Dave asks Marty if he’s all right, Marty says “Yeah. Are you guys all right?”, Dave says “Sure. Never better.” and then notices Marty’s got the music envelope in his hand and so offers to mail it from the office. I guess this sentence is there to confirm for us that Marty will actually get that letter mailed, so: ARC OF MAILING MARTY’S TAPE: CONCLUDED PRETTY UNAMBIGUOUSLY.
This next part is awesome:
Marty released the envelope and sat at the table. A bowl of fresh strawberries was waiting for him.
"I still don’t get it," he muttered. "Strawberries… eggs Benedict. We never used to eat that kind of stuff. It was just cereal with toast and a paper towel for napkins. What’s going on?”
Oh man, “toast and a paper towel for napkins”. I love it. I love that it’s structured so that one paper towel has to act as multiple napkins. I also love that strawberries is considered by Marty to be the height of decadence, to be eaten only on the finest, most delicate linens. At first I thought maybe we Canadians were blessed with affordable, commodity strawberries but then I did some research and OH SNAP, not only do they cost the same in our two proud nations, but also:
Prices that [American] growers receive for fresh-market strawberries have more than doubled since 1970 but have not kept pace with inflation… the trend of inflation-adjusted strawberry prices was nearly flat at the retail level, rising less than 4 percent in 14 years. Retail prices reflect costs of packaging, transporting, and marketing, which rose faster than farmgate prices.
There’s even a chart, showing real and adjusted-for-inflation prices!!
Strawberries have been a pretty affordable fruit for a long time, dudes! They even grow on the side of the road sometimes for FREE. Plus in Canada (and America) you can go to those “You-Pick Berries” (Canada) or “U-Pik Berr-eez” (America) places and pick your OWN strawberries and you only have to pay for the ones you bring to the cash, not the ones you gobble!! I get that if the (original) McFlys were super poor then maybe strawberries would be totally out of reach, but we know the Book McFly’s weren’t “can’t afford strawberries” poor: they’ve got multiple incomes coming in and own multiple cars. Plus they bought a whole ton of peanut brittle like it wasn’t even a thing.
Hey, while you and I have had this strawberries conversation Marty has been eating his big bowl o’ berries, and
Halfway through his strawberries, he heard his parent’s voices from the hallway. Their conversation was light and happy-sounding
Marty asks where they were, Dave explains they were at tennis, Marty (still not getting that things have changed) says that Mom and Dad don’t play tennis, and Sister Linda shoots him down:
"Then that explains why they’ve been club doubles champions for six years," Linda said archly.
"I can’t believe it."
"Where have you been?” Linda demanded.
Marty seriously considered telling her
when his folks walked in the room.
Marty’s parents look “tanned and healthy”, George “radiated confidence and self-esteem” and Lorraine looks “thin and dynamic-looking”. These are some rad healthy confident dynamic tanned parents, and Marty’s jaw literally falls open and he says “Mom! Dad! You look — great!”
And new improved Sister Linda I guess still doesn’t like Marty that much because she thinks Marty’s saying this because he wants something from them so she says “What can he want? He’s already got everything.” so better go back and make some more changes, Marty!
Oh wait you still haven’t realized that’s what happened because you’re incredibly slow, Marty!!
WORKING THEORY: Gipe thought that readers really enjoyed shouting at a book in frustration when the characters always act like they’re touched in the head, so he cracked his knuckles before sitting down to write this and said “Baby you are gonna LOVE THIS”??
Drew Struzan’s work on these (alternate, unused) Back to the Future posters is pretty great: the different ways to visually represent time travel and the different era involved are a lot of fun. I also like the tagline: “Marty McFly has broken the time barrier. And he’s got just one week to get it fixed.”
That one for the Part III is pretty great too: it breaks the pattern of the first two (one character, two characters, three characters) BUT it has a train about to crash into everyone and kill them, which has to count for something.
So Marty cleans up and goes downstairs where Sister Linda and Brother Dave are having breakfast!
They appeared the same facially but everything surrounding them, from their clothing to the furniture, was different.
