REVIEW: RETRO-STYLE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN BIGFOOT
In the 1970's one of the most popular television shows on the air, at least from something of a sci-fi standpoint, was "The Six Million Dollar Man". This series, starring Lee Majors, told the story of Colonel Steve Austin (not Stone Cold the wrestler!), a former pilot and astronaut who suffered grievous injuries in a crash, but whose right arm, both legs, and left eye were rebuilt with "bionics", high-tech replacements that afforded Austin a form of super-powers. He became a special agent working for the Office of Special Investigations, and had a long-running TV series.
Also in the 1970's, the top action figure company at the time was unquestionably Mego. Their formula of creating 8", cloth-costumed action figures, that used common bodies, easily plugged-in heads, and a variety of costumes, allowed them to dominate the action figure market, and acquire a wide variety of licenses, including DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Wizard of Oz, and seemingly less-likely candidates, such as Starsky and Hutch, CHiPs, Dukes of Hazzard, and even produce a number of public domain properties, such as a series of Pirates, Western characters, and Robin Hood.
Surprisingly enough, The Six Million Dollar Man was one of two major licenses in the 1970's that, for whatever reason, Mego missed. The other one was Star Wars. Both lines interestingly went to Kenner. We all know what they did with Star Wars. In the case of The Six Million Dollar Man, they produced a very impressive series of 12" scale, cloth-costumed figures.
In recent times, the Mego format has made a comeback, thanks to companies like Mattel, EmCe Toys, and another company with the rather distinctive name of Bif Bang Pow, which, for the most part, has taken a "what if" approach. Suppose Mego had had certain licenses in the 1970's that they didn't actually have? What would those products have looked like? Think of it as action figure wish fulfillment -- several decades after the fact. One of these is a superb line of figures based on the classic Battlestar Galactica. Another line is based on -- The Six Million Dollar Man.
The Six Million Dollar Man ran from 1974 to 1978, following several successful made-for-TV movies, initially based on a novel by author Martin Caidin, titled "Cyborg", which was first published in 1972.
Cyborg is the story of an astronaut-turned-test pilot, Steve Austin, who experiences a catastrophic crash during a flight, leaving him with all but one limb destroyed, blind in one eye, and with other major injuries.
At the same time, a secret branch of the American government, the Office of Strategic Operations (OSO) has taken an interest in the work of Dr. Rudy Wells in the field of bionics - the replacement of human body parts with mechanical prosthetics that are more powerful than the original limbs. Wells also happens to be a close friend of Austin's, so when OSO chief Oscar Goldman orders Wells to rebuild Austin with bionic limbs, Wells agrees.
Steve Austin is outfitted with two new legs capable of propelling him at great speed, and a bionic left arm with almost human dexterity and the strength of a battering ram. One of the fingers of the hand incorporates a poison dart gun. His left eye is replaced with a false, removable eye that is used to house a miniature camera. Other physical alterations include the installation of a steel skull plate to replace bone smashed by the crash, and a radio transmitter built into a rib. This mixture of man and machine is known as a cyborg, from which the novel gets its title.
The first half of the novel details Austin's operation and both his reaction to his original injuries, and his initially resentful reaction to being rebuilt with bionics. The operation comes with a hefty price tag, and Austin is committed to working for the OSO as a reluctant agent. He is teamed with a female operative and sent to the Middle East as a new weapon against extremism.
In 1973, Cyborg was adapted as a 90-minute made-for-TV movie titled The Six Million Dollar Man. The film begins with a computerized text scroll explaining the term "cyborg" and since the word "CYBORG" is the first word seen on screen, some sources, including the ABC network's own promotions for the telefilm, give the full title as Cyborg: The Six Million Dollar Man.
The film starred Lee Majors as Austin and Martin Balsam as Rudy Wells. The first half of the film follows Cyborg fairly closely, including Austin's dealing with his injuries and reconstruction, and Wells' reluctance to operate on his friend. The second half of the telefilm differs from the novel, with Austin dropped into a remote part of Saudi Arabia on a solo mission and ordered to rescue a prisoner from a group of extremists, a mission later revealed to be a test of Austin's abilities.
