305. Film Club: Back To The Future (Part 2)

Welcome back to part 2 of this episode of Luke’s Film Club, about the Back To The Future trilogy. In this episode I’m going to talk about: lessons we can learn from the story, a few fun facts, the 2015 predictions in the film, how the DeLorean works, theories about time travel and some temporal paradoxes in the story. So strap in, let’s go back to the future again.

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3. What are the themes of the film? or the morals of the story?
– Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go back and meet your parents when they were the same age as you? What would they be like? Would you get on with each other?
Writer/Producer Bob Gale had the idea for the film after finding his father’s yearbook in the basement, seeing that he was somewhat of a nerd and wondering if they would have been friends if they’d been at school together.
– The complexities of time travel and questions raised by it, including the dangers of meddling with the past or the future, and how certain events in your life can alter your future.
– The idea that you’re in charge of your own destiny and future.
– “You can’t go losing your judgement every time somebody calls you a name”
– “The future isn’t written. It can be changed. You know that. Anyone can make their future whatever they want it to be.”
– “No-one should know too much about their own destiny”
– “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”
– History repeats itself – there are numerous examples of history repeating itself, all the way through the whole series. Biff is the bully across 3 time periods. In all three periods he is outsmarted by Marty in various similar ways, and in all three stories he ends up falling into a pile of horse manure. That’s just a couple of examples, but time and time again there are other repetitions.

4. Any info or anecdotes about how the film was made?
The Delorean was chosen as the time-travelling car because the filmmakers felt that its wing doors meant it could conceivably be confused for a UFO.
Claudia Wells only plays Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer, in the first film and not the sequels because her mother became ill and she chose to spend time with her. Elisabeth Shue took over the role for the second and third movies.
Robert Zemeckis joked in a behind-the-scenes featurette that the hoverboards used on set were real. A large number of parents took him at his word and tried to order them in toy shops.
Robert Zemeckis regretted the decision to have Jennifer get into the car with Marty and Doc Brown at the end of the first film as it meant Jennifer would have to be incorporated into Part II, rather than giving free reign to tell a brand new story.
By time he shot parts II and III, Michael J. Fox was 28 years old, but still playing 17.
Chrispin Golver, the actor who plays Marty’s Dad chose not to appear in the sequels because he disagreed with the messages in the film. Apparently he didn’t agree with the film’s values. He didn’t like that the McFlys were happier people because they were more prosperous financially. And he felt the idea that money = happiness is BS.

5. How about their vision of the future in 2015? How many predictions did they get right?
So, here we are on October 21 2015. How is the world outside similar or different to the version from Back To the Future 2?

Some things were wrong, like mainly the fashion and the flying cars, but they got a lot of things right.
Let’s have a look.
Things they got right:
– 3D movies. But not Jaws 19. Technically we don’t have holographic TVs or cinemas in the mainstream yet though.
– Tablet computers. There’s a guy in Hill Valley with what looks like a tablet computer – a wireless touch screen with no keyboard.
– Drones. When Griff gets arrested we see a USA Today camera drone arrive to film the event. Now drones exist and some media companies use them to collect video footage.
– Big screen TVs mounted on the wall, and video conference calls. My TV in 1985 was like a big heavy wooden box. The ones in the film are much more similar to our TVs of today – flatter, wider, bigger, attached to walls.
– Multiple TV channels. Marty is confused by the TV he sees in his future home. There are hundreds of channels and you can see them all playing in different boxes on the screen, all a the same time, instead of having to flick through them one by one. Now this is a normal way people choose the show they want to watch. You can still flick through, but most digital TVs will allow you to get an overview of all the channels, usually with a little preview screen of what’s on that channel at the time.
– Hands-free video games. In 1985 Marty is an expert at the computer game in his local diner. In 2015 he finds the same game (left in the store as a retro novelty), and a couple of kids trying to play it. They don’t understand that you actually have to use your hands to play the game. Apparently, in 2015 all kids use hands-free games, and they think this one with a controller is boring. *Cameo by a young Elijah Wood here. When I saw this before, the idea of hands-free games was so ridiculous that I found it funny. Now, it’s pretty normal with things like Xbox Kinetic and other motion sensitive games consoles. Not so ridiculous after all.
– Fingerprint recognition. In the film it’s possible to make a payment by touching your finger on a screen. We’re pretty much there – you can do that on your iPhone and we definitely have the technology to do that in shops now too, although it hasn’t become commonplace yet. Finger and thumb prints are also used to open doors, and we do have thumbprint security systems now, but again, they’re not commonplace and haven’t replaced the usual keys that we still have in our pockets.
– Virtual reality headsets. Marty’s children in the future spend quite a lot of time wearing virtual reality headsets. They’re masks you put on which fill your vision with a screen, which can also be like an immersive video game experience. Yep, we’ve got them too. Also, some characters wear glasses that incorporate telephone and video call functions as well as augmented vision – for example Doc Brown wears a pair of glasses that provides him with extra information about things he’s looking at. Little boxes and bits of text fill his vision when he’s looking at things. This is basically Google glass, which hasn’t taken off yet but I’m sure that eventually we’ll get augmented vision in some way – so that we don’t have to keep staring down into our phone screens, and instead we can just walk around and get our internet services right there in our vision – perhaps this could be a projection onto a glass screen in front of our eyes like with Google Glass or some sort of biotechnology in which our brain is connected to the internet. Imagine that! Sounds a lot like The Matrix, which is a bit scary.
– Ordering your food and drinks from computer screens. In the film, people order by talking to digital versions of celebrities on TV monitors. Now many restaurants use table-top tablets to replace waiters. Ok, so you’re not ordering from a digital version of Michael Jackson but almost.
– Voice commands. Lorraine in the film gives commands to her oven by talking to it. Now we can do this with our phones by just saying “Hey Siri” or whatever and then attempting to perform basic commands by using your voice.
– Self-tying laces. Marty wears a pair of Nike trainers that fit themselves to his feet automatically. Apparently, Nike has developed something like this and in fact there are rumours that they’ll release a limited edition Back to the Future range of trainers with this feature.
– Robotic petrol stations. I’m pretty sure these exist in Japan – you go in and park the car and the machine does the rest of the work somehow. They’re not mainstream by any means.