The take-away here is that Brother Dave is LOADED and LIKES BUSINESS, and Sister Linda is slightly less slutty which I guess we’re supposed to think is better but whatever man, nothing wrong with having sexy fun with people:
Dave wore an expensive business suit and was reading Forbes magazine; sister Linda was dressed casually but elegantly as she ate what appeared to be eggs Benedict.
And I love that we’ve had an omniscient narrator throughout this story but even All-Seeing Narrator Guy can’t quiiiite figure out what she’s eating. What is that, eggs Bennie? Eggs Florentine??
"I DIDN’T KNOW THERE’D BE A TEST, NORMALLY I JUST GET THE TWO EGGS OVER EASY WITH SAUSAGE AND HOME FRIES"
- our Narrator
The dining room is also fancier, and the table is set with “delicate linen” which you know is gotta be fancy to the mancy. Okay that was supposed to sound like “fancy to the max-y” but it didn’t quite work and wouldn’t have been that good anyway. I’m sorry. Look, this computer wasn’t built with a backspace key so let’s move on.
Anyway Marty having spent a week in the 50s is talking like a 50s guy, that or SOMEONE thinks this is how 80s teens talk to each other:
"Say, are we having company or something?" he asked.
Linda and Dave looked at him and smiled.
"Not that I know of," Linda smiled.
And I say, is Linda meant to be smiling in this scene? Could that also be clarified somehow??
Book Marty (still slow) doesn’t get that altering the past could… alter the past and so doesn’t get that things have changed.
"Then why is everything so ritzy-looking?" Marty murmured. "Isn’t today Saturday?"
"That’s right," Dave replied. Marty noticed that he was reading the business section of the morning paper.
Aren’t you working this morning, Dave?”
"Sure, I always work on Saturdays."
"At Burger King?"
"What are you, hungover or something?" he asked.
And FOR ONCE I am not the guy making typos, because that missing quotation mark on “Aren’t you working this morning, Dave?” is totally in the book! In any case, surprise surprise: the movie version is way better! There, Dave and Linda are talking about all the boys she has chasing after her and Marty interrupts them with a hilariously aggressive “Hey! What the hell is this?!" which makes Dave and Linda’s confused reactions as they look up from breakfast way funnier. It’s also tighter: Dave says "I always wear a suit to the office" which gets across the whole "better job" thing without needing a back and forth about Burger King and hangovers!
But here in the book, we’re talking about hangovers, and so Marty replies that he’s not hung over, he just doesn’t understand the fancy suit. Given that it took Book Marty hours and hours to realize that he was in 1955, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes him pages and pages here to realize that he’s changed the world! Let’s just peek ahe— WHAT THERE’S ONLY SIX PAGES LEFT??
Another short update today!
On this page Marty asks Doc what his plans are, and Doc says he’s gonna wait till the cops are gone from the parking lot, go back to his van, pick up the plutonium pellets there and take a look at the future. How far?
Doc shrugged. ”I figure I’ll take it slow at first,” he replied. ”Maybe I’ll go about thirty years, just to get my feet wet. Then maybe I’ll take a look-see at the 22nd or 23rd centuries…”
"Well, good luck," Marty said.
The 22nd and 23rd centuries part stands out as being weird, but whatever, maybe it’s cool that the temporal expanse of Back To The Future can get enlarged a bit! The time machine is good at travelling through all through time, we don’t need to limit ourselves to within a claustrophobic plus or minus 100 years of 1985!
Doc says “It’s funny, isn’t it? I had to wait thirty years to catch up with you. Now you’ve gotta wait thirty years to catch up with me. Ain’t life weird…” and then he winks and closes the door and drives off.
Then Marty presumably walks home and goes to bed and the next morning wakes up and thinks it’s was all a crazy dream! But then he pinches himself and it’s not! So he pulls out his record company submission form from the trash and puts it in a mailing envelope (“Why not? My music has been wowing them for three decades. I’m a cinch to win.”) and then goes downstairs his house and family is all different!1 Weird!
