WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME (Isla Nublar)

FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV

COMPANY: Friend-of-the-blog Phil Hobby, who had just finished playing the Back to the Future video game and had a hankering to watch the movie again.

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Terribly hung over, eating Apple Dapples, no particular focus for this viewing… until Phil started asking some questions.

Alright, gang! Brace yourselves! It’s time for yet another Back to the Future article on the rules of time travel!

You’d think they were batfuck complicated or something.

I’ve exhaustively covered the three kinds of time travel most typically displayed in fiction, and why Back to the Future, despite flirting with aspects of all three timeline options, is indisputably mutable. Then I took a closer look at the ripple effect, the phenomenon of future objects slowly fluctuating to compensate for changes to the past, and why its portrayal in Back to the Future doesn’t make any damn sense because an “object” is made of many parts. And yet… here we are, with three more questions about time travel. Specifically, the ripple effect.


So it seems like the only reason that DeLorean-created paradoxes don’t destroy the entire universe is because of a slight delay, one the movie never seems to care about explaining. When Marty prevents his father from putting his “Mr. Sandman” in his mother’s “coonskin cap,” he should cease to be, which would then prevent him from carrying out the initial prevention, so on and so forth, paradox-a-go-go. Instead, his older siblings begin fading from a photograph, and it takes about a week before Marty starts disappearing. Why does he get a full seven days to fix this shit?

Because time travel works like The Ring?

Now, I’ve covered how inconsistent the ripple effect is before, especially when it comes to the sequels. (The matchbook and the newspaper fade and you just go home, job well done? Amateur, guys.) Still, ripple effect hang time is a beginner-level BTTF fan curiosity, something that lots of people wonder about. So let’s step it up a notch…


Phil asked me what would have happened if Marty made it back to the future before his parents fell in love. Say, for example, that Doc found a way to harvest lightning and returned Marty to 1985 three days early, before he started fading out of existence and without any love connection between George and Lorraine. What happens? Does the time machine shoot out the other side with no Marty in it? Does he have three more days to go back again, this time with plenty of extra plutonium pellets? Does… I don’t know, does Gary Busey hit him with a rake?

You can’t rule anything out with this time travel shit.

What I’m getting at is the question at the top of this section, which, hmm, why does anyone pretend these are surprises? Anyway. Right. Why can’t Doc carefully try to send George and Lorraine on a few more dates long after Marty is back in 1985? And even if Marty fades out completely, can’t Doc still get George and Lorraine hooked up and presto, Marty’s back? Don’t act like that wouldn’t be a great movie on its own.

Christopher Lloyd IS The Love Scientist.

But fine, if we stick to the events of the movie, Marty gets back to 1985 and all is well. Or is it? What’s stopping Doc from still accidentally having a hand in unmaking Marty? One of the only things that seems unaffected by time travel in the series is memory. So every moment from 1955 to 1985 that Doc reminisces fondly about his week with Future Boy is a moment where he is not doing what he normally would have been doing at the time. That’s Ripple City, you guys. Butterfly Effect 101. And yet, the movie acts like Marty must race to pair up his parents before he leaves, but they’re totally fine as soon as he’s gone. And poor Doc has to live in constant fear of wondering if his every move is erasing Marty! How do you solve that problem?

Leave the photograph of Marty and his family in 1955.

“Damn, there goes Dave. Knew I shouldn’t have had cabbage for dinner.”

With this handy item always in his wallet, Doc can be on the lookout for accidentally chrono-aborting his best bud 24/7. Tell me this plan isn’t foolproof. Also, tell me Doc pretending to be the waiter at every restaurant George and Lorraine go to isn’t adorable.



Well, maybe.

I mean, maybe they should be. But they’re not.

Let’s backtrack.

So there’s a scene in Back to the Future where 1955 Doc is grabbing a wrench or something, and in the background, a person rides by on a bicycle. I can’t magnify and enhance because real life is not Enemy of the State, but I’ve attempted to point out the hard-to-screencap bicyclist below with a dumb comic book speech bubble.

Told you.

If you squint real hard or are required by science to watch Back to the Future every week of 2013, you may notice that this bicyclist is dressed a lot like 1985 Doc from Part II, hat and all.

And bicycle. Hat, bicycle, and all.

From my perspective, the bike in the first movie doesn’t appear to have whitewall tires, and the guy’s hat looks like more like a boater than a fedora, but fans can dream, can’t they? They even mention it could be Doc on the trivia track.

But it isn’t.

You see, Back to the Future operates on mutable rules. (Trust me.) That means that trips through time haven’t “already happened.” At the beginning of the first movie, Doc doesn’t remember meeting Marty back in 1955, because Marty hasn’t traveled there yet. Contrast this with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, where Ted’s father can’t find his keys before Ted even knows what a time machine is, but eventually Ted will be the one to go back in time and steal them himself. With me so far? If not, time travel movies may not be your thing. It’s cool. We can still be friends.

So, the events of Part II can’t be happening in Part I simply because this particular universe doesn’t work that way. I’ll admit, there’s some magic fudging going on with these rules. Isn’t a time trip itself just as fated to happen? Why aren’t future DeLorean blasts a part of the ripple of history? What makes temporal displacement not count? You’ve got to admit, that tastes a little like magic fudge.

If you’re still not convinced, take the “Johnny B. Goode” scene. Do you see a second Marty in a leather jacket crawling around above the stage in any of those shots?

Nope. Just a terrifying rock ‘n’ roll O-face.

Also, remember the scene right after, where Marty says good-bye to his parents? If Part II was going on the whole time, you’d see the faces of Marty and Biff in the windows behind him, and you most definitely do not see the faces of–

Great Scott! I was wrong about everything!