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Six Million Dollar Man: The Complete Collection, The

Universal // Unrated // November 23, 2010
List Price: $239.95 [Buy now and save at Timelife]

Review by John Sinnott | posted December 7, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
Narrator:  Steve Austin, astronaut, a man barely alive.
Oscar Goldman:  We can rebuild him, we have the technology.  We can make him better than he was.  Better, stronger, faster.
Each week The Six Million Dollar Man opened with that succinct synopsis of the premise, and 10-year-olds across the country, myself included, were in TV heaven.  A great melding of science fiction, action, mystery, and spy shows, the program hit all of the bases (including a romantic story line that worked surprisingly well) and not only started a started a marketing franchise of action figures (I never did get that space shuttle that turned into a repair bay L ), comic books, bed sheets, and more, but made it fashionable to run and mock-fight in slow motion while trying to reproduce the electronic do-do-dooo sound effects that signaled the use of bionic powers.  It was a 70's phenomenon that has sadly been missing on DVD.  Until now.  Time-Life has released the entire series in one extremely cool boxed set.  They've done everything right with this release too.  The packaging is cool and there are some great extras but most importantly they've included everything a fan could want.  All three original TV movies, the entire 5 season run of the show (original and uncut), the crossovers with its spin-off show The Bionic Woman, and the three later TV movies that wrapped up the story.  It's a must-buy set for fans of the show.

