Instead of listing the best or the worst of something, I thought I would explore one of my favourite movie trilogies. I've heard people describe Back to the Future as the best movie about time travel and others call it the worst movie about time travel, and you know what? They're both right.
I can't count how many times I've watched these films, but no matter how many times I do, I always come away with something new to think about. Back to the Future is unfiltered entertainment, and the flaws and plot holes are all part of that fun. You'll enjoy yourself while watching and still have plenty of crazy inexplicable stuff to discuss afterwards. So, let's check out some of the more interesting aspects of the films to contemplate. There's a lot to say ... you've been warned.
5. Delicate Space Time Continuum, My Ass!
The first big indication of that is in Part I when Doc reads Marty's note about the future. At first he tears it up claiming it's dangerous to know what will happen, and then later tapes the pieces back together and reads it because ... "what the hell". Way to stick to your guns, Emmett.
Does telling Marty and Jennifer that they will get married and have kids affect the possibility of that outcome? If not, why doesn't he just give them a heads up about what will happen to their kids so they can prevent it? Wouldn't it have been easier to leave Jennifer behind? Or not tell her? Instead Doc seems to be frantic about getting them in the time machine and to the future. For someone who owns a time machine, Doc sure is in a damn hurry all the time.
4. Biff Tannen: Super Villain
Think about it. The first time we meet Biff we find that out that he's an alcoholic, a mooch, and a liar. He's treating the McFly family like shit from scene one. When Marty goes back to 1955 we see that Biff has been bullying George McFly his whole life, and he's an all around hot tempered prick. By the finale of the first film he's attempted to rape Marty's mother.
Since we're focusing on Biff, I really have to point out how crazy it is to see his character working for the McFly family at the end of Part I. Why exactly did George McFly decide the perfect person to hire to clean his car would be the man who once tried to rape his wife? I mean, honestly, at what point do you break ties with this fucker?
3. Tracking the Time Machine
For fun I drew up a timeline for the trilogy depicting all the trips the DeLorean makes and who made them. Please print it out, laminate it, and carry it around for your reference. The time machine is mostly powered by plutonium or garbage for most of the trips it makes, but also powered once by train, and twice by lightning. I should note that both of those times were from the same lightning storm.
Also, during Part II there are 4 versions of the DeLorean existing in Hill Valley 1955 all at once: 1) The one in Doc's workshop before Marty returns to 1985 via clock tower lightning. 2) The one Old Biff is using to give his younger self the Almanac. 3) The one hidden behind a billboard while Doc and Marty try to retrieve the Almanac. 4) The one buried in the mine left by Doc trapped in 1885. There are also at least 2 versions of the DeLorean in 2015, but we only see one of them.
2. Doc's Timeline: A Series of Unfortunate Events
So Doc is living alone in Hill Valley in 1955 toiling away on failed invention after failed invention. One day he slips in the bathroom, bangs his head, and is struck with the idea for the flux capacitor, which makes time travel possible. The very same day some teenager shows up at his door claiming to be from the future travelling in a time machine built by his future self. Already that's pretty screwy.
So he spends the next many days with this kid (that he will one day become friends with) trying to find a way to power the time machine (that he will one day invent). Doc nearly kills himself climbing the clock tower during a thunderstorm trying to rig up a system to harness a lightning bolt. At the last minute he succeeds, the DeLorean is powered, and Marty disappears into the future.
A few seconds later another Marty runs up to him and frantically needs his help again. Doc now needs to go excavate another version of his time machine out of a mine in order to send Second Marty into the past to rescue his future self who is trapped in the old west. Oh yeah, and while retrieving the time machine, Doc stumbles upon his own grave.
For me, I'm just tickled by the mind-bending bullshit Doc has to endure before even getting to try out his machine for the first time. We don't even get to see him take his first trip through time, which must have been a significant moment of triumph for his character. Nope. Instead we spend all our time watching him nearly get killed while helping a stranger.
1. Paradoxes Galore
Oh man, where to begin?
First of all, I would say the biggest paradox has to be the entire conflict of the first movie. Marty goes back in time to 1955, accidentally prevents his parents from meeting and then has to get them together, or else they never fall in love, never get married, never have kids, and *gasp* Marty wouldn't exist. But if we continue that chain of events, if Marty doesn't exist, then there is no Marty to travel back in time to interfere with his parents lives, and so they do meet, do fall in love, get married and have kids, and *gasp* Marty would exist. It's the ol' Grandfather Paradox where a person's actions are creating a never-ending loop of contradiction.
While in 2015, when Doc and Marty are off trying to rescue Jennifer, Old Biff sneaks away with the time machine to alter his past. He gives his younger self the Almanac and when he returns to 2015 we see him doubling over in pain, the same way Marty did on stage as he began to fade from existence. Because he's changed his past Old Biff is dying, or "disappearing from existence". In a deleted scene we can actually see him collapse and fade away. The big issue I have with this is ... why doesn't the world start changing around him because of the altered history? When Doc, Marty, and Jennifer return to 1985 the world has changed and the town is a wasteland of crime. If Biff created an alternate 1985, where is the alternate 2015?
Several times in the trilogy we see objects changing as the past is changed: Marty's family photo, the "You're Fired" fax paper, the picture of Doc's grave, and different newspaper articles. However, most of the time it doesn't make any sense. We see the fax fade away to a blank sheet of paper, but why wouldn't it fade away entirely? In the altered future, why would Jennifer pick up a blank piece of paper? Or when the newspaper articles change, they always change into a new article about the same person instead of, you know, some random article. And if Doc never gets shot in 1885, then there would be no grave and no reason to take a picture.
In Part III Doc and Marty discover Emmett Brown's grave that clearly explains that Doc is shot and killed by 'Mad Dog' Tannen over a dispute about money. Shouldn't the discovery of this grave immediately change the past? There's are two Doc's: Young Doc in 1955, and Old Doc in 1885. If Young Doc learns about his death, shouldn't Old Doc now know about it too? Wouldn't he have the memory of finding his own grave more than 30 years ago? If I knew who was going to murder me, when, and why ... I'd probably do something to avoid it.
Ow! My brain hurts. There are still plenty more of these types of paradoxes, but I think you get the point. The trilogy is filled with plot holes and paradoxes, but I feel most of them don't become apparent until additional viewings, and even then they don't really hamper your enjoyment of the films. That fact is, these movies are hilarious and exciting, and filled with wonderful characters and a great story, even if the story doesn't make complete sense all the time. Like Doc Brown, it's best to just go with it and worry about the details later.