Things they didn’t get right:
– Hoverboards. OK so we kind of have hover boards now, but they’re not like in the films. The real hover boards we have today require a special magnetic surface as well as the board. They’re based on magnets I believe, such as the Hendo hoverboard. (see link) http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/131774-skateboarding-superstar-tony-hawk-takes-on-the-real-life-hendo-hoverboard-see-how-he-gets-on-video IN the films the hover boards will fly on any surface at all, even on water if you have some power to keep pushing you forwards, which is exactly what’s so cool about them. The Hendo hoverboard only works on top of the magnetic surface, which makes it pretty limited. Also, the Lexus Slide hoverboard requires a magnetic skatepark but apparently it operates pretty well. But on the subject of boards that will hover over anything, Astro-physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson believes that they are impossible. Hoverboards impossible – Neil DeGrasse Tyson http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/07/neil-degrasse-tyson-hoverboards_n_7522040.html

– Flying cars. Ok we do have some cars that can fly – but they have wings and they need roads for take-off. It’s not the same as this kind of flying car.

– Self-drying clothes. Not done yet I think, but we do have some awesome technology that resists water and keeps your clothing dry, and also some fabrics that dry very quickly. Nothing with in-built fans though, or any clothes that say “Your jacket is now dry”. Pity that. I generally like it when inanimate objects talk to me in weird soulless robot voices. Except perhaps those tills at Tescos that are so patronising, scary and disappointed in you. “Unexpected item in bagging area. I didn’t expect you to put your bananas there yet Mr Thompson. We’re very disappointed in you at Tescos. That’s why, unfortunately, you will be terminated. Have a good day!”

– Using rubbish as fuel. In BTTF2 Doc Brown has invented a device called Mr Fusion which converts raw rubbish into energy to power the flux capacitor. That’s incredible because apparently it generates 1.21 gigawatts of energy. We can recycle a lot of things now, and also convert some rubbish into fuel, like waste cooking oil into bio-diesel fuel, but we’re far from being able to generate significant power by just using a few banana skins and a half drunk can of beer.

– Floating signs. We’re still using traditional signs which are attached to the ground. I can’t imagine us adopting floating signs soon because of the energy needed to keep them in the air, probably with drones. But who knows, maybe they’ll be using drones to fly information around the skies at some point, and that will no doubt include advertising. That’s not a nice thought – advertising is already invasive enough. I don’t really want drones to be sweeping into my vision to try and make me look at an advert.

