

The thing is, as soon as Marty traveled back to 1955 and met Doc Brown, the present day (or 1985 version) Doc Brown would hold those memories. Therefore, the present day Doc Brown would know that Marty would get transported back to 1955 and with a little pre-planning he could have ensured there was a spare container of plutonium stored in the glovebox or in the trunk (which in the DeLorean is actually in the front of the car, but I digress).

Once the events of 1955 occurred such as Doc meeting Marty and learning about the time machine, the lack of plutonium, the fact that Marty needs to get back to 1985, Doc Brown would hold all those memories and he would be able to build upon them. He would know his time machine was successful and therefore would likely stop working on other projects and devote himself to it. He would know Marty would be the one to travel back in time and therefore he would probably wonder why he himself didn’t do so (and perhaps led him to the discovery that the Libyans were going to attempt to kill him).

Actually, this theme of memories not traveling to the alternate timeline is quite common throughout BTTF. In the original film, Marty’s parents spent several days with Marty and surely would have developed memories of what he looked like, what his name was, the type of person he was etc, etc – yet in the present day 1985 timeline, they don’t seem at all surprised that their son, who just happens to be named Marty and plays the guitar, looks exactly like the Marty that brought them together at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance back in 1955!

Now I don’t claim to be well versed in all aspects of time travel theory, but one would assume you don’t just magically lose your memories simply because someone else travels through time, and therefore the 1985 Doc Brown would know about the 1955 events and would easily have taken steps to avoid them. Due to his insistence on minimizing impact to the timeline it seems clear to me that Doc Brown likely wouldn’t have involved Marty in any of his time travel escapades for fear of influencing future (or past) events.

10. When Marty and Jennifer travel into the future to “fix” the problem with their kids, they would no longer exist in the past and therefore could never meet themselves.

This is the part that gets a little confusing, but bear with me for a minute. The fact is, if I get into a time machine right now and travel into the future 10 years, if I was to meet someone I had known in the past (which for us is present day) – they would wonder where the hell I had been the last decade because from their perspective I would just disappear one day with no trace left behind.

Now one could argue that since I will travel back to the past again in the future (confused yet) that I would then exist in the future that I am now visiting, but the simple truth is if that were true, the future me would know that I had traveled to the future in the past, and as such there would be no reason to hide it from myself.

Yes – it really is that confusing, so feel free to read that last paragraph or two again.

My point here is that it might be possible to meet yourself if you travel into the past, but it really wouldn’t work to travel into the future, because the second you leave your existing timeline you no longer exist in the future – and as such you have already changed the future even without trying along with the fact you could never prevent your future self from knowing about the incident.

This also is a common theme throughout the film because if the timeline was altered and if Marty was never able to coerce George and Lorraine to fall in love, then Marty would never exist in the first place and as such could not travel back in time. If Marty couldn’t travel back in time then he couldn’t be the one to get hit by the car, and Lorraine would have fallen in love with George as it happened originally. Thus, Marty would never disappear or fade because his future or his fate if you will, was already determined.

So there you have it – just a few things that I have obviously spent far too much time thinking about, especially when you consider these are all trivial points about a film that deals with the concept of time travel (which I would argue is a sheer impossibility, but that is a philosophical discussion for another time.., pardon the pun).

None of this changes the fact that the BTTF movies were and still are incredibly entertaining, and none of this changes the fact that I expect to see a new Back To The Future movie made sometime I the next 15 years if for no other reason than Hollywood has been out of original ideas for quite some time. Perhaps with a little luck Michael J. Fox will still be healthy enough to make some sort of cameo appearance in a future BTTF film, but that is probably a stretch.

In any case, all things considered there are a lot more things I loved about the BTTF trilogy than things that ever annoyed me – but if I were to write them all down that list would be far too long… so this was much easier.