Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.
Back in 1973, the idea of rebuilding a man with bionics was very cool, very scifi and a little frightening. With so many soldiers coming home from Vietnam without arms and legs, the concept of using technology to make a man whole again was big news. But the idea of making a man better than he was before was tricky, add to that, the idea of using that computerized-superman for military and political purposes and things really gets sketchy.
It was an emotional and touchy subject. That’s probably not how you remember The Six Million Dollar Man, but the original pilot movie was quite a bit darker than the fun-loving, James Bond action show it became. You’ll find both pilot movies in this new DVD collection. In the first one, Steve is a civilian test pilot with a slow, laid-back attitude who comes crashing down to Earth. Martin Balsam plays Dr. Rudy Wells, the man behind the bionics and Darren McGavin is the slightly-villainous boss who controls the purse strings. Later, McGavin’s Oscar Spenser would become Richard Anderson’s Oscar Goldman and Alan Oppenheimer and Martin E. Brooks would fill the role of Wells.
The main difference between the two pilot films is the tone. The first pilot is about Steve’s emotional recovery and it’s a rocky one. He doesn’t cope well with the loss of his limbs and he isn’t any happier when he finds out that his new parts come with strings attached. The first movie is free of slow-mo running and ratchety sound effects. It’s a much more human story and Majors does a good job playing a confident, talented, virile man who has lost his way.
One of the most interesting moments in the film comes after Steve rescues a boy from a car wreck. He delivers the child to the mother who reacts in horror as she sees the wires and circuits beneath the ripped fake skin of Steve’s arm. These days, though seeing such a site would be unusual, I doubt anyone would react with horror. Fascination and curiosity would be more like it. Just goes to show you how far we’ve come and how once again, TV has become reality.
The second Six Million Dollar Man movie, Wine, Women and War is completely different in tone. It’s fun, full of action and has many of the elements we’ve come to expect from spy genre movies. Steve Austin is a love ’em and leave ’em guy who goes undercover to help our government fight against foreign evil doers. The second movie starred Eric Braeden, David McCallum, Britt Ekland and Earl Holliman, starting off what was a long line of terrific TV guest stars. To pay homage to those folks, the first season DVD has a featurette that pulls out scenes of the best guest stars for the season including William Shatner who is much better than most people give him credit for.
There’s also a look at Real Bionics, the creation of the iconic opening credit sequence, and a debriefing with Executive Producer Harve Bennett. The best feature is an interactive look at Steve Austin’s bionics. Choose a bionic part, then scroll through a list of abilities, pick one and you’ll be treated to clips from episodes where Steve uses the ability.
I made a video to show off the special features of the box set itself! Check this out.