Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Six Million Dollar Man Pilot

This TV movie premiered July 3rd, 1973 I was living in Europe at the time so I never knew that even the concept of a Six Million Dollar Man even existed until I returned to North Am in 77.

The movie is actually more about how Steve recovers from the crash of his experimental jet and how he reacts to his new body parts. Lee Majors is remarkably good as a proud man who walked on the moon but now doesn't feel like the man he thought he was and he is in no mood to imagine a positive future. It's more about the man than the machine. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it even though the Dr. Rudy Wells and Oscar Goldman were nowhere to be found.

Darren McGavin is solid as a shady government agent financing Steve's 'improvements' so he can work for them and do 'special' missions that only a bionic man can do - Such as battle a bionic Big Foot. He is playing the role that will later be taken on by Richard Dean Anderson as Oscar Goldman. One of the few action figures you will ever see of the heroes BOSS. Plus you cannot do better than that fantastic exploding briefcase. McGavin delivers some great speeches about how Steve is just hardware and any injured piece of meat will do. He needs a weapon and Austin is his weapon and if he has to put his life at risk to prove his worth then he is prepared to make that sacrifice. After all, he can always make another cyborg. Maybe a woman and a dog?

The scenes of Steve discovering his bionic powers are thrilling and often moving. It's only until he is forced to use his new abilites for good that Steve has a change of heart about his new life and his potential. But he never loses the belief that the machinery makes him less of a man when in reality he is now MORE than man. Only at the end does he realize that so his transformation from injured astronaut to hero feels real.

The slow motion effects, while goofy looking today, were a creative way to save money on the illusion that this guy was really a cyborg. The sound that he makes when he runs fast has become iconic. Howeve this pilot actually speeds up the film so his running looks fast. I guess they thought that conveyed the speed factor better. They were wrong. People can tell when a piece of film has been sped up and that spoils the illusion. Slow motion actually works BETTER at conveying the illusion of speed.

Of course Steve's first mission to resuce a caption Israeli offical is tailor made to his powers. Including shutting down the ONE tank the kidnappers have at their disposal. Hell, he even dresses just like the bad guys so he can easily blend in. When they capture him they chain his bionic arm just so he can break out in dramatic fashion.

This is a solid spy thriller with a likable hero at its center. It's a bit talky but that is because it's trying to be as faithful to the book by Martin Caitin that it sprang from. The tone is more serious than the series ever got. That isn't a bad thing, especially for the 70s. It was important that the show was popular with the kids so all the ennui and romance and geopolitical intrique had to be trimmed out to provide more bionic action which is really laking in this pilot. Those changes made all the difference. I can see why the show was such a huge success after a bit of tweeking. It spawned one of the great toy lines of all time. As an eight year old my head would have exploded but I never saw the series until 1977 when this show and the Bionic Woman were already in syndication I believe.

There even is the suggestion that Steve be kept in electro-sleep between missions and only woken up when he is needed. Sounds like the concept for the Winter Soldier, doesn't it? I look forward to going through the next two telefilms and the first season. Not that I don't already have a ton to watch.

In this movie only, Steve Austin is referred to as a civilian astronaut. In the subsequent series, Steve is a Colonel in the Air Force.

Based upon the Martin Caidin novel "Cyborg", this was the only film adaptation of any of Caidin's original four Cyborg/Six Million Dollar Man novels. The remaining three: Operation Nuke, High Crystal, and Cyborg IV, were never adapted by the television series.

Surprisingly, Steve's bionic eye is not used at any point in this first adventure (except for regular vision).


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Yes, he seems in many ways to be a cross between Captain America and the Winter Soldier, but set solely in modern times.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

I enjoyed that show back in the day very much. I may not watch the new Six BILLION Dollar Man because Mark Walburg was cast and I don't watch his movies anymore because they uniformly suck. Always.

Stu Ordana said...

I have to disagree with you on Mark Wahlburg movies. I am not a big Wahlburg fan but I did enjoy the two Ted movies, Deepwater Horizon, and thought his character was hilarious in The Departed. I have not seen his Transformer movies as I gave up on that franchise before he started in it. And his Planet of the Apes movie did suck but not sure you can blame that on him. There are few of his other movies I am interested in seeing.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

There is just something about him. I always feel he can do better. He could try harder. He get's these softball hero rolls that a monkey could do and he's just also kind of a dick in real life and on set. I don't know. He just rubs me wrong and his movies have done little to make me think that anyone else could have done those roles and done them better.

Jordan said...

You just want the Oscar Goldman figure with the exploding briefcase.

Caffeinated Joe said...

Steve Austin was an idol of mine as a kid. He was just so great. I have finally gotten the entire series on DVD, just have to watch it now. Good memories.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

I HAVE the Oscar Goldman figure with exploding briefcase. I am finding the same thing with that first season. I am loving it. Lee Majors is total 70s cool.