Genius Products // 2007 // 265 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // March 19th, 2008
This ain't your daddy's Oz.
Sci-Fi Channel succeeded with their reinvention of Battlestar Galactica, breathing new life into some easily mockable source material. By adding relevant stories and weightier, more thoughtful dialogue, they gave a little class and modern appeal to an "old" show that had none. Not every source is as empty as this one, however, and sometimes it is good to leave well enough alone. I'm not sure anybody was begging for another adaptation of L. Frank Baum's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but Sci-Fi has nonetheless gussied up the hundred-year-old children's fantasy for modern adult audiences. CGI, crazy costumes, and makeup, oh my!
D.G. (Zooey Deschanel, Abandon) knows that something's wrong in her life. This waitressing job, living on the farm with her parents, this isn't her. One night, a great tornado hits the farm and, in the confusion, her parents start acting scarily strange. They demand she jump off of the roof and into the tornado. With her faith in their love guiding her, she leaps into the storm and is suddenly transported to a strange land full of magic, munchkins, and robots. This is the Outer Zone, or "The O.Z.," for short. Before she can begin to understand where she is, or even grieve her parents, she must run for her life from a battalion of black-clad police working for the evil Queen Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson, Nowhere). In eluding her hunters, D.G. meets Glitch (Alan Cumming, Titus), a flailing, brainless fugitive, Cain (Neal McDonough, Flags of Our Fathers), a heartless but dedicated "Tin Man" (in the Western sense), and Raw (Raoul Trujillo, Apocalypto), a cowardly lion-like creature. In their travels to see the wondrous Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfuss, Inserts), each realizes that they have more inside them than they ever thought possible, and that D.G.'s childhood dreams of princesses and fairy tale kingdoms are more memory than fantasy.
I suppose, looking at the core elements of Baum's original story, there is a lot of room for adaptation. A girl stolen from her home, taken to a magic land where at the risk of her life, she struggles to find her own strength after searching for utopian easy answers. Its classic storytelling, charming characters, and hallucinatory imagery are magical to kids yet can still appeal to adults. Adding the strong economic and social subtext inherent in the story, there is more than enough material for a miniseries. I question, then, the purpose of changing the original story so much for Tin Man. After the first two hours, the traditional Oz story is complete and they pull from so many other sources to fill the nearly five hours of overblown ambition that it becomes quite a stretch to call Tin Man a re-imagining of anything.
The story makes a lot of sense in a sci-fi setting. The possibilities of a dystopian, futuristic Oz with modern relevance are huge, so it's unfortunate that the creators kept only the most superficial aspects of the original. In turn, they replaced all the meat with a plot that crosses the Luke Skywalker messiah story with a Dungeons and Dragons quest line. The populist message of the book, toned down in all the film versions, is replaced by an individual hero, better than everybody else without knowing it, who must discover her hidden powers or the world will be lost forever. This kind of individualistic hero is accessible to modern audiences and has seen a lot of success in characters like Skywalker and Neo of The Matrix. It's a fine way to build your hero, but it doesn't work for Dorothy. Dorothy isn't a princess, she's a farm girl; she doesn't have crazy magical powers, she needs and seeks help every step of the way. Most importantly, and what takes all the heart of the production away, is that, ultimately, all Dorothy really wants to do is go home. Regular life may be boring, but it's real. That fantasy she desired so much turned into a series of unkept promises. In Tin Man, D.G. hates her "regular" life too but, once she's in The O.Z., all the promises are fulfilled and every expectation is met. Moreover, she's already home once she's here, and it's destiny that carries her the rest of the way.
Even if the "re-imagining" was better conceived, the casting and performances would still be problems. Deschanel's wide-eyed naïvety works for a little while but conflicts with the sassy new Dorothy and feels insincere, especially after D.G. discovers her origin and powers. Dreyfuss is a weird choice in the wizard role. He hams it up the way he's supposed to, but the scant time he's in the film seems like more of a budgetary issue than anything, so I don't see why they wouldn't get somebody cheaper and flesh the character out a little better. Don't worry, though, Dreyfuss chews up as much scenery as possible while he's around. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. The actors milk the performances for all they're worth and there is no room for any of the characters to breathe. Alan Cumming, whom I normally like very much, is irritating to watch bounce off the walls. What could have been a charming scarecrow is an annoying nuisance. McDonough does his best Henry Fonda as the titular Tin Man but, while the anachronism of the western sheriff is intentional, it really does feel out of place in the vaguely futuristic land. Kathleen Robinson is fine as the evil queen; her bodice heaves appropriately in an outfit that looks stolen from Evil-Lynn's wardrobe, but as the biggest perpetrator of calling their world "The O.Z.," she looks like she has as hard a time saying the name as I have writing it. Any time I would get into the plot at all, somebody would say something like "It's tough out here in The O.Z.," and my attention would be broken with laughter.
In all fairness, even though the story is ridiculous and the acting is hammy, there will be a lot of fans of this mini-series, and for good reason. The British Columbia locations are beautifully shot by Thomas Burstyn, full of magically lush forests and foggy lakes. The special effects build well on the surroundings and look very good, despite some clear budget restraints. The flying monkey bats look disgusting and spawn from a very funny place. Like the 1939 film, they are one of the definite highlights of the film. Simon Boswell's music is as good as ever. His score rivals that for Dust Devil and Santa Sangre as some of his best work. Director Nick Willing, who has worked on this kind of remake before with FX's Jason and the Argonauts and NBC's Alice in Wonderland, clearly knows the territory. He moves the action along briskly, without giving audiences enough time to dwell on some of the more mind-numbing aspects of the projects.
Genius Products' release of Tin Man is as good as the technical aspects of the film. The anamorphic transfer is crystal clear with deep colors and sharp details, important for a film as heavily art directed as this. The sound is equally impressive, giving the low-end and surround channels a real workout. Some good extras round out the two-disc set. A 30-minute making-of documentary, while often self-aggrandizing, gives some good insight into what the crew were intending with the production, and a series of interviews with the cast does the same for the characters. The film was clearly produced with the DVD market in mind.
Tin Man could have been so much more if they'd just tried to do less. They could have stuck more closely to the original material and had more success in reinventing the story. They could have completely forgone the "Oz" associations and had a fairly decent stand-alone Sci-Fi story. Instead, they tried to have both, and it sinks the production faster than a pair of bejeweled slippers.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 265 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Behind-the-Scenes Documentary
* Interviews with cast and crew
* Gag reel
* Official Site