END OF UPDATE
1. So! Let’s talk about Marty. Specifically, let’s talk about this sequence of events:
See the problem? Whether or not you buy my meta-time explanation of Back To The Future’s time-travel mechanics (though you TOTALLY SHOULD because it TOTALLY WORKS), Marty has returned to a future where at least SOME things have changed: we know for sure the name of the mall has, and we know for sure that Doc’s spent the past 30 years trying to act natural while knowing he’s totally going to invent a time machine and meet Marty and wear a bullet-proof vest someday! And if you don’t buy my theory of changes to the timeline themselves take time, then you’re arguing that EVERYTHING in 1985 has already been altered, and we’re already fully in this Improved 1985 that Marty created for himself.
Either way, the world we’re in isn’t identical to the one that Marty left at the beginning of the story. And that’s a problem. It’s actually a huge problem, because it means the Marty going back in time NOW isn’t the same Marty that left at the beginning of the story, and time travel is basically the poster child for sensitivity to initial conditions.
This new Marty has had different experiences, from things as small as the name of the mall to as large as what his family does for a living and whether or not they hire their old high-school bully and sexual assaulter to wax their car (yes this happens, no I dunno why). Due to different life experience, this Marty is a different person than the one we met at the beginning of this story. Let’s call him Marty 2.
Marty 2, being that different person, is absolutely going to have different adventures in 1955 than Marty Prime did. There’s a few ways these adventures could turn out, especially considering how narrowly Marty Prime avoided disaster when he was running through them:
So either Marty is never born, Marty’s successful trip back to 1985 gets erased (undoing all the work Doc and Marty have put into it and maybe destroying the universe in a paradox), or the timeline starts looping, never reaching a stable new reality. Those are really the only options we’ve got, and none of them are great! They all kinda suck, actually!
"But Ryan!" you’re saying, "The movie doesn’t show any of these catastrophes happening! So there’s got to be a different way.”
And this is true. When we reach a conclusion from a set of facts that doesn’t match up with reality, our only option is to look at our reasoning and find the flaw in it. And I totally slipped in an unfounded assumption earlier on you guys when I was talking about the sequence of events. It’s this part:
3. Marty Prime goes back to the present, goes to the Lone Pine Mall, and watches himself go back in time again.
Here’s the thing: we only saw Marty 2 travel through time. We never were told his destination. And I submit to you this hypothesis, this wham-bang anagnorisis that changes everything now and forever:
Marty 2 didn’t go back in time.
At least, not like Marty Prime did.
Doc’s a smart guy, and he’s had thirty years to work out the consequences of what happened during that week in 1955. He would’ve gone through this reasoning and made all the same conclusions we did here. So what’s the third way? How do we solve this? There’s two solutions:
Option 1 is the cleanest, but it’s pretty clear why Doc didn’t chose it. If he had, all he had to do was send Marty 5 billion years into the future, when the sun’s a red giant. Poof: Marty McFly killed instantly in a causality-free way, he never goes back in time, and we avoid the undesirable outcomes of “Marty never born/universe destroyed” or “Timeline constantly in flux”. Instead, Marty dies, Doc never got warned about the terrorists so Doc dies too, and the timeline stabilizes at the cost of both Doc and Marty’s life.
Option 2 is trickier, but it’s the only thing that gets us to what we were shown happening in the movie and book, so it must’ve been what happened. Here’s how it goes down.
Doc uses the thirty years head start he has to design a new DeLorean, one that looks the same but operates slightly differently. Rather than go back in time along one timeline, it takes a step sideways and sends you back in time in a parallel timeline. That means that Marty 2 goes to Hill Valley X, and Doc doesn’t have to worry about Marty anymore. Our Doc’s timeline has finally stabilized, with Marty 2 disappearing and replaced by Marty Prime, who watched this whole thing happen.
But Marty 2’s not dead! He’s in 1955 in Hill Valley X, where he can mess up all he wants and it’ll only affect the future of Marty X, who is causally unrelated to him. This is the critical part. Marty 2 no longer can mess up his own birth, only Marty X’s birth. Let’s say he ends up keeping Marty X alive and then makes it back to 1985. When Marty 2 arrives in 1985 in Hill Valley X2, he’ll watch Marty X2 (as both the town and Marty X himself were altered by Marty 2’s actions) travel through time.