The film was a ratings hit. A second film, Wine, Women and War was commissioned, but this was not based upon a Caidin work. A third TV movie, Solid Gold Kidnapping followed, after which The Six Million Dollar Man was launched as a weekly TV series in 1974, running until 1978; five seasons in total. The original pilot film was re-edited with new footage to make it a "flashback episode" and syndicated as the two-part "The Moon and the Desert". Author Martin Caidin served as an uncredited consultant on the series throughout its run and ultimately made a cameo appearance in one of its final-season episodes.
A number of changes to Austin's bionic abilities and his demeanor were made as Caidin's dark-in-tone original novel and its concepts were adapted.
In order to increase the science-fiction appeal, Austin's bionics were made more powerful, and he had abilities his literary counterpart lacked. Most notably, the first telefilm revealed that Austin's replacement bionic eye had a telescopic feature (later expanded to include nightvision). Austin was made to be less cold-blooded in the TV series. Also, since actor Majors was right-handed, it was decided that Austin's bionic arm would be his right, not his left as depicted in the novels. In Caidin's novel, the bionic arm was essentially a bludgeon and battering ram, whereas in the televised version the arm is more sophisticated and Austin is shown bending bars and throwing objects great distances with it.
The show was very popular during its five-season run and introduced several pop culture elements of the 1970s, such as the show's opening catch-phrase ("We can rebuild him...we have the technology," provided by Richard Anderson in his Oscar Goldman character), the slow-motion action sequences, and the accompanying "electronic" sound effects.
The series also resulted in a surprising number of additional bionic characters. An old flame of Austin's, Jaime Sommers, became the Bionic Woman, ultimately given her own TV series. She would later adopt a Bionic Dog, a German Shepherd named Maximillian. In one episode of the original series, there was even a Seven Million Dollar Man, played by actor Monte Markham, who had two bionic arms (hence the extra million), but was mentally ill-suited to handle his bionic capabilities. They were eventually reduced to normal human levels.
And then there was Bigfoot. Yes, I said Bigfoot. There was a bionic sasquatch. How in the world did that happen? Well, let's keep in mind that in the early to mid 1970's, there was a considerable fascination with the notion of a large, humanoid, semi-simian creature. Sightings and investigations continue to this day. Bringing a bionic version of one into the Six Million Dollar Man series was something of a stretch, but it proved to be a popular one, and Kenner even did a figure of the character at one point.
Let's consider a brief history on the possible existence of sasquatch, and the bionic version of the character in the TV series, and then have a look at Bif Bang Pow's figure.
Bigfoot, also known as sasquatch, is the name given to an ape-like creature that some people believe inhabits forests, mainly in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Bigfoot is described in reports as a large hairy ape-like creature, in a range of 6–10 feet tall, weighing in excess of 500 pounds, and covered in dark brown or dark reddish hair.
Reported witnesses have described large eyes, a pronounced brow ridge, and a large, low-set forehead; the top of the head has been described as rounded and crested, similar to the sagittal crest of the male gorilla. Bigfoot is commonly reported to have a strong, unpleasant smell by those who claim to have encountered it.
The enormous footprints for which it is named have been as large as 24 inches long and 8 inches wide. While most casts have five toes, like all known apes, some casts of alleged Bigfoot tracks have had numbers ranging from two to six. Some have also contained claw marks, making it likely that a portion came from known animals such as bears, which have five toes and claws. Some proponents have claimed that Bigfoot is omnivorous and mainly nocturnal.
Scientists discount the existence of Bigfoot, because of the lack of physical evidence and the large numbers of creatures that would be necessary to maintain a breeding population. A few scientists, such as Jane Goodall and Jeffrey Meldrum, have expressed interest and some measure of belief in the creature.
As Bigfoot has become better known and a phenomenon in popular culture, sightings have spread throughout North America. In addition to the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region and the Southeastern United States have had many reports of Bigfoot sightings.
