Sunday, April 27, 2014

Outré Intro #8: The Six Million Dollar Man (1974 - 1978)

The Six Million Dollar Man (1974 - 1978) is a touchstone for my generation, Generation X. 

In fact,the series is one of the top ten "key" TV titles for my generation, I suspect. This is so in part because the series lasted a good duration -- five seasons -- but also because it eschewed, largely, the negativity and controversies of the time period.  

When The Six Million Dollar Man aired, America was embroiled in the Vietnam War and also in the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal that toppled President Nixon.

Despite such issues, The Six Million Dollar Man was largely positive in terms of its depiction of human nature, and regarding man's ability to shape and re-shape his world in a positive way.

Accordingly, the iconic introductory montage to the highly-influential The Six Million Dollar Man might be summed up, thematically, with the broad phrase: What technology takes away, it can also give back.  

In terms of broad content, the opening montage to The Six Million Dollar Man is split into two halves. 

The first section diagrams a terrible accident involving an experimental U.S. military aircraft, and the life-threatening impact of that catastrophe upon the human pilot: Colonel Steve Austin (Lee Majors).

The second half of the intro focuses on Austin's physical recovery, which occurs under the auspices of a revolutionary science and technology breakthrough called "bionics."

What connects these two elements is not merely the presence of the injured and then "healed" Colonel Austin, but the detailed visualization of his story through blatantly technological auspices

 In other words, we don't merely view Steve Austin's story "straight on."

Instead, we see it all through the filter or overlay of modern technology. 

This filter includes a constant heart-beat read-out, flickering gauges (showcasing fluctuating numbers...), and rectangular monitor "screens" that come between us, the audience, and Steve, the series protagonist. It's as if we're technicians, actually, viewing his progress at our high-tech work-stations.

This lens or filter cements the significance of technology in Steve's world. Technology not only nearly kills him and then saves him, but proves the crucial viewpoint through which we interpret and experience his story.

As the montage begins, and the title -- "The Six Million Dollar Man" -- is typed out, teletype-style before us, we look at the lights of a flickering computer.

We hear, on the soundtrack, a strong, persistent drum-beat, which suggests the martial or military nature of this test flight.

Then, we witness the historic test-flight of the prototype plane. 

Notice that in this sequence, not only are we seeing the technology overlay via read-outs like the number -257, but simultaneously hearing a cacophony of official (but dispassionate...) voices on the soundtrack, as every aspect of the flight is monitored.  

This facet of the montage is important, because both the video footage (which looks to be captured by real military cameras) and the mission control voices suggest a documentary-like approach.

These moments don't feel fictional or concocted, but wholly real, as if we are witnesses to a real Air Force test flight.

In the following shot, "separation" occurs, and the test is underway.

Next up, we meet our hero, pilot Colonel Steve Austin, in close-up.

Again, we are not seeing him clearly or directly, but through the filter of those flashing computer lights, and flickering numbers (+000).  Again, this makes the moment seem simultaneously real, and awash in in the modern age of technology.

Tension is generated in the next series of shots, as a clock overlay -- in bright red -- adds a count-down feeling to the launch.  The flight is in progress...

As the flight goes dramatically wrong, we see the prototype plane plummet through the atmosphere, and meet series co-star Richard Anderson, who appears ready to lunge into action, as catastrophe nears.

The first part of the introductory montage ends with shots of Steve in trouble, and the plane crashing.

Technology has failed.  The plane failed, and now Steve's very life is in danger.

We might even go deeper.  Mlitary technology (as represented by the persistent dream beat on the soundtrack) has failed.

At the end of this sequence, the picture fades dramatically, but not to white, instead.

And white signifies, in visual terms, the light at the end of the tunnel, or Heaven itself.

But since our mode is "technological" and not spiritual, there is a twist to come...

Following the fade-to-white after the crash of Steve's plane, we come back to his story, in a brand new venue.  We also get a re-interpretation of technology.

Near death, Steve is not ensconced among the angels in Heaven, but aglow under the white, immaculate lights of a high-tech operating theater.