The problem is this: if Doc X lets Marty X2 go into ANOTHER new parallel timeline, this whole mess repeats, only instead of a constantly-shifting timeline we now have a messy and potentially-infinite explosion of parallel timelines. That’s probably not wise. So instead Doc X (perhaps informed by a note Bulletproof Vest Doc hid in the machine) punches in a different demonstration date of 5 billion years in the future, and Marty X2 quickly burns to death in the heart of our dying sun.
And that’s it! Both timelines are now stable AND we’ve eliminated the chance of them being altered by killing off an alternate Marty as he makes his first trip in time. Things are stable, the timeline avoided both catastrophic destruction AND an infinite series of Marties, and all it cost us was the life of one Marty X2 McFly.
I’d say that’s worth it, and it seems like both Doc and Doc X agreed with me.
(It’s worth noting that the book and the movie both gloss over this point and skip right to the scene of Marty 2 arriving in 1985 Hill Valley X2, which I can only assume was for time concerns.1)
END OF FOOTNOTES
1. “But Ryan,” you’re saying, “if that’s true, why does Marty 2 react to Marty X’s family with such surprise?” and the solution is obvious: as we skipped over Marty 2’s household (recall we only get to see Marty X2’s family), we can conclude that his family life was different from the X2 universe too, hence his surprise.
END OF FOOTNOTE FOOTNOTES
OH SNAP I JUST REALIZED YOU COULD TOTALLY ARGUE THAT THIS IS WHAT THAT STUPID “DOC FLIPS A MYSTERIOUS SWITCH" SCENE ON THE LAST PAGE WAS ABOUT!! Doc’s putting the time machine back to "travel within one timeline" mode in preparation for his trip to the future, because he wants to be able to return to the very same timeline he departed from. It all fits! HOT DAMN, GIPE! YOU WERE ONE STEP AHEAD OF US ALL THIS ENTIRE TIME!!
MY BALLS ARE BEING SO TRIPPED!!
Some odd choices and one truly inscrutable one await us on this page! SO LET’S BEGIN:
Doc does his “Well, what the hell” line to Marty, and you know how we just saw a firefight, with terrorists, INVOLVING ROCKET-PROPELLED GRENADES, down here at the mall? Well the cops in this book are better than movie cops, because they totally noticed when that happened too!
Nearby, the police had poured out of their cars and were busily rounding up the terrorists.
(And you could argue putting that “the terrorists” in bold is unfair but COME ON Gipe went out of his way to give them names and motivations earlier on! He gave himself OPTIONS when it came to referring to these van dudes and has squandered them all, alas, alas)
Anyway these book cops aren’t THAT much better than the movie cops because they entirely miss out on the only other people standing around in the deserted parking lot by a van and don’t so much as glance in their direction, allowing them to run away with ease:
"Let’s get out of here," Doc Brown said. "This is going to be impossible to explain."
"I’m with you," Marty said.
Together, they ran toward the mall core and disappeared into the shadows as even more police cruisers turned the corner into the mall.
As they sped away in the step-van, the two men discussed their adventures…
And man wouldn’t it be awesome if that was the ending to the whole book right there? Wouldn’t it? No? Okay I can see your point and I respect it.
Marty admits to “screwing up a little”, Doc asks how, and Marty explains the whole “this used to be Twin Pines mall tilll I ran over a pine tree in the past by accident” thing, ending with “I guess that’s why they call it Lone Pine now.”
Doc Brown smiled. “You’ll probably notice a lot of things like that,” he said. “It’ll be your own private joke with Hill Valley for the rest of your life.”
That’s how the conversation ends, with Marty just trailing off with “Yeah…”, and I’m pretty sure you can read a lot into that. I, for example, read it as Marty being worried that he’s changed so much he won’t recognize anything, and concerned that all his relationships and friendships he remembers have been destroyed or altered beyond recognition with strange new ones in their place. But whatever!
Okay so here’s the part I don’t get AT ALL:
A few minutes later, they reached the DeLorean and Doc got inside.
"Won’t start, eh?" he said.
Doc reached under the ignition, flipped a hidden switch and smiled as the engine roared to life.
"What are your plans now?" Marty asked.
