Since we’re now into this new year of 2021, I have decided to address an issue that certainly has troubled me as I’m sure it has bothered countless thousands of millions over the past decades. What I’m about to dive into might offend some, delight others, cause hunger in a few, instill mild apathy in a couple, and make at least one person horribly and inexplicably angry with Roy Orbison for reasons that this post has nothing to do with whatsoever. Yet despite all these flippant and inapplicable warning signs, I am going to talk about a rather dark undercurrent from what some have called the greatest film trilogy of all time.
Let me clarify: in no uncertain terms I am not going to talk about the Smokey and the Bandit saga. I feel that the legendary Smokey series stands on its own merits, withstanding all slings and arrows flung at that incredible dramatic epic tale. (The Smokey trilogy was a generation’s Lord of the Rings after all. No, really! Just trade out Buford T. Justice with Sauron, Snowman with Samwise, the truckload of Coors Beer with the One Ring, and the bevy of random C.B.ers aiding them on their journey with the Elves/Rohan/Gondor/Army of the Dead. Yes, as you can now see: it is an almost perfect one-to-one comparison.)
No, my issue stems from something that I sadly only just realized from the third chapter of the Back to the Future trilogy.
Numerous tomes have been written about Back to the Future and I’m certain even more will be written well past your level of caring at this moment. Let me start by saying that I am a fan of the series. I remember seeing the first movie under the fake stars in the ceiling at the Avalon Theater in Milwaukee when I was 6 years old and was hooked for life. In the intervening years, I’ve had plenty of time to watch and rewatch the trilogy, learning to overlook the sciencey errors. “What sciencey errors?” you might ask. “Is ‘sciencey’ even a word?” you might rightfully inquire further. Well, for instance…
In the first movie, I understand that Marty wasn’t trying to disturb the space/time continuum, but inadvertently did anyway. When that happened, shouldn’t that have erased/changed him at that moment? Let’s face it; even when George and Lorraine do get together, they wouldn’t have…uh…shall we say “familiar relations” at the exact same future moments that would have brought about their exact three children exactly. Maybe by “going to their own personal In-And-Out Burger of Love” on a different night, it means that Marty becomes Martina. Maybe instead Linda arriving second, the McFlys have twins so they decide to not have further children which deletes Marty. Now, I’m not trying to be dirty here, well, not overtly, but think about all the opportunities where George and Lorraine could have “crossed the Delaware of love” in 1967-68 and it wouldn’t have necessarily brought about the Martin McFly we know.
Even if everything worked out for the best and Marty comes back to his wonderful, new Toyota-filled 1985 life with the improved George and Lorraine; shouldn’t his memories of them have been changed as well? Remember that we see lettering changes on matchbooks, pictures are altered, and headstones vanish all within the time-changing real time rules of the BTTF universe. So shouldn’t Marty, while getting ready to go back to the future, start having his memories changing in his mind as he floors it down Main Street for the clock tower? Theoretically, he shouldn’t be so surprised with how his folks have changed when he gets back home, right? Is this getting too esoteric? Is your indifference rising?
Back to the Future Part II goes over what can happen with trying to alter the future. You would assume Marty would have learned something from his first time travel experience. But he doesn’t so he gets to experience an alternate 1985 where life is utter hell. He then has to dive back into 1955 to fix everything while also trying to not to cause his efforts from the first movie to go down the toilet. I did enjoy the concept of the second movie immensely and it is an amazing sequel. Oh sure, BTTF2 is dark, placing the characters you love in some rather uncomfortable moments, but overall, it works very well indeed.
Well…except for one thing…
There was no way in hell that the airborne DeLorean was going 88 miles an hour when it was struck by lightning and sent back to 1885. No. Nope. Just no. I’ve watched it too many times and the car was just hovering, not flying at any sort of speed. If 88 miles an hour isn’t a big deal, then Doc should have just had Marty park the car under the wiring and lines he rigged in the first movie and let the lightning strike the clock tower. (Yes, I know that is certainly less dramatic, but I’m just trying to play by the rules the BTTF universe set up as a premise!)
But now I’ve come to the main reason that I started pontificating about this topic in the first place. Back to the Future Part III is generally glossed over as the “mostly being in the Old West” entry and is taken for its merits at that level. Yes, the cinematography is fabulous and the stunts are first rate. Generally, it is a very satisfying conclusion except for one big thing: Doc Brown destroyed incalculable generations as he irrevocably altered the future of Hill Valley. Yes, he did. Yep. No, you’re wrong and yes, I can back that statement up. Just stay with me as I longwindedly bear these facts as they grow in scope.
FACT TO THE FUTURE #1:
DOC MEDDLES TO SAVE HIS OWN LIFE
Remember how Doc had all that talk about screwing up future events, the space/time continuum? Yet, he reads Marty’s warning letter in BTTF and takes the precaution of wearing a bulletproof vest so he isn’t killed when the Libyans come a-calling in their Hippie-mobile. Remember, 1955 Doc Brown knows everything that happened in 1985 after Marty interacted with him.
