Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tin Man: Oz Reimagined For A New Generation Works Surprisingly Well!

The Good: Decent production values, Good character growth, Decent (enough) acting
The Bad: Moments of plot predictability, Moments of stiff acting
The Basics: The Sci-Fi Channel's mini-series Tin Man makes for a good reimagining of the Oz story and a decent enough DVD.

It might surprise my regular readers to note that I’ve never reviewed The Wizard Of Oz. In fact, it has been over a decade since I last saw it and I realized that I’ve seen and also failed to review Return To Oz more recently. In fact, for a person who lives near the birthplace of L. Frank Baum (Chittenango, New York), I’ve done pretty poorly in developing my Oz-credentials. In fact, the only thing Oz-related I’ve done in recent years was read the scandalous account of Dorothy in the graphic novel Lost Girls (click here for that review!). So, when my wife picked up Tin Man, I actually approached it with a very open mind and uncluttered by memories of what Oz and the stories of Oz were “supposed” to be.

For those unfamiliar with it, Tin Man was the Sci-Fi Channel’s reimagining of the Oz story with more contemporary characters, effects and concepts. The mini-series appears on DVD as a two-disc set with all three episodes and minimal bonus features. The smart thing about the film is that it is not a musical, it is not simply a modernized version of the story and it has a remarkably fresh feel to it.

DG lives in Kansas where she has dreams of a beautiful woman with lavender eyes. Her parents realize something is amiss, but before they can tell the truth to DG, soldiers from a distant place appear and DG is sent through a storm into the O.Z. (Outer Zone). While DG begins to explore the O.Z. and learn its secrets, her parents are captured by the sorceress Azkadellia, who is the merciless ruler of the O.Z. and is hunting for a mystical Emerald. DG finds herself in the company of Glitch, a former advisor to Azkadellia who was lobotomized to keep the secrets of his Sun Seeder weapon from him. She also meets Wyatt Cain, a former sheriff of Central City. Wyatt had been imprisoned for years in a chamber that forced him to relive the killing of his family over and over again. Released by DG, he becomes an ally of hers even as he seeks revenge for what was done to his family. The trio also encounters Raw, a being with telepathic abilities and whose species is being exploited by Azkadellia for that talent.

As Azkadellia learns the secrets of the weapon which will allow her to put a stranglehold on the O.Z., DG begins to learn her secret history. Discovering her adoptive parents are androids from the O.Z., DG goes in search of the Mystic Man, a brilliant man who knows the answers to all questions. Even though he has fallen to the edge of madness, he gives DG clues which set her searching around the O.Z. for the truth about her heritage, the Sun Seeder and her relationship with Azkadellia and the O.Z.! With her former Tutor, a shapeshifter, joining her band, the group sets out to learn DG's secrets and stop Azkadellia.

What Tin Man does so well is that it truly develops the story it is telling and characters it is using. DG might be an occasionally confused young woman, but she is surrounded by people who have talents she is able to use. Glitch, despite his memory loss, does know some places, concepts and even devices that DG has no experience with in our world. Similarly, Cain is both highly motivated and ruthlessly efficient and makes for a good tracker and guide. While Raw is fearful - legitimately so as his people have been enslaved by Azkadellia and are being psychically raped to help her twisted purposes - his ability to look into the brains of people allows him to help DG to unlock some of the mysteries surrounding her. Tutor continues to aid DG with magic and even the Mystic Man becomes lucid enough to point DG in the right direction for her quest.

But even though DG's journey is one where she learns more and more unsettling aspects of her past, she grows into a generally likable character. Still, much of the true emotional journey happens to Wyatt Cain. Cain is psychologically scarred from the beginning of his journey and as he watches Azkadellia's forces close in on them, most notably her agent Zero, who is ruthless and directly responsible for what happened to his family, Cain begins to grow beyond a simpleton out for revenge. Instead, he comes to realize that by adopting Azkadellia's methods, he risks becoming as bad as she is. The journey from revenge plot to aide to DG is a reasonable series of leaps and Tin Man develops his story well.

While the mini-series is not nearly as annoying as the musical was (how is it anyone in The Wizard Of Oz survived if they were all so clueless and powerless?!) there are some issues most contemporary audiences are likely to have with it. Glitch repeats a number of lines because, frankly, he's too braindamaged to realize he is doing it. But that joke both wears thin and is dropped unrealistically soon. Like characters who stutter losing their speech defect with unrealistic ease, Tin Man has Glitch recalling things too soon that ought not even be in his brain and not repeating things with any frequency in the latter half of the film. This is odd as there is no healing process for him.

What isn't as annoying is how the story develops. It is rather early on that the viewer learns the identity of the lavender-eyed woman and her relationship with both DG and Azkadellia. But what is most refreshing is the twist the story takes in the climax of the second part. When the viewer learns the essential truth about Azkadellia and DG's role in her ascent to subjugating the O.Z., the film takes on a surprising depth.

Also wonderful is the acting, or most of it anyway. Alan Cumming is amusing and subtly tortured as Glitch, Richard Dreyfuss lends credibility and power to the Mystic Man and Callum Keith Rennie is appropriately menacing as Zero. The one who steals the show is Neal McDonough as Wyatt. McDonough actually uses his piercing gaze and stony demeanor to flesh out the character of Wyatt and he is not menacing, but efficient. He makes Wyatt a plausibly damaged character who has buried his heart and at the moments he has to play emotionally connected, he does it expertly, like a man who has been detached from his feelings for a long time.

But the lead is Zooey Deschanel and she makes DG likable and smart enough that the viewer actually cares about what happens to her. Unlike many good-looking protagonists, Deschanel's DG does not trade on her appearance, she acts appropriately startled and shaken with each new revelation. But the strength that DG has to show at the film's climax is arguably made plausible by the force with which Deschanel speaks even in the earliest scenes of the film.

In fact, the only notably clunky acting comes from Blu Mankuma, who plays Tutor. He telegraphs far too much of his performance, so the character's surprises are anything but.

In Tin Man, the special effects are generally good and they enhance the story, as opposed to overwhelm it. CG effects, like Azkadellia's tattoos becoming flying monkeys, are pretty well-executed.

On DVD, Tin Man is light on bonus features, but does contain three behind-the-scenes featurettes and a gag reel. The featurettes basically have the cast gushing about the mini-series and how imaginative it is.

For those looking for an imaginative journey with good special effects and characters, Tin Man has it. It is a bit dark for children, but for young adults and adults looking for a fresh take on Oz, Tin Man succeeds.

For other fantasy world on film, please check out my reviews of:
Alice In Wonderland
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
Edward Scissorhands


For other television and film reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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