What the hell? What’s that switch doing there? HERE ARE POSSIBILITIES:
Marty watches Temporal Experiment Number Two again until The Terrorist Van Driver (that’s what he’s called in the book dudes, all I did was capitalize it) crashes into “a Fox Photo stand” (last chance for needless brand-name dropping, Gipe!) and lands door-side down, “trapping the terrorists inside”.
Goodbye, The Terrorists! You exit this story as you entered it: as The Terrorists!
Hey, remember how Doc got shot to death? Because Marty just did!
Suddenly remembering Doc Brown, [Marty] turned and ran toward the sprawled figure, still lying face down on the asphalt. There were tears in Marty’s eyes as he turned his friend over.
What’s interesting now is that Doc delivers TONS of crappy lines. Seriously, each one is a line that is crappy. And just as Marty stayed mercifully silent in that movie version of dinner scene at the beginning of the story, we bookend it nicely with Doc staying mercifully silent in the movie version of this scene! Here’s what happened in the movie:
MARTY: Doc! Doc!
(Marty flips over Doc)
MARTY (quietly): No, no!
(Doc blinks and sits up)
MARTY: You’re alive!
(Doc opens up his jacket to reveal the vest he’s wearing)
MARTY: Bulletproof vest? How did you know? I never got a chance to tell you.
(Doc shows Marty the taped-together note he wrote)
MARTY: What about all that talk about screwing up future events? The space-time continuum?
DOC: Well… I figured, what the hell?
And massive props to whoever it was (an editor? Christopher Lloyd maybe refused to say them? WHO CAN SAY?) that decided to drop out every single one of Doc’s lines in this scene but one, because MAN they are terrible! Let’s ruin an intense dramatic moment with wacky laffs RIGHT NOW!
Check out the different mood here in Booktopia:
"Doc… please don’t be dead, Doc…"
"Well, all right, if you insist," the apparently dead man replied, opening his eyes and smiling.
"You’re alive!" Marty shouted.
"Of course I’m alive."
"But you were shot - I saw it!" Marty cried. "I saw it twice!"
"On instant replay, as it were?" Doc smiled again.
"The explanation is simple," Brown said.
He ripped open his radiation suit to reveal a bulletproof vest.
"It’s the latest fashion in personal protection," he explained. "Guaranteed to stop a slug from an elephant rifle at thirty yards."
"Were you wearing that all along?" Marty asked.
"Sadly, no," Doc Brown replied. "The first time around, I must have been taken by surprise. No, my boy, it was your warning that saved me."
With that, he reached into his pocked and pulled out the letter that Marty had written in 1955. It was yellow and brittle, the scotch tape holding it together withered and ready to fall apart.
Marty smiled and shook his head. ”What a hypocrite,” he said.
Yes and may i be the first to say weaaaaaaksauuuuuuce
This is it, everyone! THE LAST CHAPTER.
Marty finds himself in darkness at the end of a “journey into the black tunnel”, and I’m going to give Gipe the benefit of the doubt and say he’s trying to say “The car crashed into a building” and not “time travel suddenly is like going through a tunnel when it wasn’t before, tee hee”. Marty’s not sure what’s going on:
Marty thought of the scene in a movie he had seen about a time travel machine where the vehicle is enclosed in a mountain.
Haha, the hilariously awkward “time travel machine” makes a return! YES.
So he realizes he’s crashed into the movie theater, reverses out, and sees that it’s 1985 again. “All right!” he shouts. Then he turns on the radio, and Gipe describes it as only a grandparent could:
A contemporary rock tune was playing.
"All right!" Marty shouts. But then he remembers he has to save "his friend from a bloody and violent death" (oh yeah! I can see how you’d forget that!) but then the car dies again. "Shit!" Marty shouts. And oh man, Gipe, we got another "time travel machine" callback, can we get another shoutout to The Terrorists?
After grinding for a minute, Marty was unable to generate the slightest hint renewed power. And as he continued to grind, he looked up and saw the familiar terrorist van cruising down the street and around the corner.
Horrified, he leaped from the car.
"The terrorists!" he yelled.
PERFECT. Thank you, Gipe, and thank you Marty McFly for jumping out of the car to shout “The terrorists!” after The Terrorists. You are too perfect. Also, now is the point where you should re-read that above quote while using “grinding” in the “at a club all up on someone” sense. I’ll wait.
