Bob Gale, Back to the Future co-writer, talks about how Marty McFly's ethics dictated the end of the film
Return to the future, directed by Robert Zemeckis, tells the story of Marty McFly's accidental journey through time in the DeLorean modified by his friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). The film is considered to be one of the best time travel movies of all time, with its rules and ideas about time travel influencing pop culture for years to come even with references to it in Avengers: Endgame.
In a change that was unlike most time travel movies, Marty does not choose to travel in time. Marty McFly ends up traveling from 1985 to 1955 by accident. While not only concerned with how to get back to his original timeline, Marty is also forced to make sure his parents George (Crispin Glover) and Lorraine (Lea Thompson) end up reuniting, as Marty's presence in 1955 it made them not know each other when they were originally supposed to. The film's original ending brought Marty back to a much more futuristic 1985, as Doc Brown's 1955 version glimpsed future technology through the elements Marty had brought with him in the past. The ending was altered, and more attention was paid to Marty and her family, making them the only thing that changes in the 1985 remake.
In an interview on the program of the Russo Bros Pizza Film School. Bob Gale talked about how Marty's involuntary trip to the past was necessary for the end of the film. Gale talked about how many time travel movies are "warning tales." Its function is to show how it is wrong to interfere with the past to change the future. Gale mentioned that he did not like the original ending of the movie. Gale and Zemeckis decided to change the ending, making Marty's family the only thing altered by his journey back in time. Gale mentioned how Marty's morale, and his unwillingness to alter the past in any way that could benefit himself (other than fixing the things he messed up in the first place), were important to the story and getting the audience to identify with Marty.
As Gale mentions, Marty did not voluntarily go back in time. Part of the reason Marty is such a nice character is because the changes he made in the past were made exclusively for his own survival. The writers made a conscious decision to move away from other widely used time travel tropes, and to leave Marty's motivations as selfless as possible. If Marty's morale had been different, Back to the Future probably wouldn't have gone as well as it did for moviegoers in the 1980s.
The story of the film is designed in a way that makes it feel almost timeless. While certain things about Return to the future they don't hold up to current standards, Marty remains immensely identifiable, and the movie doesn't seem dated in the sense of telling stories. The change in the ending was dictated by Marty's well-intentioned nature was definitely one of the reasons fans still admire Back to the Future after 35 years.
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