7. Talk about the time machine / Delorean. How does it work?
Someone asked me how the Delorean actually works, and also how to travel in time. HA! That’s easier said than done, especially since I’m an English teacher, not a quantum physicist! Also, it’s just a movie! It didn’t really happen! I think you know this though, so you’d probably quite like to hear me bang on about time machines and some of the science around how they work.

The DeLorean
The car is really a carrier for the Flux Capacitor, which is the real heart of the invention.
Let’s start with the Flux Capacitor
Info from Futurepedia the Back to the Future Wiki http://backtothefuture.wikia.com/wiki/Flux_capacitor
The Flux Capacitor is not fully explained in the film, which is clever because it means the film doesn’t get bogged down in too many technical details (of course here at LEP we love to get bogged down in details) and it leaves a lot to the imagination. Here are a few things about it though. It’s situated inside the car, just near the driver’s seat and looks like a Y shape with glowing and pulsating light running through it. This is the thing that allows the Delorean to travel through time.
Apparently it briefly opens up a wormhole in space-time and then the DeLorean passes through it, achieving time travel.
You input the date you want to go to and the date you’ve come from.
Start the car and get up to 88 and boom – you travel through time. It’s pretty dangerous because you’ll be travelling at 88mph wherever you arrive, and you might crash into something (like Marty crashes into a barn, and also arrives in the middle of a fight between cowboys and Indians).
The Flux Capacitor needs 1.21 gigawatts of power, which is a lot! It’s equivalent to the output of about 2.5 nuclear power stations. In fact, Doc Brown powers the flux capacitor using plutonium, which is of course a very powerful radioactive fuel, which apparently he stole from some Libyan terrorists (little bit of politics there). So, that time machine is actually an extremely dangerous and unstable thing, as it is carrying the power of several nuclear reactors on board.
Later Doc Brown replaces the nuclear reactor with an invention from the future called Mr Fusion, which converts household rubbish into fuel. How that works, we don’t know – it’s from the future! (I sometimes imagine that if they have that kind of technology in the future they’d probably have a time machine, and then the universe and all of history would be populated by people from the future in their time machines… but that’s a paradox or problem that we’ll come to later)

Why 88mph?
Here’s some stuff about this that I found on Reddit.com and it’s pretty good. It explains why the DeLorean has to travel at 88mph exactly.
Why the DeLorean had to travel at 88 MPH to travel through time. (Back to the Future)
submitted 1 year ago by LessThanHero42
The Flux Capacitor allowed time travel by generating a wormhole to the programmed temporal destination, but these wormholes are unstable and only last for a little over a tenth of a second.
If the wormhole stability was measured as lasting only .10717 seconds then to move a car 4.216 meters long (A DeLorean) through the wormhole before it closes you would need to be moving at 39.3395 meters per second or 88 MPH.
If you are moving too fast then the vehicle would reach the wormhole before it fully opens. The front part of the vehicle could be sheered off, spaghettified, be delivered to a different temporal location, and/or eaten by spacetime krakens (or the whole vehicle could simply vaporize from trying to coexist in spacetime with an opening wormhole, who knows). Also you could miss the wormhole completely and be forever known as that guy who crashed a DeLorean into Twin Pines Mall right before being gunned down by Libyan terrorists.
Going too slow would cause the back end of the car (the engine of the DeLorean) to remain in 1985. Possibly large portions of whoever was inside too.
Regardless, arriving in the past/future without the front of the vehicle/pieces of the occupants because you were going too fast or too slow is probably a bad thing.
It’s like walking into automatic doors. If you run full speed at the doors, they won’t open fast enough and you’ll get a number of lacerations and a trip to a hospital. If you walk too slowly, the doors begin to close on you (when you leave the motion sensor range) and you get a concussion when they close on your head.
Now these numbers are general and it is likely that Doc Brown gave himself some leeway on the timing (Human error and imprecise engineering being what they are, it would be hard to determine if the car is moving exactly 88 MPH). Most likely the Flux Capacitor is programmed not to activate until the car reaches the appropriate speed.

Is time travel possible?
Yes it is. In fact, we’ve already done it. Obviously we’re all doing it right now because we’re travelling forwards in time. But in terms of moving through time at different speeds, yes, apparently that is possible and has already been done.

This is a bit complicated for me to understand, but let’s go with it.
*Try to explain how time travel is possible* No problem!
– Moving clocks go slower than stationary ones.
Brian Cox can explain this. (short extract)
So, we can go into the future, by taking a rocket and flying at great speed (just under the speed of light) out to space and back again. It’s just a bit impractical, because we don’t have the technology or power to go that fast.