And it was doubtless Bigfoot's popularity in popular culture that led to his inclusion in the Six Million Dollar Man series. The character first appeared in a Season 3 episode, aired in February of 1976 (obviously during a ratings time). The episode, titled "The Secret of Bigfoot" involved two geologist friends of Steve Austin who disappear in California while placing earthquake sensors in the woods. A giant footprint is found nearby, leading to speculation of the involvement of a sasquatch.
It would ultimately be revealed that this bionic bigfoot, who proved popular enough to turn up on more than one occasion over the remaining run of the series, was in fact the creation of aliens. What can I say, along with bigfoot, UFO sightings were a popular topic in the 1970's, as well...
So, how's the figure? Very interesting, especially when compared to Kenner's effort in the 1970's, and what one can speculate Mego might have done if they had had the license at the time.
Kenner's figure, which I never owned, did not have actual fur. It was a good bit taller than the human figures in the line, but the fur was sculpted into the plastic as part of its body. It had several panels which could be removed to reveal internal bionic circuitry. It wasn't a bad figure for its time, but in my opinion, wasn't a highlight of the line.
Bif Bang Pow's Bigfoot figure is very definitely furry. It's a figure with an appropriate headsculpt, hands, feet, and a fur suit. The costume is also a little bit "stuffed" around the chest and abdomen to give the figure a little more musculature.
The figure is also a good bit taller than the standard of 8 inches appropriately adopted by BBP. Bigfoot stands more around 9-1/4". Even his package card is longer.
Now, I couldn't quite conceive that Bif Bang Pow would create an entirely new body mold for just one figure. Much like Mego, they have come up with a standard body design which can be used not only for Colonel Steve Austin, but everybody in their Battlestar Galactica line including the Cylons, as well as some other figure lines they have come up with. An entirely new body for a moderately minor character like Bigfoot just doesn't justify the expense.
And, it seems I was right. Although it's a little hard to tell under all that fur, what BBP has done is to create extra long lower legs, and make the head somewhat larger than usual. This gives Bigfoot his necessary added height without throwing off the overall proportions too much, although the arms do tend to look just a little short.
So now, I must raise the question -- is this how Mego would have done a Bigfoot figure, if they had created a Six Million Dollar line and wanted to add the character? And my personal opinion is -- yes, I think they would have.
Here's why I think so. First of all, although it didn't happen very often, Mego was not above making special body parts when necessary. They created special hands for their Planet of the Apes figures that had a more simian look to them. When they did The Lizard, Spider-Man's arch-enemy, for the World's Greatest Super-Heroes line, they gave the figure distinctive hands and lower legs that never turned up on any other figure.
But Mego might have had another way of turning out Bigfoot. Mego produced a line based on Flash Gordon, and these figures were slightly over nine inches in height, not eight. I've never figured out why they did this. They were certainly impressive figures, but there was no great need to have done them at such an oddball size. Mego specialized in 8" figures, and turned out a number of 12" one. 9" -- it was an oddity. However, that body mold could have theoretically been used for a Bigfoot figure. Obviously, this wasn't an option for Bif Bang Pow. But I can just as readily see Mego using BBP's method of some new body sections for their standard body mold.
As to the fur suit? Again, I can readily see Mego doing this. While they admittedly specialized in elastic knit fabric body suits, since they are best known for their super-hero lines, and this same fabric was used in other lines such as Star Trek and Planet of the Apes, Mego would use whatever fabric worked best for whatever figure they were trying to create. Consider their excellent Cowardly Lion figure from the Wizard of Oz line. I have little doubt that Mego could have sewn up a fur costume for a Bigfoot figure.
So ultimately, what we have here is a Bigfoot figure that, while certainly appropriate to the line, as he was part of the original Kenner line, the figure actually looks much more like what Mego would have created if they had had the license back in the day.
Let's discuss the headsculpt. It is superb. The hair and beard are superbly detailed, and blend as well with the rest of the fur as one could hope plastic sculpting would. But then there is the facial likeness, and here we encounter something I regard as very interesting.
The first time Bigfoot appeared in the series, he was played by legendary professional wrestler Andre the Giant. Andre was a huge and massive individual, and a force to be reckoned with in the professional wrestling world for decades. He was certainly a good choice, also considering the fact that his pronounced accent wouldn't be a factor.
In some respects, the figure is designed to look like Andre. Although Andre was a huge individual, he did not have a pronounced muscular physique. He had a very husky torso, and the figure's "stuffing" in the torso is designed to reflect this.
Bigfoot's subsequent appearances in the Six Million Dollar Man series were played by actor Ted Cassidy, who is arguably best known as Lurch, the butler from the "Addams Family" television series. Cassidy was an abundantly tall individual, but he wasn't as massive as Andre. I've tended to think that the more slender-looking Kenner Bigfoot figure might be more reflective of Cassidy, while the build of the BBP Bigfoot figure might be more reflective of Andre.
But then there's the facial likeness. In all honesty, I think it's a combination of both Andre and Cassidy, possibly leaning a little more towards Cassidy, but with the hair and beard giving it a slightly rounder appearance more akin to Andre. I have no idea what the sculptors at Bif Bang Pow were shooting for with this headsculpt, but if they were going for a split between the two portrayals, I'd say they pretty well nailed it.
Although most of the body underneath the fur suit is fairly standard, lower legs notwithstanding, the hands and feet definitely are not. They are large, with furry details sculpted into them, and given a brown wash paint job much like the face itself. The end result is very effective.
Of course, the Bigfoot figure is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, swivel arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and feet.
I would like to discuss two additional matters -- the packaging, and an accessory. Setting aside the additional length of the package card, it's otherwise identical to those for all of the Six Million Dollar Man figures. Now, I may be reading too much into the package design, but I tend to think that if Mego had picked up the license, that package that BBP has come up with looks very much like what Mego might have produced. The primary color of the package is red, with a white border. The Six Million Dollar Man logo, with an image of Steve Austin, is prominently displayed on the upper left -- looking more than a little like the logo Kenner devised. The figure, of course, is packaged on the right. The rest of the front of the card shows an image of Steve Austin running.
The back of the package card offers an explanation for the concept, which is taken directly from the opening credit narrative, as Oscar Goldman says, "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." Cue iconic opening theme music.
In circular images on the other side of the back are the various characters that have been made as action figures in this line, including two versions of Steve Austin, Bigfoot of course, Oscar Goldman, Fembot, and a character that was never made as an action figure in the original Kenner line, Dr. Rudy Wells.
Unfortunately, there is no figure of The Bionic Woman, Jaime Sommers. According to a friend of mine, that's a separate license. Hopefully it's one that BBP will consider, which they might, if these figures do well enough. So go buy some after you're through reading this!
The other accessory is a keychain, with a little sound-making device attached to it. There's nothing all that remarkable about the look of the device. It's brown, about the color of Bigfoot's fur, round on one end and squared off on the other, with the Six Million Dollar Man logo printed in white. But it has three very cool sound effects, that play in sequence at the push of a button.
One of these is one of the unusual bionic sound effects that was distinctive to Bigfoot. The next is the bionic sound effect that we generally heard whenever Steve Austin was doing something bionic. The third is a sort of "diminishing" sound effect, as if Bigfoot's bionics are failing him, which in his final appearance in the series, they did.
So, what's my final word? I was a huge fan of the show when it originally aired. I was glad to have the original Kenner action figures. Unfortunately, they didn't survive my childhood. Few of my toys did. And I never had the original Bigfoot. This Mego-esque figure of one of my favorite TV shows from when I was growing up is really nicely done, and an awesome way to bring back some memories. I'm glad to have Bigfoot. He's certainly well made, and if you have any fond memories of those days, and that show, then you'll be glad to have him as well.
The BIGFOOT figure from THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN line of retro-Mego-style action figures by Bif Bang Pow definitely has my highest recommendation!