This means that Doc Brown, following his own advice regarding the space/time continuum, did nothing to alter the course of his life other than buying a bulletproof vest. He still allowed for his mansion to burn down so he could work out of the garage. He still tricked Libyans with pinball machine parts and stole their plutonium. He knew the exact spot he would have to stand in the mall parking lot in order to avoid getting shot in the head or arms or legs. (This reminds me, did Doc practice this over several weeks at the parking lot in preparation for this event? Was there a mall cop that told this kook to be on his way?)
FACT TO THE FUTURE PART II:
DOC MEDDLES TO SAVE MARTY’S CHILDREN
Doc’s meddling now extends beyond himself in Part II as he alters the future of Marty’s kids, which would be disturbing if we cared about Marty’s kids, but as we don’t, it isn’t. Yes, he has to help erase the problems that Marty created with that sports scores book that Biff brought back from the future. But Doc also could have prevented all that trouble in the first place by just telling 1985 Marty in his driveway what was going to happen to his future kids and then be on his merry way.
FACT TO THE FUTURE PART III:
DOC MEDDLES WITH UNTOLD FUTURE GENERATIONS
So the lightning hits the hovering-not-at-88-miles-per-hour time machine and Doc gets sent back to 1885. What do we learn from the letter that Doc sent to Marty in 1955 via Western Union’s Joe Flaherty? Doc survived getting hit by the lightning, he preserved the time machine for Marty to get back to 1985, and he became a blacksmith. All this seems innocuous enough. Yet we learn that he was shot and killed by Buford Tannen and this is enough impetus for Marty to go back to 1885 to get Doc back to the future. And you’re saying, “Yes, yes, yes! I’ve seen the damn movie, you doorknob. What is your flipping point?!” My point is that Doc, after sealing up the time machine to use in 1955 and sending Marty that Western Union letter, should have just shot himself in the head.
Whoa! Now that is rather dark, isn’t it?
Let me clarify. Doc gets sent back to 1885, one hundred years before the first film. That is an incredible amount of time that his unexpected presence in the Old West could affect. So does Doc just fade into the background and not disturb anything so as to not alter the future? Does he just bury his clothes somewhere, nakedly climb up the formations of Monument Valley, and then die of exposure? Does he just take the gasoline that he siphoned out of the DeLorean and immolate himself in the surrounding desert?
No, of course not. Instead, Doc takes it upon himself to become of all things…a blacksmith! A blacksmith, a highly essential part of the burgeoning town of Hill Valley. Think about it: everybody back in those days would need help from Doc’s new profession. He would have to interact with everyone in the town, which means he touches dozens, if not hundreds, of lives with this work. More importantly, he becomes a future-altering center for Hill Valley.
For example, perhaps back in 1885 it was supposed to happen that a horse was to throw a certain person due to an unrepaired bad shoe and the rider was killed outright. But now Doc “I’m A Blacksmith” Brown is conveniently there in 1885, fixes the horseshoe before it became a deadly problem, which in turn saves the life of the person, who was on their way back to return home to Europe, which causes that family line to continue, and then somehow you end up with a Hitler who was even worse.
Okay…okay…that might be an extreme circumstance, but tone it down a smidge from Hitler and see how much Doc potentially messed up the future. And there he is doing that very same thing many times with various horseshoes, saddles, tools, and the like. Maybe someone was supposed to injure themselves with a crowbar and was going to develop some new way of forging to prevent such defects in the future. But now good ol’ Doc Brown wiped out that line of innovation through his continual tinkering and interfering.
To that end, what if there already was a blacksmith that was going to set up in Hill Valley, becoming a historical lynchpin for the town’s future? Let’s call him Hiram Van Schwendicker. But as he approached Hill Valley, Hiram had to move on to the next town because Doc had already set up shop there. Does Hiram’s moving change the future of that other town? And what about Hill Valley? What if Hiram’s daughter Emma was originally supposed to marry the son of the Marshal Strickland, but since they moved away from Hill Valley, there is now no Principal Strickland for the high school?
Or try this on for size: what if while en route to that new town, Hiram gets harassed by Buford Tannen, says something in the heat of the moment, and is blown away for some obviously stupid reason? A posse is formed to go after Buford, who dies in a shootout, which then wipes out the whole Tannen line. No cars swerving into manure. No one making “Make like a tree and get out of here” comments to the bookish Hill Valley High nerds. No antagonistic force is there to effect the McFly clan for decades, providing motivation for Marty and George. And sadly this eventually means that there would be no one to detail and wash the McFly household’s cars in the upgraded 1985. (Poor Hiram. So many lives touched and we hardly knew ye. Godspeed, old friend. I hope Olde ZZ Top played at the funeral.)
Everything changes just because Doc Brown wants to stick around and play cowboy. This is quite the reverse from his usual harping about trying to preserve the space/time continuum. Of course he justified it in the first movie by saying, “Well, I figured, what the hell?” Well, I figure Mr. Smithy, sir, you inexorably changed the entire future of Hill Valley and untold dozens of others by being in 1885 for eight months. I guess that whole space/time continuum thing is just a joke to Doc, as is his destroying a multitude of lives.
Obviously, these events had the ripple effect of ultimately determining why Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 was quite disappointing to almost everyone that watches it. Well, everything eventually comes back to Burt Reynolds or a movie where there is a lack thereof. I just know the Doc Brown scenario is the most viable.