28 January 2003 | urick
Cyborg... The Story of Steve Austin
This is the first pilot of a five seasons series. The overall production values are satisfying enough to make the audience believe of that technological advancement miracle possible. This film is dry, raw, authentic, realistic, semi-documentary, existential and even depressing compared to the optimistic patriotic series thanks to the three actors' performance: Lee Majors, Martin Balsam and Darren McGavin. From the start, the character of Austin is defined: a rebel, a maverick, a dreamer, an individualistic test pilot who is a devotee of his past journey on the moon and doesn't follow the rules by the book -- he is late at his official appointment and replies sarcastically to a commanding officer -- Wells comments his attitude in this term: "Steve, you have a positive genius for antagonizing the wrong people". His best friend is, of course, Dr. Rudy Wells, a humanist, an innovator scientist-surgeon whose main concern is Austin's will to cope with his disability -- the name Wells may be a reference to utopist sci-fi writer H.G. Wells. The first waking up of Austin in Colorado's Research Center as an one-eyed, one-armed legless man, who tries to commit suicide during the night, is shocking, morbid and nightmarish -- it reminds me the bleakness of Dalton Trumbo's "Johnny Got his Gun". Austin is a self-conscious pragmatic man who wants to know the prize of his recovery: ruthless vulture ("I am not concerned by feelings"), cynical ("Accidents happen all the time. We just start from scrap"), mean ("Actually, we would prefer a robot -- 'robot' means a slave-worker in Czech --. A robot has no emotional need and responses. You're the optimun compromised"), crippled -- notice that he is also slightly disabled and walks with a stick -- O.S.O. head (scientifical department chief of the C.I.A.) Oliver Spencer sends him to his own death in the desert of Arabia on a suicidal mission where he receives another near fatal treatment. Spencer even asks Wells if he can let Austin in an indefinite artificial sleep until he needs him again. Austin refuses to be manipulated like a guinea pig, a "raw material" and reacts harshly: he slaps Spencer, turns down the hand of female Official Mrs. McKay and tells Spencer a curse before his forced electro sleep. The music of Gil Mellé is outstanding by creating the mood of technology, war and the character's psyche -- Austin is horrified by the view of his future artificial limbs, calls his friend Wells "Dr. Frankenstein, I presume?" after the bionic operation, he is uncomfortable with the ambiguity of the nurse's love impulse and feels monstrous owing to the woman's frightened behavior ("What are you?") after the rescue of her jeopardized son. The blend of experimental, distorted, atonal electronic style and a 1970's jazz helps the pace. Everything you want to know about Steve Austin lies in this rough pilot. Many episodes of the following series uses footages from that one and especially designer Jack Cole's main title. This is the work of Richard Irving who manages to produce and direct a clever adaptation of Martin Caidin's book. The film has an anti-government slant of that era via the Austin and Wells characters -- Austin's feeling about Spencer ("You're more of a robot than I am now") and Wells figure it out about Spencer's working plan for Austin in the Service: "Espionage, sabotage, assassination!" -- and, above all, the moral dilemma that is asked by the author of such advancement in the hands of the Power. There are subsequent themes tackled throughout the leading character: the loneliness and desperation, the inability to communicate, the fear of being abnormal and an outcast forever.