JK Rowling Saved the Back to the Future III Train From Becoming a Harry Potter Attraction


Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is very protective of her stories and how they’re adapted but did you know she’s equally protective of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s Back to the Future? Find out how she saved a famous bit of movie memorabilia.

I spoke to 12 Monkeys’ showrunner Terry Matalas not too long ago and while I’m saving our finale chat (You can read my interview with actor Amanda Schull here!) I had to share this amazing story first. We chatted a bit about some popular geek culture creations, specifically time travel stories, of which we’re both fans and I learned something fantastic.

Pantozzi: What kind of TV influenced you growing up? What did you watch?

Matalas: Well growing up, it’s funny, I watched that…I really kind of grew up on that whole NBC, half-hour block of Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, that kind of thing. That was my first real dose of it. And then I think there’s V, I was really into V growing up, I was into a lot of anime on TV. I think anything from like…you know, my parents watched LA Law…I’m trying to think of what else, if I really dig down. That’s really the TV I grew up on.

Pantozzi: What was your favorite movie as a teenager and is it still your favorite movie today?

Matalas: As a teenager, people probably know this story, Back to the Future was my all-time favorite movie. It’s been really great because I ended up getting to know Bob Gale and becoming friends with him and helped restore the original DeLorean time machine. And then I ended up, actually, I own one of them. So Back to the Future was really influential to me, and you’re saying is it still now, to this day still my favorite film? It’s tough to say because it’s hard to pin down just one because then I can always go to Raiders of the Lost Ark or Close Encounters, there’s so many other influences, each one serves as a different best, to Wrath of Khan. So I really can’t say there’s one definitive one but Back to the Future, I gotta say, you can rewatch it over and over again and not get bored.

Pantozzi: I totally agree with you and I must mention that I was proposed to last year by my fiancé in front of the Back to the Future II DeLorean at Universal Studios.

Matalas: Oh, wait a minute…the Back to the Future II DeLorean, was it inside a museum?

Pantozzi: They have one on display in Florida at the park, because they don’t have the ride anymore.

Matalas: Oh, in Florida, yeah, yeah, yeah. That was one of the part 3 cars actually. Because I went through a whole phase I knew every one of these cars, and every one of these parts, that’s what I was doing for Bob. That is so cool. Wow. That’s amazing. The train’s there too, isn’t it?

Pantozzi: Yes, the train is there too! [Editor’s Note: See top photo of this article, it sits right next to the car.]

Matalas: The story behind the train is when they were walking J.K. Rowling through the park they were going to use the train or convert the train for the Hogwarts…Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and she was like ‘No, absolutely do not do that, please do not. This is iconic. Keep it totally as it is.’ So J.K. Rowling actually saved the Back to the Future III time train from being…

Pantozzi: OH MY GOD.


Matalas: That’s a good story, right?

Pantozzi: That’s amazing, yeah, totally! So I know you mentioned Star Trek briefly, I know you worked years back on Voyager and Enterprise. Have you always been a big fan of that franchise?

Matalas: Yeah, I grew up with Star Trek, I grew up with the original series, movies. Really influential to me. And then Star Trek: The Next Generation I grew up with in high school so that was other TV that I should totally add to the list. Star Trek has always been a huge part of my life.

Pantozzi: Are you looking forward to the new Bryan Fuller series?

Matalas: Yeah, Bryan’s a friend of mine and I’m hoping the next time I’m up in Toronto for 12 Monkeys that I can convince him to show me the new bridge.

Pantozzi: Nice. You can send me pictures of that if you want, I won’t show it to anyone. [Laughs]

Matalas: [Laughs] Yeah exactly. I’m sure they’re going to take my phone away from me.

Pantozzi: So I’m a time travel fan, as I’m sure you are, you sound like you are. I’m constantly finding issues with the internal logic that any given time travel story has, but amazingly the time travel in 12 Monkeys never bothers me. Like, I don’t finish an episode and go ‘oh, that didn’t make sense.’ How did you first approach it and how do you continue to approach time travel as things get more complicated?

Matalas: The tiny little flaws in time travel…none of them…I think it’s with the exception of 12 Monkeys the film, none of them entirely hold up. You know if you go into Back to the Future there’s the whole, when Marty comes back at the end of the movie and watches himself travel through time, did that Marty have a good life? The good family rather, the happy family. So there’s a lot of loop holes with time travel but I think what makes the loop holes forgivable, or less obvious, if it’s making emotional sense. And in the case of Back to the Future, all of it’s emotional really. It’s about him going back to make sure his parents fall in love, it’s about his family, it’s about his friend. So it kind of, you’re not paying attention to the causality of it all, I think that’s really key to it as well. I think in the case of 12 Monkeys what helps quite a bit is, this isn’t the best group of scientists in the world ever, this is just all that’s left. They barely have an understanding of how this works. And we introduced some new mythology about maybe that certain people are connected to time in some ways, there’s more science fiction to it. As far as the loops go and the time travel, yes, we carefully, carefully look at it and make sure we can hide all those Easter Eggs that set it up right. But we also don’t want to be too confusing. There’s been a few stories where we’ve had to throw them out because the only way to understand them was if you were looking at a diagram. So my rule in the writers’ room is, if you have to draw the timeline on a dry erase board we can’t use it. So that’s kind of how we approach it, does that make sense?

Pantozzi: That’s actually pretty smart.

And here’s the Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios Florida, beautiful and magical in its own right. I also got to ride this during that same trip last year and I’m so thankful to Rowling that they both exist, and to Matalas for telling me that amazing story. Keep an eye out this week for the rest of my interview with him about the women of 12 Monkeys and that wild finale.

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[UPDATE] HelloGiggles unearthed a 2012 YouTube video of Bob Gale and his memory of this event.

9 Responses to “JK Rowling Saved the Back to the Future III Train From Becoming a Harry Potter Attraction”

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  4. […] an interview with The Nerdy Bird, 12 Monkeys showrunner and die-hard Back to the Future fan Terry Matalas revealed that the […]

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  6. SpottedSeaJelly says:

    The story of Rowling saving the train is nice, but I’m too busy admiring the two of you complying and that amazing engagement ring.

  7. WheelchairNinja says:

    I only got a glimpse of the BttF train on my way to Diagon Alley (It was first thing in the morning and we had our priorities: butterbeer for breakfast) but it was epic and I wish I’d gone back and gotten pics up close. So glad JKR convinced them to keep it!

  8. VBartilucci says:

    time can be re-written…