Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2007 // 267 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 15th, 2010
Follow a new yellow brick road.
"If you don't have heart, you have nothing."
DG (Zooey Deschanel, The Happening) is a young woman living on a farm with her father (Kevin McNulty, Code Name: The Cleaner) and mother (Gwynyth Walsh, Stealing Christmas). She's grown bored with life on the farm, bored with her job as a waitress, bored with her surroundings in general. DG feels like it's time to move on. She gets more than she ever wished for when she is suddenly transported to what seems to be an alternate universe. In this universe, she makes the surprising discovery that her "parents" are actually robots that were programmed to care for her long ago.
Now DG must attempt to find her real father and mother. To do this, she's going to need the aid of the great Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfuss, What About Bob). As she makes the journey to meet the Mystic Man, she is joined by a number of peculiar travelers: a befuddled man with mental problems named Glitch (Alan Cumming, X2: X-Men United), a frightened empathic creature named Raw (Raoul Trujillo, Apocalypto) and an embittered ex-cop named Wyatt Cain (Neal McDonough, 88 Minutes). All of these travelers have one thing in common: their lives have been impacted in horrific ways due to the actions of the evil sorceress Azkedellia (Kathleen Robertson, Hollywoodland). The sorceress is still very much alive and well, and she'll stop at nothing to prevent DG and her friends from achieving their goals.
It's quite common for those remaking films or television shows to refer to their new version as a "reimagining." This is usually a misleading label, as there's frequently very little imagination involved in recycling successes of the past. However, the label would definitely apply in the case of Tin Man. This very loose adaptation of The Wizard of Oz follows the familiar template for its first hour or so, then startlingly establishes itself as an entirely different take on the well-known tale. The results are inconsistent and slightly uneven, but overall it's an impressive effort that proves to be a rewarding viewing experience.
The unusual thing about Tin Man is that it never limits itself to being a particular type of re-make. It's not just a "sci-fi version" or a "futuristic version" or a "quirky post-modern version" or anything so easily categorizable. Hardcore sci-fi elements fuse with wild fantasy; careful reconstructions of old scenes sit comfortably alongside entirely original story elements. There are so many elements at play that the miniseries constantly seems to be adding new ground rules/possibilities all the way to the finish line. This was exciting for me, as I expected once I became accustomed to this version's peculiarities the story would become an expected routine. By the time Tin Man completed its first act, I had no idea where it was going.
The Sci-Fi Channel (now known as the SyFy Channel) has a lengthy history of producing terrible original programming, but Tin Man is several cuts above their usual dreck. Sure, the special effects are poor and a couple of the ideas seem half-baked, but the good storytelling goes a long way towards overcoming these problems. The script is smart and thoughtful, keeping things moving at a brisk pace but leaving plenty of time for character development. One particular revelation at the end of Part 2 (the series is divided into three 90-minute parts) adds some surprising emotional resonance to the proceedings that that the series does a good job of capitalizing on.
The strong performances are also a noteworthy asset. The series is lucky to have the ever-charming Zooey Deschanel in the lead role, as she brings her scrumptiously offbeat sense of warmth to the part of DG. She's matched by Neal McDonough's understated turn as the cynical "Tin Man" (a nickname for cops in the land of "The O.Z."). McDonough's a fine actor who often finds himself in terrible films; it's nice to see him tackle a role worthy of his talents. Alan Cumming serves as effective comic relief in the "Scarecrow" role, while Blu Mankuma turns in a soulful performance as a shape-shifter named "Toto" -- guess which animal he's particularly fond of turning into?
The miniseries is blessed with a strong 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer, offering exceptional detail and depth throughout. There are a handful of flashback scenes which feature intentionally soft cinematography, but most of what's found in the series is quite crisp and clear. Flesh tones are warm and accurate while blacks are rich and inky. Shading suffers a bit at times, but it's nothing serious. The series has a rather bright color palette, and many of the vivid images really pop. The negative side of seeing the miniseries in hi-def is that the rather cheap CGI is accentuated with unforgiving clarity. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is solid, with emphasis often being placed on Simon Boswell's stirring score. Dialogue comes through with clarity while sound design is simple but effective.
The supplemental package is largely comprised of featurettes: "Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: The Making of Tin Man" (21 minutes) is a basic making-of piece that covers the usual bases effectively enough. "Nick Willing: On Set with the Director" (6 minutes) is an amusing little behind-the-scenes piece spotlighting the director goofing around on the set. "Raw and Uncut: A Sit-Down with Raoul Trujillo" (15 minutes) spotlights some interesting thoughts from the actor, who proves quite thoughtful and insightful. "Wizard Tricks: Bloopers and Gags" (9 minutes) is a mildly funny collection of flubbed lines and goofing around. "Making the Mystic Man: Behind the Scenes with Richard Dreyfuss and Director Nick Willing" (36 minutes) is an absolutely absurd amount of behind-the-scenes footage of Richard Dreyfuss doing goofy improvisations during one scene. This would be fun if it were a lot shorter. There's also a gallery of extended interviews with Willing, Cumming, McDonough, Deschanel and Robertson. Deschanel's interview is well worth checking out just to see her quietly point out how dumb some of the interview questions are. Finally, the original trailer is included.
The Cowardly Lion has always been one of the most memorable characters in this story, but the version of that character presented in Tin Man is unfortunately forgettable. This is mostly due to the script; the character has nothing to do.
Also, while Kathleen Robertson handles the villainous role quite well, her character is cursed with one of the dumber ideas in the miniseries: she summons the flying monkeys by having them materialize out of tattoos planted on her cleavage. This is little more than a cheap excuse to permit us to examine Robertson's heaving breasts ("It'll be essential to the plot!" I can hear the writers saying) on a regular basis. While I realize this may be regarded as an attribute by some viewers, you have to admit that it damages the dramatic credibility of the miniseries.
Also, why is this thing called Tin Man again? It doesn't place any special emphasis on that character.
Entertaining and genuinely inventive, Tin Man is a refreshing spin on an old story. The Blu-ray release is stellar. Check it out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 267 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated