Friday, July 27, 2007

The Six Million Dollar Man

"Steve Austin, astronaut: A man barely alive.
We can rebuild him. We can make him better than he was before.

The Six Million Dollar Man was my childhood idol. When my stepfather took away all of my comic books and burned them in front of me ("They'll give you bad dreams.") I needed a hero. Steve Austin was that hero.

For those of you who don't remember or are not old enough to remember, the Six Million Dollar Man from the TV show was an astronaut who was severely maimed from the crash of an experimental spacecraft. The Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) replaced both legs, his right arm and his left eye with bionic (cybernetic) parts. Steve Austin then had tremendous strength, could run at 60+ miles per hour tirelessly, and could see great distances and in the dark. In short, he became a secret agent with super powers.

The television show was clearly made for kids. Steve refused to kill people, and usually only hit people with an open hand. The physics of the show were often questionable. There was no explanation given how when his non-bionic hand was handcuffed to his bionic one, he could simply pull his arms apart and the handcuffs would snap.

Eventually the TV show would spin off The Bionic Woman, featuring Steve's girlfriend Jamie Sommers, a tennis pro who just coincidentally fell victim to nearly the same kind of injuries while skydiving. She got a bionic ear instead of an eye. There was also a Seven Million Dollar Man, who went bad, a Bionic Boy, with leg implants that compensated for his paralysis, and of course who could forget Max, the Bionic Dog?

During the summer when I was 10 years old, my grandmother took my brother and me to a bookstore in Traverse City, Michigan. Horizon Books was just a hole in the wall on the south side of Front Street then. When we asked if they had any Six Million Dollar Man books, the clerk showed us the original novel upon which the Six Million Dollar Man was based: Cyborg, by Martin Caidin. My grandmother asked if it was appropriate for my age and the clerk replied that it was. I was so excited to see this book that I couldn't even wait to get back to her house to start reading it.

To my dismay, I found a mistake. The book claimed that Steve Austin had lost his left arm, not his right! I immediately took a pen to the book, crossing out "left" and writing "right" in the margin above the line. And Steve didn't work for the OSI, he worked for the OSO (Office of Special Operations). What was this?? My grandmother calmly explained that when books were made into movies or television shows, details could be changed like that. Satisfied with (and more than a little surprised by) that knowledge, I went back to reading.

The Steve Austin of the novel was a whole different character from the one in the TV show. This Steve Austin could not see out of his bionic eye, but it did hold a camera that could take up to 20 frames of film. The camera was activated by a button just under the plastiskin at Austin's temple. His arm could not lift great weights because it was still attached to muscles and ligaments in his shoulder. He used it primarily as a bludgeon. But one huge difference in the arm was the CO2 airgun in his finger that shot cyanide-tipped darts. They definitely never had that little contraption in the television show! He also had a supply of flares that he kept in his wrist joint. There was a plug he could pull out to gain access to them. Austin's legs were also far different. He couldn't run 60 miles per hour, but he could run without tiring, since his respiratory and circulatory systems were only working to supply oxygen and blood to one limb.
His feet had swim fins that could deploy from the underside, just behind his toes.

Austin was much more ruthless in the novel to say the least. He undertook two missions, one to steal a Soviet MiG and one to infiltrate a Central American military complex. He was basically James Bond with built-in gadgets.

I've been thinking for a couple of years how an updated version of this character could be great if done correctly. When it was announced that there would be a comedy version of the Six Million Dollar Man featuring Jim Carrey, I cringed. Fortunately this project seems to be dead. This fall, though, one of NBC's new shows is called, "Bionic Woman." It's being produced by some of the same people who re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica," so I have very high hopes. With the right approach, this show could really work well, and the guys who produce BSG haven't let me down yet.

Wouldn't it be cool if the Six Million Dollar Man was the spinoff this time?

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