On Borrowed Time: Back to the Future

Siskoid Cinema presents... On Borrowed Time, the show that explores time travel in movies. On its inaugural episode, Siskoid and Ashford J. Wright discuss the Back to the Future trilogy. How do each of its chapters rate on the show's Clock Scale? Does its rubberized view of history make sense? Just how many timelines are spawned over the course of those six seminal hours? Join us for a trip into movie history for all the details!

Listen to the episode below, or subscribe to FW Team-Up on Apple or Spotify!

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Bonus clips: "Back to the Future" teaser trailer, starring Michael J. Fox; "Back to the Future Theme" by Alan Silvestri.

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16 responses to “On Borrowed Time: Back to the Future

  1. Great first episode! These movies are just so much fun. I love them, my parents loved them, and my kids love them! The first is a stonecold classic, and I agree with your estimations of II and III. I rarely rewatch II, it’s the “Temple of Doom” of BTTF. Just a bit too dark and nasty in parts.

    I like the theory that the altered timeline has caught up with Marty, and made him so cocky he can’t stand to be called chicken, or backdown from a challenge. I would agree with AJ that he was always like that, but they hang such a huge lampshade on it in the sequels it does seem to kind of come out of nowhere in a lot of ways.

    Is there an in-universe theory out there that Fox/Marty erased Stoltz/Marty from existence? If not, should there be?

  2. The was a great inaugural episode. I really enjoyed listening to you and Ashford go over this trilogy. Its always fun to hear discussions devoid of cynicism about beloved pop culture content.

    The first BTTF is pretty close to perfect, and my first viewing in the theater is cemented as a core memory from my childhood, all neatly wrapped up in nostalgia.

    At the time, I don’t think the time travel mechanics mattered, and I would assume that’s why people my age probably don’t dive too deep looking for flaws with this first film. BTTF is one of those universally accepted templates of time travel, that set the rules for future films, for a lot of the audiences that grew up accepting a DeLorean as a time machine.

    The sequels never really stuck with me, maybe because I was older when they came out, so I don’t have an opinion about them. I can’t even remember many details from those two films, to the point that I completely forgot Elisabeth Shue shows up. But after listening to this episode, I think I might try to watch all three of them in one sitting to see how the entire trilogy unfolds. It might be fun to re-evaluate them as one story rather than comparing them to the first film, which I inevitably always do.

    I also found the deep dive into the time travel mechanics for this film entertaining. I had assumed Marty went to the past and changed the future for everyone, and invented Rock ‘n Roll and skateboards, but didn’t know he did it because 1955 was his future and not his past, as illogical as that sounds, even for a time travel movie. But I like your “time travel nudge” theory better. That these event would have happened anyway, he just gave them a nudge in that direction instead of whatever else it was that did it before he got there.

    Lastly, was Marty’s “never back down” inspired by his father in 1955, or had he become an entitled rich kid thanks to his families changed fortunes? Now he is the Napoleonic alpha and no one should dare challenge him. Or, was it just the writers needing to figure out how to invoke conflict? We may never know.

    1. Indeed! Or is it something that DIDN’T happen? The original timeline might have had very timid parenting, telling the kids not to overreach, not to make waves, etc. But that’s absent from the updated timeline.

  3. A fun time travel trilogy, that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s fun to hear the rationalizations of the “time-wave” catching up to the time travelers, many years after watching many many many more time travel TV shows and movies.

    Great insights, and an impetus to rewatch these movies perhaps with one of my cousins (who LOVES this set of movies) and with my son, who’s never seen the flicks…

  4. A movie show that goes out of its way to barely explain the plot or discuss the actual movie in favor of fixating on just theories regarding temporal elements? It’s an angle, anyway. I think the improv background really comes into play with stuff like “let’s discuss a single comic book panel as the basis for a podcast.”

    But speaking of time, I was weirdly absent at the breakout of Michael J. Fox. I never gravitated toward Family Ties, preferring Growing Pains, and none of my sisters expressed an interest in him. Not only did I miss Back to the Future in theaters, but I don’t recall being aware of its existence in that period. I know that I saw Teen Wolf at the dollar show, so most likely my interest in Fox began with Wolf, and I wonder how many others had that counterintuitive trajectory. “Oh hey, the werewolf guy is in this time travel movie.” I’m also not sure exactly when or how I did see BTTF– probably not cable, but maybe a VHS dub from somebody else’s cable? I have no memory of choosing to rent it, and I doubt we waited that long. What I do recall is that one of my best girl (space) friends loaned me her copy of the soundtrack on cassette, and I maybe vaguely recall checking out a novelization from the library? Maybe someone from an alternate timeline mucked up mine? Certainly my life would start to get mucked up around this point, so I think maybe they failed in whatever mission they were undertaking, or maybe I was just a casualty to their alterations?

