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Background

In Back to The Future, the mall where Marty and the Doc first meet to test the time machine is called Twin Pines Mall. In this scene, the Doc reminisces about the location and recalls when the land was owned by "old man Peabody" who had a crazy idea about "breeding pine trees".

When Marty travels back to 1955 he is of course in the same location. The land is a field as Doc described. When Marty exits the barn in the DeLorean he knocks over one of two pine trees which we see surrounded by fencing, and this causes old man Peabody some distress. Later, when Marty returns to 1985, we see that the same mall is now called "Lone Pine Mall". This is a beautiful plot device as it is the first clue that Marty has returned to an altered timeline.

Problem

When Marty and Doc first watch the recording of past Marty and future Doc in 1955, you can hear the recording of Doc say:

"I'm standing on the parking lot of Twin Pines Mall".

This to me is a major plot hole, as Marty has already changed this detail by knocking over the tree.

In Back to the Future lore, when past events are changed and therefore future events are changed also, things from that future that are currently in the past are erased/changed. Newspapers change headlines, photographs change etc.

Question

Why, if Marty had changed the future timeline by knocking over the tree does the recording not say:

"I'm standing on the parking lot of Lone Pine Mall".

Why does the recording not change just like it would a newspaper or photograph?

  • 1
    This question suggests that he may in fact have said "Lone Pine Mall", or at the very least, that it was obscured so you couldn't tell what he said. – F1Krazy Jun 26 at 14:53
  • if you watch it he clearly says twin not lone – OverWims Jun 26 at 16:27
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thus already ensured the future of the parking lots name being Lone Pine Mall

Ensured? Are you sure? Marty didn't immediately cease to exist when he made his mum fall in love with him instead of George. Apparently, changes to time take some... time.

When Marty plays the video, Old Man Peabody still has plenty of opportunity to transplant a replacement pine tree, and preserve his glorious two-tree vision. Maybe it was George and Elaine, on a stroll through the countryside, who talked him out of doing so, thanks to George's newfound assertive attitude.

  • 4
    Yep. Changes to the past take time to "ripple" through to the future. Consider also Marty's photograph: it didn't vanish instantly, but faded gradually over the course of the film, conveniently informing us how much time Marty has left. – F1Krazy Jun 26 at 14:56
  • This is true for Marty's photo and the gravestone photo, but the newspapers changed instantly once the change had occurred and someone looked at them. Logically this would be the same for everything. I agree that maybe Mr Peabody could have put another pine-tree down, but Doc himself says in the 3rd film "this photograph represents what will happen if the events of today continue to run their course into tomorrow" meaning if no one changes what is now history, then the future is set, unless changed again. – OverWims Jun 26 at 16:31
  • So the tape should have changed as clearly evidenced by the mall being named Lone Pine Mall in 1985, Mr Peabody already decided that he was never going to plant another one and therefore those events would have continued into tomorrow and the next 30 years instantly, therefore instantly affecting the tape Marty brought back with him. – OverWims Jun 26 at 16:31
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    @OverWims: “Logically this would be the same for everything.” Clearly it's not the same for everything, so if we want to make up a rule that's consistent with everything we see, it has to allow for non-instant changes too. – Paul D. Waite Jun 26 at 17:51
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Timeline changes in Back to the Future aren't reflected instantly: there's a gradual ripple effect as they propagate through time. Consider the photograph of Marty's family (and Marty himself): they only faded away slowly, piece by piece, after Marty interfered with his parents' relationship.

No doubt the video recording did change to "Lone Pine Mall" eventually, but it wouldn't have been immediate. So it makes sense that it would have still said "Twin Pines" at the point when Doc saw it.

  • Also out-of-universe, it would be confusing to the public why 'lone pine mall' without explanation. When Marty arrives to 1985, it becomes obvious and clear. – TimSparrow Jun 26 at 20:24
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We know that when Marty changed the future by stopping his mother and father from meeting he did not immediately disappear from existence. The photograph of his siblings began to slowly fade, and he himself only began to fade out of existence when his father almost failed to stand up to a bully on the dance floor, which really would have been the last chance to put history back the way it was (that his parents fell in love at that dance).

As long as Marty remained in 1955, there was a chance that he could put things right, and the deadline for that was the dance (the lightning storm was a secondary deadline for him to be able to return to 1985). It is fair to say then that the closer he got to that deadline, his chances of success lessened too. This could explain the slow fade of the photograph towards that time.

You may be right that when something is changed for certain then it immediately changes the timeline and things correct themselves - this was the case in the sequel Back to the Future 2 when the newspaper headline saying Doc Brown had been "committed" changed before his eyes to "commended". And of course, once his parents kissed and fell in love the fading photograph of Marty's family immediately restored, as did his strength. So I can see why you would think that having knocked down the pine the moment Marty arrived in 1955 should mean that detail was instantly corrected.

Really though, the same rule applies to the recording as the photograph, because as long as Marty remained in 1955 with the time machine he had the ability to go to any point in the past or the future - something he demonstrated by changing the time circuit to go back earlier than agreed and save the Doc. He could have, amongst other things, gone back and stopped the tree being run over. As long as that remained a possibility then there is no reason for anything related to the "Twin Pines Mall" to immediately disappear from existence. That future only became a certainty when he left the past and travelled forwards to his new future.

Remember also that the recording of Doc in the mall parking lot was filmed by Marty. Had his parents not fallen in love then Marty would never have been born and he would not have been able to make the recording of Doc Brown in the first place. This is something of a paradox but only proves that the recording is subject to the same "rules" governing time travel as the photograph. Had Marty's parents not fallen in love, the whole recording should have disappeared, not just change the name of the mall.

Further, consider what Doc Brown explained about timelines in Back to the Future 2. He stated that whenever something is changed at a fixed point in time, a new branch of time is created. We know that Marty changed his own history by the fact that, when he travelled forwards to 1985 from that point, various things were different - the demeanour of his parents and siblings, and of course the name of the mall. The recording in question is from the previous timeline, as was the photograph of his siblings. Although the fading of the photograph and its immediate restoration denoted the fading possibility that he and his siblings would ever exist, the photo was restored as it was. His siblings in the photograph were still wearing the same sloppy clothing from the old timeline and did not have the modified image that we see they have in the altered 1985. Arguably then, the recording would have been subject to the same rule - it may have begun to fade as the possibility of it happening lessened, but it may have been restored as it was when the future was fixed. It could be argued then that the future altered timeline that included the new name for the mall only became a certainty for Marty once he travelled forward in time to 1985.

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