Strictly for MacGyver fans or for people who've never seen the TV show but want to see why it's the subject of parody.

James Plath's picture


The name alone was enough to send Marge Simpson's sisters into frenzied imaginings as they lay in bed watching the show, after which they'd smoke a cigarette. "MacGyver" was spoofed in more than a few episodes of "The Simpsons," as well as in the recent "MacGruber," a satire based on an SNL sketch.

It's easy to see why "MacGyver" is so ripe for parody, because the show was darn near self-parodic. I mean, here's a guy who's a secret agent who has no use for a guy like "Q," because he has no use for guns or gadgets--well, except for a Swiss Army knife. Instead, he'll use whatever seems to be lying around in order to get out of tough situations or thwart the bad guys. In "Trail to Doomsday," one of two films on this "MacGyver: The TV Movies" DVD, he needs to stop an atomic bomb from exploding in the control room of a secret nuclear facility. So what does he grab? A tennis racquet, which just happens to be leaning up against the wall. And jumper cables.

See what I mean?

This secret agent who refused to carry a gun came across as a kind of surfer-dude laid-back Mr. Fixit. His back story is that he was educated as a scientist, which is supposed to explain his resourcefulness. But the eyes truly are a window to the soul, and MacGyver has an amazingly vacant look much of the time. When he is supposed to be figuring out a solution of sorts, his eyes and facial expression look more like the guy who's trying to remember where he put his car keys.

But the mullet-headed, squinty-eyed Angus MacGyver (former soap opera actor Richard Dean Anderson) pulled it off week after week with enough flair to hold an audience's interest. While "MacGyver" never cracked the Nielsen Top-30, enough people watched the action-adventure to keep it on the air for seven seasons--from 1985 to 1992. And the show was actually nominated for four Emmys (though not for acting or writing).

"MacGyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis" and "MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday" were made and aired as TV movies in 1994, two years after the series ended. So people were already feeling nostalgic for their Fabio-style secret agent. Produced by Anderson, Michael Greenburg, John Rich, and Henry ("Fonzie") Winkler, the films are set partly in London, with one of them giving MacGyver the chance to play Indiana Jones and the other affording him the opportunity to hop in a sports car and play Bond. Rwanda was making headlines in '94, and both films also give him the chance to lecture the bad guys about participating in genocide. How could they? So the fun is balanced by some seriousness that stems from the social-conscious producers. Both movies should please fans of the series. What am I saying? They did please fans when they first aired, and they're sure to do so again with the DVD release. But I'm not reviewing these as a fan. I'm looking at the series from a general-audience perspective, and both of the films fall into the 6 out of 10 range.

"Lost Treasure of Atlantis" is an Indiana Jones-style adventure in which MacGyver hooks up with his old professor (Brian Blessed) and helps him track down an ark and artifacts from the lost civilization of Atlantis. Like the Indy films, there are clues at different locations, caves and traps and . . . well, basically the kind of stuff you've seen before, only this time the professor is as loud and flamboyant as a Shakespearean actor and doesn't seem to have as much insight and information as his "best student." Filmed in England, the locations are also supposed to include the Balkan Peninsula and a Greek island. This one has flashbacks and flash forwards that seem less effective narrative devices than they do ways to save money by not filming expensive scenes. It's written by John Sheppard, who penned 11 episodes of the TV series, and directed by "MacGyver" veteran John Sheppard. Some of the sets look a little flimsy, but for the most part it's convincing, helped in large part by location filming in England. Christian Burgess ("Gangs of New York"), Kevork Malikyan ("Flight of the Phoenix"), and Tim Woodward ("K-19: The Widowmaker") star as the might-be bad guys, while Sophie Ward ("Heartbeat") plays lead actress in a supporting role. It's all a bit hokey and familiar, but MacGyver fans will like it.

MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday is also familiar, but rather than Indy-style escapes this time MacGyver drives a James Bond-style sports car and gets himself involved with a secret nuclear weapons facility that will strike spy fans as being vaguely like "Dr. No." This time, a friend of MacGyver's is murdered, and as he conducts his own investigation parallel to Scotland Yard he has friction with police but also draws the attention of the bad guys--attention meaning attempts on his life. He gets bit by a rat, scales a castle wall, and saves the world. You know . . . the usual. This one trots out the Cold War formula by including a "retired" KGB agent (Beatie Edney) and rich people who want to become richer by making and selling nuclear arms to rogue nations. Peter Egan, Alun Armstrong, Bob Sherman, and Lena Headey also star. John Considine, another "MacGyver" veteran writer, handles the teleplay, with Charles Correll (who directed 19 episodes of the TV show) directing. Despite the familiar plot points, this film is slightly better than the other because it's less hokey and it has less intentional comedy. This show always seemed better fueled with unintentional humor. As anybody. Ask Patty and Selma. Or Ask MacGruber.

Both movies have made-for-TV production values, and sport a thin coat of film grain throughout. They're showing their age, too, though by 1994 people should have already been looking toward DVD releases. They're presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

The soundtracks are English Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, and they're pretty commensurate with TV action-adventure audio tracks. They're more loud than they are dynamic during extreme scenes, and the rest of the time they deliver dialogue. That's it.

No bonus features.

Bottom Line:
This one is strictly for "MacGyver" fans or for people who've never seen the TV show but want to see why it's the subject of parody.


Film Value