Traditional spiritual imagery -- represented by the white light -- is thus recruited to suggest that medical technology is our savior.

Also, we have moved directly to the second "part" or half of the montage.  What (military) technology has nearly taken away, (medical) technology is about to give back...

At this point, a narrator speaks.  He says "Steve Austin. Astronaut. A man barely alive."  This voice is unidentified, but in keeping with the white-out spiritual imagery, it could be interpreted as a kind of Voice of God narrator.

And then, Oscar Goldman speaks.

"Gentlemen, 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."

The phrasing of Goldman's speech is significant, especially when considered in conjunction with the specific imagery that accompanies it.

He notes explicitly that "we have the technology," suggesting that death can be conquered by man, and by man's tools.

And then he establishes that such technology can not only save Steve Austin, but actually improve on nature itself.

Steve will be "better than he was before."

In these shots, we see Steve's plight, and again, that plight is diagrammed on screens or monitors.

Next, we get schematics, explaining how technology will replace and improve Steve's body.  We start with his injured eye.

Next, the schematics focus on Steve's destroyed arm, and again, showcase how bionics will replace the destroyed flesh and bone, and improve Steve's very nature.

The next shots focus on the operating theater again, the white heavenly lights, and the angel-like surgeons. They are doing God's work, or, perhaps, replacing God's work. 

Notice that in the second shot in this sequence, one round light fixture could, actually, be said to be positioned as a halo over the surgeon's head.

Next, the bionic arm is placed, and we see visual evidence of Goldman's words. As a bionic man, Steve can lift 500 lbs.  This is something that, as a natural man, not yet re-born, Steve could never achieve.

Finally, we repeat the scenario we already saw with the replacement eye and arm, beginning with the schematic.  We Steve's flesh-and-blood legs replaced with bionic ones.  

And again, we see that this is a change for the better, for now he can run faster than 60 miles an hour (as one composition reveals).

The Six Million Dollar Man's montage ends with a shot of Steve running rapidly, re-born courtesy of medical technology.  He has been made a veritable superman by his bionic replacements.  But note as well, the humanistic aspect of the title card below.

Steve himself -- not technology -- is at the center of the frame, and sunlight is superimposed over his face.  

It is as though Austin is now radiating light and energy.  

This shot must be viewed as the apotheosis of his long journey.  Man, not machine, is front and center now. But man's technology, not the Divine, has made that journey happen.  

Steve is a God among men, himself the image reveals -- surrounded by radiant light -- because medical technology has repaired what military technology threatened, and what nature could not do.

Technology is our savior, but we are its master.  That is the message, perhaps of the series itself.

Below, The Six Million Dollar Man introductory montage in all its glory:

Finally, I want to thank my friend, Jason Shepherd, for suggesting I feature The Six Million Dollar Man on Outre Intro.  

Next week: Land of the Lost (1974 -1977).


  1. james9:09 AM

    Excellent breakdown, it is a superb opening sequence. I would like to see you contrast it with The Bionic Woman, with its odd requirement to include a specific "SEX: FEMALE" and AGE readout which they didn't seem to need here. Different standards even in medical computer parameters? Also, I do live this programme but why doesn't his arm tear right out the socket when he lifts massively heavy objects?

  2. Anonymous12:24 AM

    My God! You're my 'Hero of the Day', as this is brilliant in its scope. I, too, am a lifelong fan of the SMDM, and the opening montage (as well as The Bionic Woman's), is as much a part of me, as my own flesh and blood. That shot of Steve's bionic arm being passed in the operating theater, the open hole in the bionic leg showing the inner-working, those schematics...they're iconic. I couldn't resist the temptation to watch it at the end of your article, and - I'll watch it, again, now - as I load the DVD of The Man and The Moon from my SMDM Complete Collection. I'm 7 years old, again...

    BTW: Are you reading James Kuhorics Season Six reboot from Dynamite Comics. I have one word: Maskatron

  3. Classic opening sequences. We don't have them anymore and it's a real shame.


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