The Original TV Movies:
I fondly remember my mother letting me stay up late to watch the first movie, The Six Million Dollar Man, even though it was playing on a school night and went way past my bed time.  The next day at school it was the talk of the playground, and I remember my friends and I quickly reaching the consensus that he should have punched the woman who shied away from Steve Austin after he saved the life of her son.  What I didn't remember was how different this first movie was from the series that it spawned.
The movie starts out with Steve Austin, a civilian astronaut who walked on the moon (he would change into an Air Force Colonel in the second movie and keeps that rank from then on) testing a space shuttle prototype that malfunctions and crashes.  Both of his legs are crushed beyond repair, his right arm is ripped off, and he loses one of his eyes.  The program has suffered a series of set backs of late and if word got out that a national hero had been maimed in such a fashion it would be disastrous.  In steps Oliver Spencer (Darren McGavin) of the OSO, a slimey, manipulative and mysterious individual.  He has a pet project looking for a volunteer:  he wants to make a super soldier by replacing parts of the human body with mechanical 'bionic' devices.  He talks Steve's friend and physician, Dr. Rudy Wells (Martin Balsam, to be replace in the series by Alan Oppenheimer) into supervising the procedure and ponies up six million dollars to accomplish it.  Keeping Austin sedated while the technology is being perfected and then replaces his missing limbs and eye with bionic replacements.  This give Steve the ability to run 60 MPH, lift great weights, and see in the dark, but there's still a psychological cost to being half machine.
The thing that struck me about watching this movie once again after all these years is how different it is from the series that would follow.  The pace is very slow, with a lot of time spent watching Austin sleeping in bed or even trying to commit suicide when he discovers how maimed he is.  There's a lot of emoting about how he doesn't want to be half machine, and the action doesn't really start until late in the second half when he takes on some terrorists in the Middle East.  Even then it's over pretty quickly.  They also hadn't decided how to portray Austin using his powers.  The slow motion running and electronic sound effects that signaled bionic action aren't present yet (they won't appear until well into the first season.)
The second and third TV movies, Wine, Women and War (featuring the ever lovely Britt Ekland) and The Solid Gold Kidnapping try out something different too.  In these Steve Austin is more of a 007 secret agent with built in gadgets more than anything else.  They even hired Dusty Springfield to sing a new Bond-inspired theme with the unforgettable lyrics "He's the (in background: six million dollar) man. Catch him if you can... beat him if you can... love him if you can... He's the (six million dollar) man.  He attends cocktail parties dressed in tux, he talks the beautiful babes into bed, and he manages to stop terrorists in secret underground hideouts from stealing a Polaris nuclear sub (in the second movie) and retrieve an important kidnap victim with the aid of a sexy scientist who has had a partial brain transplant (the third movie).  Though The Solid Gold Kidnapping was closer to the series than Wine, Women and War, neither really captured the fun of the TV show.
The TV Series:
(Mild spoilers may follow.)
The ratings of the three TV films were apparently strong enough to warrant a full series.  This is the show that we all remember and love, and it starts out strong from the very first episode.  Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) is Steve's boss and handler (as he was in the latter two TV movies) and the SF and action elements are moved to the forefront while romancing the female costars gets pushed way to the back.
Early on Steve has to handle mysteries (who is trying to kill Oscar on a desert island), SF-themed shows (when an entire city is found dead, and any one who enters screams before they collapse), and action (Steve has to find a downed pilot who has some important documentation).  The early highlight of the first season however is Day of the Robot where Steve's good buddy, Major Sloan (John Saxon), is kidnapped and replaced with a robot.  A robot that is better, stronger and faster than Austin himself.  It's a great episode, and one that I remember vividly even after 35 years. 
Battling people (or creatures) that were also bionic is a theme that's explored several times during the show's run.  These were always my favorite episodes as a kid, and I'm pretty partial to them now.  A racecar driver who is in an accident, Barney Hiller gets both arms and legs replaced in The Seven Million Dollar Man.  Barney's mind isn't as strong as Steve's however, and the psychological toll it places on the man makes him go berserk, resulting in another epic bionic showdown.  (And a lot of school yard discussion over how much each bionic appendage costs.  If Hiller's extra arm cost a million, how much does an eye go for?)  Hiller would reappear in The Bionic Criminal.
In the second season Steve gets a love interest, if only for a short time.  When Steve runs into an old girlfriend, tennis pro Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner), the romance is quickly rekindled.  They're soon engaged to be married.  Everything is going well until they decide to go sky diving (jumping out of a perfectly good airplane) and Jamie's chute malfunctions.  She's nearly dead, with both legs, an arm, and one ear gone.  Steve pleads with Oscar and convinces him to give Jamie the bionic treatment.  Soon there are two bionic agents, in love with each other no less.  That is until Jamie's body start to violently reject her bionic implants.  Before they can come up with a solution to the problem, she dies.
Well, for a while anyway.  In the next season it is revealed that Jamie didn't die, but was cryogenically frozen instead.  They've developed a cure so that she won't reject her bionic components anymore and were able to remove the brain clot that 'killed' her, but there's still another problem:  While in the deep freeze Jamie suffered some brain damage and can't remember who anyone is, including Steve.  She ultimately decides to leave and becomes a teacher at an Air Force school, and gets her own spin off series, The Bionic Woman.
In 1978 both The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man were cancelled.  But that wasn't quite the end.     
The Reunion Movies:
There were three more TV movies made, though the first didn't appear for more than 9 years after the series ended.  In the first, The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, Steve Austin ahs been retired for some time when Oscar approaches him with another mission.  He initially declines, but when his estranged son, Michael (Tom Schanley), is severally injured in a plane accident, he agrees to take the assignment if Oscar with give his son the bionic treatment.  Jamie Summers also returns, to make it a bionic trio.
Two years later another movie graced TV screens, Bionic Showdown.  This time a paralyzed woman, Kate Mason (Sandra Bullock), volunteers to receive the newest generation of bionic equipment in order to walk again.  With Jamie Summer's help she goes through the operation successfully.  Meanwhile Oscar has recruited Steve to run security at the World Unity Games in Toronto, Canada. When someone with bionic powers steals some documents vital to the security of the games, everyone who has bionic implants is a suspect:  namely Steve and Jamie! 
These two movies were okay, it was nice to see everyone together again, but they were a bit slower paced than the series.  They were obviously trying to reboot the franchise, introducing new, younger bionic people, who were even more powerful than the older generation, to carry the million dollar flag.  That actually mars the second film a bit, since more time is spent on other characters (including Oscar Goldman and his dealings with his new boss) than on the people that viewers tuned in to see, Steve and Jamie.
By the final film, it was pretty obvious that another series wasn't in the making.  That's okay because they used it to wrap up the big unanswered question from the series:  would Steve Austin and Jamie Summers ever get together?  Yep, they do in Bionic Ever After?  As the movie opens Steve and Jamie are about to be married when something goes wrong with Jamie's bionics.  They start to malfunction and she calls off the wedding.  At about the same time a terrorist group takes over a US embassy and holds the diplomats hostage, including a friend of Steve's, while threatening to launch a nuclear missile.  Steve travels to the embassy on a rescue mission when his bionics start to malfunction too.  It looks like someone has given Steve and Jamie a bionic virus.
This was a nice way to wrap up the franchise, though I'll be the first to admit that it wasn't the best movie.  Still, there is a nice sense of closure at the end of the film, and the whole series is better with this movie than it would have been without it.
The DVDs:

