WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME (Isla Nublar)
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Groggy, eating a chicken salad sandwich and drinking a beer.
If you’ve been reading a lot of my Time Out articles, you’re probably aware that I hate magic time travel. You know, somebody owns a magic mailbox or falls into a magic moat or… just really, really, really wants to go back in time and wishes for it really, really, really hard.
This is my one exception.
No, I want my time travel to involve lab coats and goggles and machines. Wonderful, beautiful machines. Machines that operate on rules. Scientific time travel doesn’t run on emotions. There are numbers and logic and diagrams. Oh, those wonderful diagrams! While magic time travel is busy tugging on your heartstrings and ignoring your brainstrings, scientific time travel is governed by unbreakable laws and doesn’t yield to the power of love.
Which brings me to why Back to the Future is totally magic time travel.
Explain this bullshit.
No, I know. I hate to admit it. But there’s no way that the ripple effect isn’t magic, pure and simple. There are just too many factors that don’t add up, no matter how you slice the probability.
For those who need the crash course: Marty is trapped in 1955, but he has on his person photographs from 1985. If any of his actions in the past change the events of the future, those changes are reflected in the pictures. In the first film, when Marty’s unrelenting sexiness attracts his horny young mother to himself instead of his father, he prevents the birth of his brother Dave, who begins fading out of the photograph headfirst.
To understand why this is so frustrating, imagine yourself as the person taking this picture. It’s possible that Dave’s head straight-up disappeared. George or Lorraine tried to capture this nice memory on film and, oh, son of a bitch, Dave, where’s your face? Did you lose it again? I don’t think that’s what the filmmakers are trying to portray, through. (And if they were, kudos to whichever parent held the camera steady while Dave’s melon phased into nothingness.) It wouldn’t make any sense for Dave to be shifting out of existence somewhere in the early ’80s like Marty’s hand does at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance; Marty is displaced in time and therefore undergoes the ripple effect, while Dave should simply cease to be.
“Stop unexisting yourself! Stop unexisting yourself!” – Dave
Okay, so if George and Lorraine aren’t running the fuck away from their significantly shorter freak-child, then what’s really happening during this ripple effect? I’d think that the old photograph is being replaced by the new photograph. But again, look at these photos as though you’re the person taking them. If Dave isn’t there, why are you framing the photo as though he is?
I’ve heard of the rule of thirds, but this is ridiculous! Zing!
And if the framing doesn’t stick in your craw, what about when all three kids fade out? There had to be a reason to take that photograph; why the hell is that well so interesting?
“Just think, honey, if we had children… we could throw them down there.”
Look, let’s face facts: these kids are fading out of existence because George and Lorraine don’t end up in a relationship. This affects everything they do until the end of time. So not only are the two of them never traveling to wherever that well is, but they’re more than likely not even the ones purchasing this roll of film. So, even if it would be more confusing to the audience, Marty’s picture should be turning into a random snapshot of a stranger’s cat. Or a stranger’s… something else…
“Can I keep this?”
And on top of all that noise, why in the hell would an alternate Marty even have a photo that wasn’t his? In this rippled universe, the photo should just be gone, because Marty never obtained it before going back in time. And if you think photos from the future are confusing…
“Oh, Christ, there’s more?”
What’s important about each of these future items is perception. We perceive the Save the Clock Tower flyer as one object, a flyer. But it’s not. It’s paper and ink, which is a tree and… squid cum. I think. Anyway, when Marty and Doc Brown are horsing around at the clock tower at the end of the film, that must have changed some of the details of the story that was printed in the Hill Valley Telegraph the next day. For the sake of internal Cinema 52 references, let’s say the story includes something new about a big-ass wire hanging off of the clock and a crazy man shouting gleefully into the night. That one change in the story should affect the distribution of ink in the printing of the paper, right? Even if the flyer is a photocopy of the new newspaper, we’ve got a shift in the amount of ink. So any ink that was in the original flyer and also in the new flyer gets to stay, albeit rearranged in the spots where it would have been? Is that what it becomes? A big, splotchy unreadable mess?
“No,” you say. “The new version of the flyer comes back in time. The alternate Marty just grabbed a copy of the updated flyer with the new information. Why would he be carrying a weird blue piece of paper covered in splotches?”
I don’t know… the same reason he’s carrying around photos of headless siblings and wells??? I’m sorry, but for internal consistency, you can have one or the other.
Well, I’ve just about had it with media from the future. Let’s–
SON OF A BITCH.
Alright, the videotape. Fine. I’ve pointed out earlier this year (and most of my life, to anyone who’ll listen) that the videotape Marty brings back with him is not consistent with the way it was shot. There are moments that Marty was not rolling for or had the camera down at his side that can be clearly seen when he rewatches the tape in 1955. What I never considered before today’s hunt for time ripples is that this movie mistake… might actually make sense. No, I don’t think it’s intentional, but what if the Doc in that video is the alternate Doc who’s already aware of what’s about to happen to Marty? It would have to be, from the few rules we’ve been able to glean from all these wildly inconsistent ripplings.
Oh, yeah, what’s the timing on these damn ripples? It seems like you’ve got a margin of error when it comes to screwing with the future. This is more of a gripe about the sequels, but damn, those are some fast ripples in Part II and III, whereas Marty gets a whole week to get his parents together. You’d think it would be more instantaneous, like Looper, which, no, we don’t have time to get into how that doesn’t make sense either.
Fine, so Doc is watching a feedback loop video of himself that changes in real time, Marty has a blue Rorschach test in his pocket, and his wallet contains a photo of a random Hill Valley resident’s vagina. Marty’s clothes? Should those change? Did his time trip affect his haircut? It could happen. What else is in the DeLorean, huh? Does Doc have any maps of Hill Valley in the glove compartment? As soon as Marty runs over that tree, those maps say “Lone Pine Mall” now. Receipts, too. Or, again, they might be Jackson Pollock paintings of random ink. Any other junk in the car?
Maybe new Doc is into lime green radiation suits?
Oh. I almost forgot the best part. Remember when Marty terrorizes his father with heavy metal music? What if alternate Marty isn’t into metal any more?
“It’s Jennifer’s, I swear.”
So, as much as I’d like to think that Doc Brown is a man of science, his little time-car runs on hocus pocus and is lorded over by an unseen wizard-god who just enjoys a nice Capra-esque story. These photos from the future aren’t scientific gauges; they’re spells that give you visions of your quest’s success or failure. Some of these inconsistencies might have been handled better in an immutable or alternate timeline, but that topic has already been thoroughly exhausted by yours truly. When you’re rocking a mutable universe, you’ve got to spackle those cracks with a little magic.