In 1993, A Fascinatingly Bad Time Travel Movie Dared To Misuse Mark Hamill
Hamill was trapped in a time paradox. Now is the time to fix it.
We can’t go back in time and prevent Mark Hamill from making Time Runner, nor should we try. Although this direct-to-video movie is objectively bad, there’s something charming at its core. 30 years ago, video stores everywhere were hit with a sci-fi disaster begging for the Mystery Science Theater treatment, but one with a solid premise that could easily be rebooted into something great.
Time Runner comes from an interesting era of sci-fi film. Who could have imagined that just 10 years after Return of the Jedi, it would feel like 20 years had passed? This isn’t to say that Mark Hamill looks bad in Time Runner; he looks great. But the sci-fi TV movie of the ‘90s has a very specific style that’s aged much worse than even the shoddiest ‘80s predecessor. Terminator 2: Judgement Day came out two years before Time Runner, yet you’d think these time travel action flicks were made decades apart. In terms of production value, Time Runner feels like an extended episode of the Highlander TV series, and not in a good way.
The story concerns Captain Michael Raynor, a man sent back from 2022 to 1992 to stop an alien invasion before it can happen. Let’s just cut to the movie’s big twists. Ready? This will spoil all of Time Runner, which is amusing to watch, but less amusing if you know the premise. Like an episode of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, it relies on the sci-fi mindscrew to “work.” But once you know the twist, that’s kinda it. Okay, you’ve been warned. Here it is.
Time Runner reveals that Raynor actually has to prevent his own mother from getting murdered so that he can be born. It also eventually reveals that, in 1992, a human scientist named Karen (Rae Dawn Chong) is an alien in disguise. But after Raynor’s mom dies in childbirth — while in her grown son’s arms — Karen decides to be a nice alien and takes the baby version of Raynor to raise so that he can grow up to be Mark Hamill.
As time travel stories go, Time Runner presents a fairly decent closed-loop paradox, and having an alien switch sides to raise humanity’s savior is a pretty clever idea... on paper. The problem is that there’s almost no tension between the beginning of this movie and the final revelations, and the dialogue is so unrealistic that it’s hard to buy any of the stakes. Mark Hamill does his best, but he’s hampered by bonkers writing where people say and do things that no one would say or do. When Raynor first arrives in 1992, an old farmer gives him grief for being in his house. But, inexplicably, the farmer screams, “Where are you from?” as though he’s already assumed that the guy eating apples in his kitchen is a time traveler.
The movie is full of this kind of thing. A person will approach someone, show their ID, and then 30 seconds later show a piece of paper that serves the same plot function as the ID. The story might be a circular time-loop paradox, but its downfall is that the dialogue is needlessly circular too. If Time Runner was trying to be a homage to the clunkiest Philip K. Dick stories, then it succeeded.
And yet, that premise. Time-traveling aliens! Aliens switching sides to take care of babies! A John Connnor-type ensuring that he himself is born! All these elements, in a newer, smarter, slicker production could form the foundation of a great contemporary sci-fi series. Heck, maybe Mark Hamill could even be brought back into the mix. A Time Runner reboot isn’t the reboot we need, but it might be the reboot we deserve.
Time Runner is streaming for free on Tubi.