– Wormholes
Remember the TARDIS from Doctor Who? It’s the blue box that the Doctor uses to travel through time, around the universe. It’s super cool – looks like a blue police telephone box and is much bigger on the inside than on the outside. The cool thing about the TARDIS is that not only does it travel in time, it also travels in space. TARDIS means Time And Relative Dimension in Space. Remember, in previous episodes I’ve mentioned this before – the universe is moving all the time. The earth is spinning on its axis (the days), we are orbiting the sun (years) and even our sun and the rest of the galaxy in which we exist, is orbiting the centre of the universe, and that whole universe is said to be expanding all the time. So, nothing is static, all matter is racing through space pretty fast. This suggests also that there is no such thing as a single static point in the universe. I guess it means that if you travel in time, you’ll end up in a different place. For example, even 5 minutes would result in me being in a different spot completely, probably in the air over a different part of the earth, or maybe embedded under the surface of earth, or even outside the atmosphere completely. This is because the earth is spinning at hundreds of miles an hour not to mention the orbit of the earth around the sun and everything else. So if I travelled forwards or backwards in time, I’d appear in a different location. So you need a time machine that will also put you at the same place as you were before, relative to everything else in the universe. So the time machine would somehow log your relative position in the universe in both time and in space and take you there. That’s how the TARDIS works.

I think Back to the Future doesn’t really deal with this explicitly, so we just imagine that it is able to work like a TARDIS – travelling not just in time, but also to that location. So, if I went back 5 minutes, my TARDIS time machine would locate this chair in front of this laptop in my skypod here at LEP HQ, so I don’t just suffocate to death in space, or get burned up by the sun’s rays or whatever else would happen to me if I found myself floating outside our atmosphere.

OK, so that’s the fact that time and space are linked together and can’t be separated.

Let’s talk about wormholes. Again, I’m no expert but here we go.
This is another idea or theory about time travel, that could allow us to go forwards or backwards in time.
So, let’s say time and space are connected and you can’t separate them. It’s like an axis or a sheet of paper let’s say. You want to go from A to B (draw two points on the paper). To travel from A to B along the surface takes time (I guess like in the rocket across space to travel at a slower rate of time). But if you could fold that paper in half then you’d be able to go from A to B instantly. I don;t get it, I’ll be honest. Folding paper in half is easy, but how do you just fold the universe in half? That’s just ridiculous!

Apparently wormholes can do that. Wormholes can allow you to go from one point in the universe to another, and that includes travelling from one point in time to another. If we could create a wormhole in spacetime, and find a way to control when it opens and closes, we could possibly bend the universe like paper and take a short cut. Again, we don’t have the technology or access to massive energy to do that. It would require a lot more than 1.21 gigawatts to do it.

That’s utterly confusing I know. But basically, The Flux Capacitor creates a temporary worm hole in space, and then the Delorean travels though it before it closes.

So, that’s time travel!

Problems with BTTF / Paradoxes / Temporal Anomolies
Lots of people have noted that travelling in time would bring about lots of possible problems, paradoxes or whatever, like the idea that if you went to the past and prevented your parents from meeting, you would then cease to exist, but then if you hadn’t been born you would never have gone back into time in the first place, and you wouldn’t have prevented your birth, so you would exist… is it possible that you would simultaneously exist and not exist at the time? I imagine that would be painful. It’s giving me a headache just thinking about it.

But that’s just one of the temporal anomalies which is brought up by BTTF. In fact there are a number of problems that people have noticed, that the film doesn’t really deal with, focusing instead on just telling a fun story. (And thank goodness for that)

I’ve chosen not to go into some of those paradoxes here, for several reasons. One of them is that they’re just too complicated to explain! The other thing is that they miss the point. This is just a fun movie which plays with ideas of time travel. In the end it’s about friendship, love, choosing your own destiny and trying to do the right thing. It’s not about solving complex logical problems about time travel. However, if you’re interested in these anomolies, check out the links on my website.

MJ Young’s Website about Temporal Anomolies in Back to the Future http://www.mjyoung.net/time/back1.html
MJ Young’s “Problems in Time in Modern Popular Movies” http://www.mjyoung.net/time/index.htm
Back to the Future 2 plot summary (quite long) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096874/synopsis?ref_=ttpl_pl_syn
3 Ways to Travel in Time

Prof. Brian Cox – Is Time Travel Possible? (BBC Doctor Who documentary)

Interstellar Wormhole scene