Tag Archives: Back to the Future

The Marty McFly Paradox

My friend Eric has written an awesome post about the massive holes in the Back to the Future trilogy’s time-travel logic. It’s too long to summarize, but here’s one choice riff:

But here’s the weird thing– when he returns to 1985, he goes back to the parking lot to find the scene from the beginning of the movie play out exactly as it did the first time (except of course that (MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT) the Doc is now wearing a bullet proof vest). Except the Marty who he watches go back in time had a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SET OF LIFE EXPERIENCES. I’ll accept that to protect the space time continuum, Doc Brown made sure that he still became friends with Marty and he still sent him back to the past at the exact same moment as before (he had seen the video footage of same). But here’s what I’m wondering– and this would have been an interesting additional sequel. What exactly did the alternate, better-1985 version of Marty do when he went back in time.

While I haven’t read what are probably numerous hardcore, follow-the-premise-to-its-logical-conclusion sci-fi stories, my sense is there are two possible conclusions to a logically sound time travel story: infinite recursion on the one hand; the instant un-existing of the time traveling character (and anything else introduced in that character’s original moment in time) on the other.

I think Back to the Future is playing with the infinite recursion scenario when Marty returns to 1985 and sees himself drive off into the past. That is, Marty isn’t watching “the alternate, better-1985 version of Marty” (or “Marty 2,” as Eric calls him). It’s meant to be Marty literally watching himself re-enact the movie we just saw. Of course this makes no sense, since the revamped McFly clan was all changed thanks to Marty’s actions on his first trip back to 1955; Marty should be changed too, transformed into Eric’s Marty 2. But here the movie breaks from its already strained logic in order to toss out the cool, mind-bending idea of a single Marty McFly doomed to infinitely re-enact his time-traveling life.

This bad logic shows up again in Part II, when

Marty goes back to the past from the future (in order to get the sports almanac back from Biff). And he sees the exact version of himself that I was just talking about and, as he sees, that Marty does the EXACT SAME THING HE DOES IN THE FIRST MOVIE!! That’s weird!

Eric’s right that this should be Marty 1 watching Marty 2, but the movie instead walks away from its premise; it’s simply Marty 1 again watching himself. Which, again, makes no sense.

Anyway, if the first two BTTF movies blew your mind back in the 80s, go read Eric’s post and prepare to experience your own mental-infinite recursion. (Like contemplating infinity, ever-expanding space, and death, thinking about Back to the Future for too long makes my head hurt.)

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How George Lucas will ruin Indiana Jones

It occurred to me, while reading the cover story on Indiana Jones 4 in the new Vanity Fair, that I haven’t watched the complete trilogy during my adult life. I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark on DVD a few years ago and have caught bits and pieces of Temple of Doom on its many syndicated showings over the years. But I haven’t seen Temple of Doom or Last Crusade in full since I was a kid.

I mention this because of a passage from the Vanity Fair story that should scare Indy fans even more than snakes terrify their hero:

While filming a 1993 episode [of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles] in which Ford made a cameo appearance, Lucas happened on something that gave him the idea for a fourth movie installment. He mentioned it to the actor, who wasn’t too impressed. Lucas later told Spielberg about his new concept, only to find that the director wasn’t so hot on the idea, either, although generally warm to the notion of a fourth film.But Lucas was adamant. It was this idea or nothing.

Great. Because we all know how well things turn out when George Lucas has brilliant ideas that nobody else likes but can’t veto because they aren’t George Lucas. Even Steven Spielberg inevitably bows to Darth Lucas’ power, it seems:

When Ford and Spielberg both rejected the idea, Lucas dug in. He hired screenwriter after screenwriter to make his MacGuffin the linchpin of a new Indy story. “So this went on for 15 years,” he says. “And finally we got to a point where everybody said, ‘Look, we’re not doing that movie.’ And I said, ‘Well, look, I can’t think of another MacGuffin. This is it. This works. I know this works.’ And then we stopped. I just said, ‘O.K.,’ and that’s about the time I started Star Wars again. But then Harrison was kind of interested. And I said, ‘I won’t do it unless we can have that MacGuffin. Without the MacGuffin, I will not go near this thing.’ ”

Needless to say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the story of Lucas’ MacGuffin (i.e. “an object or goal that kicks the story into action and drives it to the third act”). No doubt the title is Lucas’ creation, too.

Lucas’ obstinacy made me wonder: Is the original Indiana Jones trilogy really as good as I remember, or did Lucas pull a Star Wars Episode 1 on those too? Which got me further thinking: How does Indiana Jones stack up to the other great popcorn trilogies of the ’80s: Star Wars and Back to the Future (Star Wars [’77] and Back to the Future III [’90] don’t keep them from being ’80s trilogies.) So over the next couple months I’ll be rewatching those trilogies to see how they really hold up and compare to one another — and to see how obvious the Lucas Touch was before anyone had heard of Jar Jar Binks.

Here’s my initial ranking, based on my memories of the movies (and more recent Star Wars viewings):

1. Empire Strikes Back
2. Star Wars (A New Hope)
3. Back to the Future
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark
5. Back to the Future II
6. Temple of Doom
7. Return of the Jedi
8. Last Crusade
9. Back to the Future III