TIMESTALKERS. Science fiction that predated “Back to the Future Part III”

**Timestalkers** is an adaptation of Ray Brown’s short story **The Tintype**, produced for the American television network CBS.

Maciej Kaczmarski

1 June 2024


Time Bandits (1981) by Terry Gilliam, The Terminator (1984) by James Cameron, Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) by F.F. Coppola, and the Back to the Future trilogy (1985–1990) by Robert Zemeckis – in the 1980s, filmmakers eagerly explored the theme of time travel. Timestalkers is a lesser-known example of this trend.

The year is 1986. Scott McKenzie is a university lecturer leading a peaceful life with his wife and young son in the suburbs of Los Angeles. One day, his family dies in a car accident caused by a driver fleeing from the police. To cope with the trauma, McKenzie delves into the history of the United States, with a particular focus on the Wild West era. During an auction of 19th-century memorabilia, McKenzie bids on old trunks; in one of them, he finds a photograph of a man holding a revolver manufactured in the 1980s. Research shows that the photo is at least a hundred years old, and McKenzie concludes that the man in the photo is a time traveler. His conviction is reinforced by Georgia Crawford, a mysterious woman who identifies the gunman in the photo as Joseph Cole, a dangerous scientist from the year 2586.

Timestalkers is an adaptation of Ray Brown’s short story The Tintype, produced for the American television network CBS. Directed by Michael Schultz, a Hollywood craftsman known for Cooley High (1975), Car Wash (1976), and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), the producers managed to secure a cast including William Devane (McKenzie), Lauren Hutton (Georgia), and Klaus Kinski (Cole), for whom this was one of his rare television appearances. The premiere, promoted as the “movie of the week,” took place on March 10, 1987, on CBS. Timestalkers attracted a significant audience and received positive reviews from critics. The popularity of the TV film led to its reruns on channels like Lifetime, Sci-Fi Channel, This TV Network, and Rocket TV in subsequent years. Even in 2016, it was still being rebroadcast on American television.


Despite being a low-budget TV production with outdated music, poor special effects, and unintentionally funny dialogues, Timestalkers has several merits: fast-paced action, high entertainment value, a unique 80s vibe, and most notably, Kinski, who delivers several of his infamous emotional outbursts. The combination of science fiction and western genres might remind viewers of Back to the Future Part III (1990) by Robert Zemeckis, but it’s worth noting that Timestalkers appeared three years earlier and with a smaller budget. However, both Zemeckis and Schultz couldn’t avoid the logical inconsistencies associated with time travel (e.g., the grandfather paradox). To enjoy this modest film, one must suspend disbelief and overlook such shortcomings.