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This question is inspired by my answer here.

In that answer, I speculate that there is only ever a single timeline, and thus, a single Marty. In other words, if we could "freeze" the camera at the beginning of BTTF1 and pan it around, just before Marty goes to 1955, we should see at least two things:

  1. Marty coming down the hill towards Doc.
  2. The sign change to Lone Pine Mall.

Marty from the beginning of the movie would be oblivious to this as he's busy dealing with terrorists. And it might cause a paradox if he did.

There are a few times we see the same events from different points of view. A non-inclusive list being:

  1. Marty going to 1955.
  2. Marty and Loraine talking in the car.
  3. George punching Biff.
  4. The DeLorean going back to 1985.
  5. Marty singing Johnny B Goode.
  6. Marty, George and Loraine's conversation outside the dance (when future Marty is talking to Biff and gets smacked in the face by other Marty).

My instinct is that the first time we see these scenes, they do not directly contradict that the later scene could be occurring at the same time off-camera (and least mostly), and the producers intended it this way. But I'm curious as to if there are direct, visual holes in this "illusion".

In fact, that would seem to support the reason paradoxes are such a big deal in BTTF - if there was simply multiple timelines, you just meet yourself in an alternate timeline. Ergo, the timeline can be changed but not contradicted.

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    Your reasoning here doesn't make any sense to me. Why would the "Twin Pines Mall" sign change at the beginning of the first film? Mar 22, 2021 at 15:43
  • The sign would have changed at 1:24am - exactly when 1955 Marty showed up. It makes sense if you consider that BTTF has only a single timeline, and thus, only one of any given time on that timeline. Had Marty stuck to Doc's original plan, he would have arrived at 1:34am - which is when the sign would have changed instead. Because he returned early, there's a brief window original Marty could have become aware of the changes (likely creating a paradox). Sort of like in Harry Potter 3 where we see the events time traveling Harry and Hermione are causing before we actually see them travel back.
    – Tronman
    Mar 22, 2021 at 17:09
  • And yes I realize that creates its own issue - why does everyone else's memories (including Docs) get updated, but Marty's doesn't? We might imagine it was because Marty specifically was the Time Traveler. In any case, it's tangential to this question.
    – Tronman
    Mar 22, 2021 at 17:11
  • I agree that there's only one reality in BTTF, which overwrites itself whenever the timeline is altered. But why would the Mall sign change near the beginning of the film, rather than near the end? Mar 22, 2021 at 17:42
  • I think there's a lot of ambiguity over how time travelers get updated. But in a cosmic sense there's only one timeline that gets rewritten as necessary. Now there's no reason Marty bttf2 in 1955 could rewrite significantly bttf1 and deal with consequences. But obviously they did as much as possible to not disrupt bttf1 in bttf2. Time travel can be chaotic butterfly curve instead if a loop sometimes - though bttf trys to keep it simple. Mar 22, 2021 at 21:26

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There are several side by side comparisons on youtube.

From what I can see there are no major discrepancies. In the mall scene, Doc falls a little differently when shot (he kind of flings backwards at the start of the film, but kneels and falls over at the end). The Libyan's van at one point seems closer to Doc's van in one timeline than the other. In the dance scene, Marvin Berry makes the 'phone call noticeably later in one timeline. Marty seems a little less energetic playing Johnny B Goode.

Certainly nothing in universe seems intended to be different; it's notable that we never see the Mall sign after the time (future) Marty returns, and don't get a good look under Doc's coat to see if he has the bullet proof vest already or not at the start of the movie. Indeed, it seems as if the movies takes pains to make the events as close to each other as possible.

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    This may be of interest to readers.. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novikov_self-consistency_principle switching franchises if one was really aggressive a good hearted time traveler good replace Edith Keeler with a decoy and keep the timeline on track. Also the plot of Millennium where disaster victims get switched with decoys to repopulate the future but keep history consistent. Mar 22, 2021 at 21:53

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