Back To The Future Day Movie Synchronization Guide   Leave a comment


So!  You’re a big fan of Back To The Future AND its sequels.  You’ve read Ryan North’s hilarious B to the F summary of the bizarre novelization of the first movie, you’ve laughed and cried to Telltale’s epic Back To The Future: The Game, and you’ve got Doc Brown’s science facts from the end of the episodes of the cartoon saved on VHS.  Maybe you even snagged one of the rare samples of Pepsi Perfect, though at $20.15 per bottle (a joke I didn’t even notice until my sister said that she got it) I can understand not going that far.  All of this means that you don’t need me to tell you that today, October 21st, 2015 is the day that Marty McFly and Doc Brown reach the future at precisely 4:29 PM.

So, naturally, you’re gonna want to watch a movie.

And because the urge to do so is overwhelming, you have the desire to synchronize your viewing with the moment that Marty makes it to the future.

But be warned!  This is a trickier prospect than it seems!  Time is a fickle beast, as anyone who watched these movies could tell you, and while there’s no risk of paradox from simply watching a film, you might delude yourself into a scientifically inaccurate moment of synchronization.

We here at Crater Labs, Inc. know that explosions build character, but accidents are best to be avoided even if they DO build character.  So let’s take a quick look at what you’ll need to properly synchronize your viewing.

BTTF Synchronized Watches

1) Check Your Time Zone

I’ve seen a lot of people pointing out that Marty’s moment of future arrival is at 4:29 PM.  And that’s correct!  But it’s also misleading.  See, if you’re waiting for your clock to say 4:29 PM then you’ve only got a 1/24 chance of being correct (realistically better than that considering how few people outside of the Western world ever read my blog, but I’m not making any assumptions here.  …though if you’re in China you’ve already missed it, sorry.)  Hill Valley is in California, located within the Pacific Time Zone.  So if you’re in, say, Oregon?  Then 4:29 is the time for you!  If you, like me, are in Indiana, though, Marty’s actual time of arrival is 6:29 PM because I’m two hours ahead of California time.  Ergo, if I want a scientifically accurate recreation, I need to hold off.  Which brings us to another point…

2) Check Your Theater Listings

A lot of theaters across the country are showing Back To The Future 2 today.  Even better, most of them are starting their showings at 4:29 PM!  Even if they didn’t consider point 1 above, that’s a really swell gesture.  Now, which idea is more fun for you?  Carefully synchronizing a movie at home so that you start playing it before 4:29 PM PST so that Marty gets to the future right AT 4:29 PST?  Or heading to a movie theater, maybe with friends, and viewing it together in public?  I can honestly say, as much as fiddling with tricky things is fun for me, being in public with good friends is something I want to do more, and if I had the money for a ticket I would totally do it.  HOWEVER… you can actually have your cake and eat it too providing that you don’t live on the west coast or in mountain time.  (Sorry, entire western half of the contiguous United States!)  Take me, for instance: living in the Central Time Zone as I do, I could go see the showing of Back To The Future 2 at 4:29 PM.  The movie is one hour and forty-eight minutes long, which means the movie will conclude at 6:17 PM.  I could then, assuming I made preparations in advance, race home knowing that I have 12 minutes available to beat the deadline.  There are realistically only two time zones (Central and Eastern) that can do this at the time that I put this post up, so it’s not likely you’ll see it in Time, but you should know that for those of us in this tiny 1/12th sliver of the globe there’s still that chance.  People to the west? Sorry, you’ll have to pick and choose.

3) Check Your Edition

Not all DVDs are the same!  Heck, not all DVD PLAYERS are the same!  On my personal copy of Back To The Future 2, from the time I push play on the menu screen to the time I see the modernized Universal logo pop up, 35.90 seconds pass.  That’s a variance of greater than half a minute!  DON’T LET THAT TRIP YOU UP!  Take note that this issue is even more true for VHS copies of the movie.  Props for going as retro as possible, but different VHS players run at different speeds, even if that difference is usually not significant enough to see.  This brings us to…

4) Check Your Player Speed

At this point you’re doing a pre-watch of the movie before your watch of the movie.  Good for you!  After the modernized Universal Logo on my DVD, the actual movie begins with the classic Universal logo that doesn’t have the big anthem going along with it.  This step mostly happens at the same time that you do step 3, but I mention it as a technically significant variance that may affect your schedule!  And finally…

5) Choose Your Moment

This is the tricky one.  Most people will settle for merely watching the movie at 4:29 PM.  This is fine and dandy, sure, but it’s only one of three options, and I maintain that it’s the least accurate.  I mean, it’s not bad, but if you’re going to this trouble anyway I suggest looking at the others.  So, here are your choices.

