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The Six Million
Dollar Man:
The Complete Collection

In case you'd forgotten the opening narration of The Six Million Dollar Man, Time/Life's complete collection reminds you the second you crack into it. The box itself intones those deathless words as you reach in to pull out Season 1 (or 2, or 3 or…).

Right from the start, you can tell that this DVD set is one done right. In addition to the sound-chipped box, you get everything you could possibly want on Steve Austin from beginning to end. Okay, it could be made better if they included one of those action figures from the seventies, but that would be cost-prohibitive.

Perhaps in a few months, this set will be broken up and sold season by season, and each season case contains enough to keep you busy. But for fans, that seems wrong. Anyway, it's hard to classify the last case, labeled "Bonus," that includes the reunion television movies, featurettes that take a "Where are they now?" approach to the cast and great reflections on the series' genesis and, in what has to be the ultimate badge of completist geekery, the syndicated two-part versions of the first three "pilot" TV movies once they got folded back into the series.


Those featurettes also spend some time on the fans, and watching them puts The Six Million Dollar Man into perspective as a gateway for a lot of people. Over and over, fans and show producers/writers keep trying to distance Steve Austin from being a superhero, but it's clear that the character inspires the same kind of passion that you see on the floor at Comic-Con.

And why not? It had some of the best toys in history, which get their own spotlight featurette. Quietly, I'm going to be spending next weekend rooting around in my mom's garage for my brother's Steve Austin figure. Unfortunately, he never got the Bionic Bigfoot, but good lord, was that a cool figure.

There's also a great honesty about the whole thing. Executive Producer Harve Bennett refers to the original pilot as still the best installment out of the whole series, and that was done completely without his involvement. (Bennett is no slouch; he steered Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in more ways than people give him credit.)

Kenneth Johnson looks back with humility and gratitude to Bennett, and talks about all the speed bumps toward creating The Bionic Woman. That series isn't included here - though the crossover episodes are, as well as its place in television history is. From the vantage point of 2010, it's a little stunning to realize just what doors got broken down. And not just by Lindsay Wagner's stuntwoman.

As for the series itself, my biggest fear was that it wouldn't hold up as entertainment. In a couple of interviews, directors talk about how surprisingly subtle Lee Majors was as an actor, and how affecting some moments on the series could be. Every DVD commentary I've ever watched or listened to has said something similar about its star, but the big surprise to me has been - this one's actually right.

Watching the pilot, it's striking how seriously it takes the subject, and how little of it actually deals with the espionage side of things. This is a well-written origin story about a man struggling to stay a man when science and the government would rather just classify him as a weapon. Very few of the iconic sound and visual effects are there, either, and my favorite moment comes in a car rescue where Steve Austin hasn't yet learned to rely on the bionic arm. Nobody calls attention to it, but there's a moment when you can see him recognize that it's stupid to be pulling on something with his human arm and switches.

Though paced a little more slowly than it might be done today, it still delves pretty deep, and Majors really is surprisingly moving in the role. It also ends on a somewhat cynical note, though obviously setting up a series that moved beyond the dark tone.

The follow-up movies shift in tone, and then the series itself settles down into something else again, yet all of them still maintain that human angle. Majors looks back and says he's proudest that this was a series that the whole family could watch in the best sense of the phrase: it had something for everybody without insulting anyone's intelligence.

And it's true. The Six Million Dollar Man holds up better than you might think, and at the risk of sounding like a cranky old man, I wish more series today could follow its model and be something the family could watch together.

Until that moment comes again (don't hold your breath), look into this boxed set. Not only would it be one of my top Christmas gift recommendations, it's one that will last a while as you work your way through it with your kids. Or just by yourself, feeling like a kid again, and believing that there's a government agency actually still working on the right side of a clear-cut war of good and evil.

You can order the set right here at Fanboy Planet - but I'd be recommending it regardless. Between this and Batman Beyond, I'm pretty much set for 2011 DVD watching.

Derek McCaw

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