Judge Mike Rubino is an intern with the Phoenix Foundation's DVD review department.
Our reviews of Fan Favorites: The Best of MacGyver (published March 4th, 2012), MacGyver: The Complete First Season (published February 23rd, 2005), MacGyver: The Complete Second Season (published July 6th, 2005), MacGyver: The Complete Third Season (published September 6th, 2005), MacGyver: The Complete Fourth Season (published December 6th, 2005), MacGyver: The Complete Fifth Season (published March 14th, 2006), MacGyver: The Complete Sixth Season (published June 28th, 2006), and MacGyver: The Complete Final Season (published November 24th, 2006) are also available.
Atticus: Now what are you doing?
I've been a MacGyver fan for as long as I can remember. Scenes of that mulleted adventurer defusing bombs and fighting fire ants were embedded into my psyche as a child. I distinctly remember watching him toil in a prison cell dressed as a knight and just knowing that this guy was awesome (I also had no concept of "jumping the shark" back in 1991).
In college, I rediscovered MacGyver on DVD. I worked my way through every season, soaking in Mac's unique blend of cheesy awesomeness. Whether he was fighting a rapping street gang, racing a car with a plastic engine, or going undercover in his nerdy alter ego "Dexter," I was the constant apologist for a genuinely great show. Then I arrived at the thoroughly disappointing, season-destroying final episode, "The Stringer"…How on earth did MacGyver get a love child? Where in his modest and reserved character did he find the callousness to hook up with a lady and leave her to deal with the consequences? It didn't make sense. It left me feeling confused and vulnerable. Why, Mac? My last glimpse at MacGyver was the sourest of moments.
Turns out that after his weekly adventures ended in 1992, MacGyver was given a second chance a couple years later. I'm not talking about fan fiction; I'm referring to his two forgotten TV movies. If ABC could give him a second chance, then I could too.
Facts of the Case
Lost Treasure of Atlantis: MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson, Stargate SG-1) has been called in to assist his old, British college professor, Dr. Atticus (Brian Blessed, Flash Gordon). They're following a series of clues that will hopefully reveal the lost city of Atlantis and restore Atticus's credibility…that is, if an evil treasure collector, a civil war, and a whole bunch of fire don't kill them first.
The Trail to Doomsday: Mac returns to England to celebrate the birthday of his old adventurer pal, Paul. The celebrations don't last long, however, when their English mansion is attacked by terrorists. MacGyver is plunged into a world of espionage as he teams up with ex-KGB agents, British police, and fiendish industrialists in hopes of stopping a nuclear disaster.
My excitement going in to this DVD release was pretty high. I stopped just short of building my own DVD player out of a pizza box, a broken pair of reading glasses, and a wad of chewing gum. Thankfully I didn't go that far, otherwise I may have been even more disappointed.
The first movie is Lost Treasure of Atlantis, in which Mac and a previously unknown college professor follow clues to discover the legendary sunken city. The movie's parallels to Raiders of the Lost Ark are palatable, as Mac and Prof. Atticus follow ancient clues, swap out treasures in archaeological sites, deal with some nasty soldiers (not Nazis, but they might as well be), and race against the evil treasure collector Lord Cyril Cleeve (Christian Burgess). While the plot twists may be a little perfunctory, and the special effects a little cheap, the film still has plenty of great MacGyver-isms. Mac wastes little time putting together escape plans like blowing open a door with a lighter or escaping a Balkan military base with a homemade rocket-Jeep.
Richard Dean Anderson's dirty mullet may be absurdly un-coifed, but he looks happy to be reprising the role. Anderson plays the part with the same no-nonsense straight man attitude he had in the series, and acts as a welcomed foil to the outrageously bombastic Brian Blessed. It's as if Blessed, as Professor Atticus, only has one emotion: complete awe. He screams about everything, "Look MacGyver! The lost -somethingsomething- of Atlantisss!" Yeah, we get it, pal. They're eventually joined by another unknown colleague of MacGyver's, Kelly Carson (Sophie Ward), who acts as the love interest/sidekick—thankfully Mac's love-child is no where to be found in these movies, so he never has to break the news to Kelly.
The biggest problem with Atlantis isn't necessarily the performances or the writing, it's the generic production; namely, there's no theme song. The cool soundtrack from the TV show is nowhere to be found here, and is instead replaced with an overly academic, classical film score. It lends a seriousness to the story, but also makes the whole project feel like a bland adventure film that Angus MacGyver was plopped in to.
A few months later, Mac was back on another adventure that feels even further removed from the original series: Trail to Doomsday. Here, MacGyver is inserted into the world of British espionage after his old friend and mountain climbing buddy gets axed at the guy's own birthday party. This eventually leads to Mac teaming up with all sorts of secondary characters, following clues around England, and getting into a heap of trouble involving some nukes. While the first film at least felt like an overly portentous extension of the show, Doomsday doesn't really feel like MacGyver at all. The theme song is still absent, but so is most of his MacGyver-ing. He doesn't rig, fix, or thwart anything with ordinary objects until almost the end of the film—and sticking a screwdriver in front of a door doesn't count. Instead of globetrotting high jinks, Mac is infiltrating a terrorist organization (à la Jack Bauer) and speeding around London in a sports car (à la James Bond). Instead of bringing back other great characters from the show, like Pete or Jack Dalton or even Murdoc, Doomsday thrusts MacGyver into a world that isn't his own.
If Trail to Doomsday has any redeeming qualities, they show up in the brisk climax when MacGyver is trapped in a room with a bomb. Despite 80 minutes of twisty plotting and bland characters, the climax of the film is genuinely exciting. It gets back to the basics of MacGyver, unfortunately it's just a little too late.
Paramount sat on these movies for over two years after releasing them in the complete series box set. It's a lame move, surely one calculated to tie in with the SNL film MacGruber, but at least fans who purchased the seasons individually can complete their collection. Don't expect anything spectacular on the technical end; MacGyver: The TV Movies matches the barren production values of every other MacGyver DVD released to date: serviceable sound and video and no special features. The films don't even have chapter breaks.
As a MacGyver fan, it's hard to hate on anything that brings the guy back to life. That said, without a proper theme song, series characters, or even a passing reference to the Phoenix Foundation, these don't feel like they're in any way connected to the show. Atlantis is definitely better than Doomsday, but neither live up to the best moments from the original series.
MacGyver: The TV Movies is a necessity for fans who bought the individual seasons as they were released. For casual fans, just go back and watch that episode where he fights the fire ants.
Guilty of making me want to re-watch old MacGyver episodes.
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