  • The Huey Lewis Special:  You can tell your doctor that you don’t mind so long as you get back in time.  Back in time for what? Who knows.  Or Huey knows.  One way or the other, this is the option most people go with, and the option they need to go with if they’re going to a movie theater.  This is when you start the movie at 4:29 on the dot.  To synchronize for this viewing, you need to take the first four steps.  For me, I’d have to start watching 35.90 seconds before 4:29, which would be 4:28:24.10 PST, or 6:28:24.10 Central Time.  Marty McFly in sunny Hill Valley (or rainy if the weather prediction is accurate) will be a few minutes ahead of you, but you know what? You’re watchin’ a movie.  It’s all good.
  • Didn’t Have Time To Build It To Scale Or Paint It: This is pretty accurate… from the point of view of a typical 80s teen.  This method of synchronization has you viewing the film so that 4:29 happens the moment that Marty McFly and Loraine are in a flying car with Doc Brown, right when it hits 88 miles per hour.  4:29 in this method comes 3 minutes and 25.40 seconds after the movie begins.  To hit this mark, you need to begin viewing even earlier, starting no later than 4:25:34.60 PM PST, which in my time zone would be 6:25:34.60 (Central Time if you haven’t been paying attention.)  And from the point of view of someone in the 80s going along Marty McFly’s personal timeline, this would be perfect!  But we’re not starting to work on this from 1985, we’re living back in good old 2015.  We want to meet Marty when he arrives.  This leads us to the final option.
  • Save The Clock Tower!  This method doesn’t have us departing with Marty, it has us arriving with him, and in my opinion this is the way to go!  After Doc Brown takes off from 1985, the movie continues for a bit without actors as we get an aerial view that moves through the clouds.  Now, we’re meant to think this is the view from a flying car… and it may be exactly that… but if you pay attention, the storm clouds over Hill Valley aren’t what the DeLorean flies into, they’re what the DeLorean appears in the middle of!  If you want 4:29 PM PST to land on exactly the moment that Marty is first in 2015, this is what you want to use as your moment of synchronization.  To make this one work, you need to begin viewing at exactly 5 minutes and 1.37 seconds before 4:29!  To accomplish this, you need to start watching at 4:23:58.63 PM PST, or 6:23:58.63 Central Time.  This viewing has you on the track to be waiting for Marty not just when he arrives but WHEN he arrives.  …those mean the same thing, but I was talking about When from two different directions.  Time to enjoy a movie like we do in 2015!

BTTF2 Jaws 19

Gettin’ sick of seeing that image yet?  EVERYONE’S USING IT, AND I’M NO DIFFERENT!  See, it’s clever because we’re talking about a movie that showed movies in 2015, and now it’s 2015.

IMPORTANT NOTE: remember, that in my calculations, I’m factoring in the 35.90 second delay that’s on my DVD copy from the moment I push play!  This won’t be the same for you, though it may be close.  If you want to cue up your DVD to just after the modern logo (or its equivalent) and just before the old classic Universal logo begins, you can start 35.90 seconds later!  So this would change your viewings to…

  • Huey Lewis Special: 4:29 PM PST (no real challenge here)
  • Didn’t Have Time To Build It Or Paint It: 4:26:10.50 PM PST
  • Save The Clock Tower! 4:24:34.53 PM PST

As with all things, there’s room for human error, and this is just using my own DVD player.  You may need to run a trial run yourself and do these calculations on your own depending on any play speed variances.  Plus it’s always good to check someone else’s work.

Anyway, keep all this in mind while viewing Back To The Future 2, and no matter how you view it, be sure that you have fun.  Split second timing is fun… and important, as Doc Brown likes to remind us… but we also need to take a page out of Marty’s book and take it easy once in a while.  So if you miss starting the movie right when you want, don’t worry about it.  Have fun!


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