    I did finally see Back to the Future, and I very much enjoyed it, helped by that swingin’ soundtrack that I may have heard first. I don’t think I recognized Marty’s mom as Beverly from Howard the Duck, that point of identification indicating that it may not have been seen until ’86/87. I never suffered from an Oedipus Complex, as I never wanted a girl just like the girl that had a bastard out of wedlock with the guy identified as dear old dad by an unreliable narrator. But also, my mother wasn’t Lea Thompson, so I may have been more conflicted on the matter than Marty seemed to be. Especially as I wasn’t being featured in Tiger Beat magazine myself, this could have been a Fry-Hole. But more likely, I’d have been as clueless and repulsive as George McFly, and my temporally-displaced kid would be the one having to fix me up. The kid I was so careful to insure never came into existence. That Polaroid was just a picture of a fence.

    I’m listening to the show for a second time as I type. I had a strong opposing view to Siskoid while driving to the show (appropriate) that I’m not recapturing. I think it was his insistence of the inevitability of the BTTF timeline, where I think the Polaroid makes it clear that there’s an ongoing reconciliation of time. Lorraine Baines’ menstrual cycle was more or less the same, and I guess things generally lined up with the births of her children. Maybe “Calvin” got thrown out for the firstborn, but they both looked at the third and were reminded of their brief but influential mutual high school entanglement with Marty? “Wow, he does look like Marty, doesn’t he? Whatever happened to that guy? I heard he lost a game of “chicken” out in Ogden. Just another kid who seemed to have so much potential but peaked at graduation. Maybe we should give nominative determinism a spin, seeing how the first two are turning out?”

    I think you guys have it completely backward on the sequels. You’re the first people I ever heard of to prefer 3. There’s a reason the toy packaging look like the Sports Almanac. I just did a Google image search, and the only toys I see representing 3 are high end Hot Toys numbers for completists. Rotten Tomatoes seems to back ya’ll up with 62% for 2 and 80% for 3, but that’s not how I remember the reception upon arrival. The review that stuck with me was from one of the trade magazine I read at the time, that equated 3 to the Brady Bunch episode where they go to the dude ranch. The gist was that when the sitcom runs out of ideas, you pack the Facts of Life girls up for a European vacation. That you had the perfect inter-generational epic with the original, that 2 had all the future novelty and twists, while 3 was this cold dead fish that was stuck in an unfunny Blazing Saddles retread for the duration. Or maybe it was just conformation bias that enshrined it in my mind.

    Like Karate Kid, the original BTTF is a period favorite that My Gal revisits periodically. In modern times, BTTF popped up often on cable, which meant I could lose stretches of time to a partial rewatch, because any given scene is good enough to suck you in. 2 is more like Age of Ultron, where only certain sequences might grab you, but then the stuff you didn’t like would trigger your finger to move to the next channel. I liked the future shock shenanigans and the second pass at the ’50s (so more like Endgame then,) but hate everything involving the future family, prosthetics, and especially Mike in drag. Oh, and the stuff with the dork son is painful, as is every utterance of that word– “chicken.”

    I saw 2 & 3 at the dollar show. I don’t think I’ve watched either in full since. 2 had a too many twists, so that by the final cliffhanger, I was fairly exhausted. 3 was absent any twists. I think for me it had already jumped the shark when Marty went to the ’50s western wear outlet. Once he runs into the old west version of Biff, I’m like Siskoid charting all the potential variant timelines in BTTF, but instead it’s wondering exactly how many times I’ve had to sit through variations on BTTF’s plot in the sequels. Does the return trip to the ’50s count as a full retread? I never pause to watch anything from 3.

    We don’t own any of the movies on physical media. I most often see the set sold as a trilogy, at a price of around $36 for Blu-Rays. I kind of want to own the original, but it’s not worth that to me on its own, and the thought that owning all three means I will feel compelled to watch the lot makes me put it back on the shelf. I’ve never wanted for access to BTTF, and all indications are that it’s a rare safe bet for availability on streaming or otherwise on demand. It’s not like José Menéndez is a rights holder or anything.

    I like Michael J. Fox as a person and performer, which explains a lot of bad movies watched, or how when I was getting Barry Bostwick to sign my Brad Majors art commission, I kind of wished it was a Mayor Winston instead. I agree that Back to the Future is among the more perfect movies ever made, though I’m not passionate about it in the way I am other films. I wouldn’t balk at giving it a High Noon. 2 is maybe a 6:30, if I’m feeling generous. 3 is at best a 4. It’s passable, but more than anything, it’s the reason why I don’t pick up the set. All I have to do is picture ZZ Top twirling their instruments and “nah, I’m good.” The first movie tells the entire story, then offers an unresolved complication at the ending that best exists in the imagination of the viewers. The other two are narratively shameless, cowardly cash grabs with no actual ideas. It’s self-swipe– when the band barely rearranges a past hit and drop a year at the end of the title. Huey Lewis’ “Power of Love ’90” with a faux-reggae scatting bridge from special guests Big Mountain.

