Film - What If? Six Billion Dollar Man

The Six Million Dollar Man

"Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster." Or at least Steve Taylor-Bryant thinks he can...

I've said before I'm not against rebooting older film and TV, with the aim of bringing a character to a whole new audience, and certain shows I watched as a kid I genuinely believe would work today given the right casting and writing. I do have a problem though when those involved in these remakes go off the reservation a bit and completely disregard the reasons we loved the original in the first place. The Six Million Dollar Man is one such project.

Yes the new one will be Billion not Million and the value of money is not an issue to me so that's not a problem, my problem is in the casting of Mark Wahlberg as Steve Austin. Don't get me wrong Wahlberg is an okay actor. He puts bums on seats, which is fine, and he's actually made some great films, The Fighter for example, so it's not his ability that I'm questioning. Here's the thing though - have you ever seen Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin? They were astronauts. What about Francis Gary Powers? He was the secret agent pilot shot down in the U2 spy plane. I ask as these are the men that Steve Austin is supposed to be. A test pilot, science guy astronaut. None of these men are muscular underwear models. Lee Majors himself was quite normal looking by Hollywood standards when he played Austin and then Colt Severs a decade later and a whole generation of young men grew up believing they could be a pilot or a stuntman bounty hunter because Majors was a normal guy. We could look like Majors quite easily as we grew up. We can't all be Mark Wahlberg though, so the realism base for the idea has already gone and now we just have a generic super-soldier film with no elements of the original left. With that in mind, I was tasked with presenting a version that would please Hollywood, still be an action film, but maybe add some realism and believability to stop the plot being more ridiculous and use a star that can add something through narrative and performance which could enhance the film. But we'll get to the cast in good time, first we need to remember the original and get our writer and director on board.

When ace test-pilot Steve Austin's ship crashed, he was nearly dead. Deciding that "we have the technology to rebuild this man", the government decides to rebuild Austin, augmenting him with cybernetic parts which gave him superhuman strength and speed. Austin becomes a secret operative, fighting injustice where it is found.

I want The Six Billion Dollar Man to be a good action flick as much as the next guy but I want a story told as well, maybe some semi-intelligent dialogue thrown into the mix and my first thought for director was McG. However, he's busy eroding the rest of my childhood by directing Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, another muscle bound star, in a pointless remake of The Fall Guy so he's on the naughty step for now allowing my thoughts to drift elsewhere. I want a director that shoots fantastic action, has room for a great narrative and can tell a story in between explosions, so I'm plumping for British star director Matthew Vaughan, who has shown a great ability to mix it all together, especially in X-Men: First Class which reignited a lost love for Marvel films in me. He can handle all types of 'star' from full on action dude to lovey and I like the way he produces beautiful cinema at the same time as blowing stuff up.

As far as a writer goes, one of the best films I've seen in recent years was The Machine (think Ex Machina but better) and the writer was Caradog W. James, who managed to produce a superb story with great dialogue and character interaction and I have no doubt that his indie feel mixed with Vaughan's style would work really well.

Sam Neill

On to the casting and there are four on my list:

Oscar Goldman, Head of OSI.

Sam Neill. I've long liked Mr Neill. Dead Calm and In The Mouth of Madness were sublime and, with his stint in Jurassic Park, he wouldn't be daunted by a huge Hollywood project or potential franchise whilst if we went along the television route he would be able to manage that as he proved in the much maligned Alcatraz.

Dr. Rudy Wells, Austin's main support.

Mark Strong. Strong is an actor I cannot get enough of. He's worked with Vaughan before, is no stranger to big action flicks and has proved his undoubted acting ability recently in the Sky Arts Playhouse series. I would believe him as a tech guy or a surgeon and he could be more involved if needed.

Jaime Sommers, Austin's wife who goes on to become The Bionic Woman.

This was a hard one to cast. As a one off film perhaps just playing the college sports star wife the casting, whilst important, isn't essential. As Jaime Sommers Bionic Woman and a possible spin off franchise of her own? Now it gets very important. I'm torn between stars so will give you both and let you decide...

First choice is True Blood star Anna Paquin. As Sookie Stackhouse, Paquin has proved herself more than capable of holding her own with anyone and as Rogue in X-Men: Days of Future Past has showed she is more than comfortable with the step up to the big screen in a popular and important franchise. Could she hold her own spin off series of films though? I'm undecided.

Someone who I could see with her series of films though is one of my favourite actresses of the moment, Rachael McAdams. Big or small screen she captivates my attention, I just worry that she's not quite right for the role. A dilemma indeed.
And finally, there's...

Joaquin Pheonix

Steve Austin.

JoaquĆ­n Pheonix may seem like a left field choice but I love him. He is brilliant, different, capable, and talented and even though he seems to be very selective in his roles, preferring the quirky or different, I truly believe he would succeed in the mainstream as well. As Steve Austin I can see Pheonix bringing a grounded more realistic edge to the story that even with bionic prosthetics could be about the man and his life as much as spying and blowing stuff up. I know Pheonix wouldn't do it but What If?

Image - IMDb.