All six TV movies and five seasons (100 episodes) of the show arrive in a massive 40-disc set.  The discs are housed in clear keepcases, one multi-disc case per season, which are stored in a very cool box.  The sides are decorated with various bionic circuit boards and iconic images from the show.  The top has a large lenticular image of Steve Austin running.  Opening the top to access the disc starts a recording of the show's opening (which I used to start off this review).  It's a very nifty set up.   The set is only available through Time-Life's web site (click on the "Buy" button under the cover image at the top of this review) until October, 2011.
The two channel DD mono soundtrack is pretty much what you'd expect from a 70's TV show.   The range is rather flat and there isn't a soundstage to use, but the dialog is relatively clean and clear.  There are a couple of pops, that I noticed, but only a couple through the whole set, and there was some minor background hiss in a few places, but neither was bad.
The image is actually better than I was expecting.  The full frame picture is free from scratches, dirt, and other imperfections.  The colors are a bit muted, but not terribly so, and the level of detail is good for a 70's TV show.  Fans will be happy.
Wow.  There are a huge amount of bonus materials included with the collection.  This set is really made for fans of the show.  They'll be pleased with the copious extras.  These include:
         17 Featurettes:
-          Real Bionics: How Science Fiction Is Becoming Science Fact
-          An Iconic Opening: The Six Million Dollar Man Show Open Never Disappointed
-          The Bionic Sound Effects
-          The Search For Bigfoot
-          The Six Million Dollar Fans: So Loyal, So Bionic!
-          The Six Million Dollar Man's Best Villains, Best Fights
-           TV Goes Bionic: The Untold Story Of The Six Million Dollar Man, Part I, II
-          Top Secret: The OSI, NASA and Bionics
-          The Pop Culture Effect
-          The Reunion Films: Life After The Series
-          Bionic Action...Figures!!!
-          The Stunts Of The Bionic Age: Pushing The Envelope
         6 Audio Commentaries: Writer Kenneth Johnson on "The Bionic Woman", "The Bionic Woman, Part II", "The Secret of Bigfoot", "The Secret of Bigfoot, Part II" and Director Cliff Bole on "The Blue Flash" and "Vulture of the Andes"
         Mini-biographies of the actors and their characters: Getting to Know: "Steve Austin", "Jaime Sommers", "Oscar Goldman", "Rudy Wells"
         OSI Mission Debriefings featuring all-new extensive interviews with Lee Majors, Richard Anderson, Martin E. Brooks, Executive Producer Harve Bennett and writer/producer Kenneth Johnson
         Season 1-5 VIPs: A Celebration of The Six Million Dollar Man Guest Stars
         Interactive Bonus Feature: "Bionic Breakdown" 
That's enough to keep any bionic fan happy for hours and hours.
Final Thoughts:
This is a fantastic set.  The people at Time-Life did this right, as they usually do with their great TV series collections.  Every episode (including the Bionic Woman crossovers) is included in their uncut original broadcast form, all three movie pilots, the three reunion movies, a nice picture, a HUGE amount of extras, and to top it all off, a very cool box to house it all in.  This would be a magnificent present for that child of the 70's in your life (especially if that child is you!)  It easily earns our highest rating:  DVDTalk Collectors Series.






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