    1. On your first point, there are movies you expect everyone has seen, like BttF, Terminator and Groundhog Day, where fixating on temporal mechanics is the innovation. Less known films, and films where those mechanics aren’t as important, like the movies I’m planning to discuss with you and Paul Hix, to tease upcoming guests, are going to require more foreground and less of the fixation A.J. and I showed in this particular episode.

      I don’t know that it’s the improv background at work. I just bet Back to the Future has been covered on other shows more than adequately, so what can we bring to it to make it a bit fresher.

      1. Didn’t want to tip my hand, but yeah, I admittedly was over-analyzing the pilot because I wanted to figure out what would be expected of me IN THE FUUUUTURE!!!!!

  5. I’m a *huge* fan of these movies. Enough that I would consider myself someone that you should have at your table if going to a themed trivia night at the local pub.

    I saw these movies in the theater. I remember Part 2 coming out Thanksgiving 1989, and I had gotten really sick – enough that I was laid up for two weeks, and it killed me not to go see it until it’s 3rd week out. Part 3 I saw on opening night, two days after I graduated high school in 1990, and the night before I left on an extended summer vacation out of the country. It was my only opportunity to see it. I remember going to a local theater (that was torn down decades ago now). Waiting in line outside. I was on a “date” with a good friends younger sister. We were set up, but neither of us had an interest in one another. As any good nerd, I was far more invested in the film. I remember spending the last half hour on the edge of my seat! What a great film, and the suspense was incredible.

    Great first episode of the podcast! Loved the discussion. I think my favorite discussion was the different timelines. I’m going to throw out two more potential timelines for your consideration, that you left out. Both take place during BttF 2. First, to describe the scenes:

    1. Dystopian 1985, Marty on top of the building, being chased by Biff. Marty jumps off the side of the building, but lands on the DeLorean hood.
    2. 1955, Marty gets rescued by Doc with the DeLorean, which is hovering above, and drops down the banner ribbon it had been caught up on earlier in the film.

    How did Doc know to be there at those exact moments? Both times, Marty appears to have zero knowledge that his life is in mortal danger, and both times, Doc arrives in a nick of time to save Marty from a situation where he very clearly will die if Doc is not there.

    I argue that the first time each event happens, Doc is not there, and Marty does die. And that Doc uses the Time Machine to figure out what happened, travels to that moment, and saves Marty from certain death. So, in each instance, there’s a timeline where Marty dies in those moments. But a corrected timeline has Doc saving the day.

    I can’t reconcile any other way for Doc to know explicitly where and when to be to save Marty’s life. There seems to be no way for Doc to know that information – unless he just happens to have a Time Machine, and has knowledge of events that have already happened, and then goes back in time to deal with those events with that foreknowledge. Think the Clock Tower discussion.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    1. It’s possible! The one I glossed over rather fast is the one where Marty does not show up in Dystopian 1985 so Lorraine DOESN’T threaten to leave Biff. It’s a very minor change.

  6. I was hoping to listen to later episodes before this but you’re releasing them in linear order.

    Great first episode. I always enjoy AJ’s enthusiasm.

    I have a Starlog with an article by Bob Gale written before the sequels were on the horizon. He definitely subscribes to the multiple timeline theory rather than the rubber time. He explained how the Marty who started with the successful family ends the movie stranded in 1985 without plutonium, with the loser family and Doc dead in the carpark.

  7. What a fun exploration of a genre of movies! And to start off with one of my favourite movies of all time makes this episode even more fun!

    You two brought up so many great points about all 3 movies and I must say I don’t think I ever thought about the time travel elements in these movies that much. To me, while time travel is a central point to these movies, to me, these movies are more about taking charge of one’s life and being proactive to make one’s life better. Marty’s line at the start of the first film “What if I send in the tape and they don’t like it? I mean, what if they say I’m no good?” “I mean, I just don’t think I can take that kind of rejection.” resonated so hard for me as a kid. It’s taken me a long time to stand up for myself like Marty finally did and sometimes my brain still says that line to me, but those emotional beats makes me feel like I could do better like Marty.

    I hate to think I’m going to agree with Frank, but I liked Part 2 more than Part 3. Maybe it’s because I’m not a big western fan, but I loved all the novelty of the future of 2015(!). Maybe I was a sucker for those toys when they came out (I think I still have that flying police car Micro Machine somewhere…) but Part 2 just made more sense to me than Part 3. That’s not to say I hate Part 3, I definitely like Part 3. I just prefer Part 2 more.

    Once again this was lots of fun to listen to and I’m looking forward to the next time travel movie! Keep up the great work!

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