Marty runs down to the mall, and Gipe makes sure we notice something has changed:
Arriving at the entrance, he noticed that it was called Lone Pine Mall and was decorated with the image of a single pine tree instead of two. Otherwise everything was the same.
Marty watches, “frozen, horrified and amazed” as he watches the terrorist van chasing Doc Brown around the parking lot. This is kinda weird, watching yourself and your friend from what seems to be a week ago doing the same thing, right? Wouldn’t that, oh, I don’t know… BLOW YOUR MIND??
"Oh, no!" he gasped. "I’m too late!"
The scene blew his mind.
Books can be better than the movie, but MAN the movie is so much better than this book (in general, obvs, but in this scene in particular)! This whole action bit which lasts for minutes in the movie gets disposed of in a couple of paragraphs. DISAPPOINTING.
So we’re back with Marty and the stalled DeLorean, which won’t start, and then he tries it again and then it starts, so - that was easy? This “it didn’t start but then it did” solution sidesteps the “Marty slamming his head on the steering wheel and then it starts” gag in the movie which was nice and baffling and cute.
Marty drives towards the wire but doesn’t notice Doc messing with it (Gipe again pretends he’s from medieval times when he writes this as “So intent was he that he failed to see the figure of Doc Brown as he raced towards the lamp post”) which means we don’t get Marty anxiously whispering “Doc…” as he speeds towards him: another nice character moment.
And here’s the craziest part: in the movie, just as the lightning strikes, Doc reaches the wire and connects it and gets blasted backwards by the shock (that is how electricity works in movies, did you know that?)
Clearly they had that in the scene description for the script! And CLEARLY GIPE DIDN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT HE WAS READING AT ALL:
Less than a second before the spectacular bolt of lightning struck, Doc plugged the cable in, spin around, and fell backwards. Glancing at his speedometer, Marty saw that the car was moving at eighty-eight miles per hour.
Then there was a terrific crash of simultaneous lightning and thunder.
Yep. In Gipe’s version - which presumably he thought made perfect sense - Doc plugs the cable in and then JUST SPINS AROUND AND FALLS OVER FOR LITERALLY NO REASON AT ALL.
Inside the DeLorean Marty thinks “My God, I’ve been nuked" which makes exactly this much sense: none, and then "the DeLorean kicked forward as if it had been thrust into orbit, and blackness descended."
We’re left with Doc who just saw the car disappear, “seemingly enveloped by a yellow mist” (guess they hadn’t quite nailed down the time travel effect yet) the sight of which “made him leap to his feet and let out an Indian war whoop.” He shouts “We did it! It was impossible but we did it!” and Gipe confirms that for us by saying “It was true. As if swallowed up by the earth or a giant hand from above, the DeLorean was gone.” and yes every time the narrator confirms what a character we have no reason to doubt just said, an angel gets its wings.
"Good luck," Doc Brown breathed. "I’ll see you soon enough… I hope."
And that’s it for the chapter!
So what makes the movie version better? Besides the action being better realized and more exciting (so exciting that the movie cheats and has Marty flooring it in the DeLorean… twice) and the lack of the crappy lines (after the DeLorean disappears, Doc doesn’t say anything, he just cheers and runs quietly down the street), it’s a terrificly put-together scene. The music builds and builds until the lightning reaches the car, and then the car’s gone and the music’s gone and all we hear is burst of the time-travel sound effects and the ambient noise of the wind (suddenly much more still) and the Doc’s footsteps as he runs down the road. It’s a terrific, quiet ending and the contrast works really well with the thunder and lightning and temporal explosions we just had.
And then that last shot! The music comes up again, quietly, and Doc smiles and looks up to the clock tower with his crazy happy grin, and we get a POV shot of the clock tower seen from where he’s standing! We assume we’re seeing what Doc’s seeing, but then a second later a helicopter flies into the frame, over the tower, and out again, and we realize we’re back in 1985. It’s a terrific cut that takes us out of 1955 and into 1985 so smoothly you barely even notice it.
Great work, movie peeps!
Pull up your socks, book peeps!!