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
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
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
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
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
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.