Well, I am currently rather sleep deprived having stayed up to almost midnight the last two nights watching the Sci-Fi Channel’s updated version of The Wizard of Oz entitled Tin Man, which the Seven network saw fit to compile into two three-hour episodes rather than the three two-hour episodes intended by the makers. Having put this much time into watching the spectacle I thought I’d record some thoughts about it.
So to start with, the costuming, set dressing and just general visual design was fantastic. There was a wonderful 1930’s noirish feel to everything – Central City was a brilliant New York mish-mash, Azkadellia’s tower was a steam/dieselpunk power station, and the Realm of the Unwanted had a electro/cyberpunk slum Chinatown flavour. Costuming was completely spot on through the whole production – from the Nazi/Matrix Longcoats to the bizarre, bird-like, savage munchkins.
The reworking of some of the central characters was brilliant in concept. The scarecrow needs a brain because Azkadellia’s doctors removed most of it, rendering him only semi-functional with a zipper in his head. The tin man had his family (symbolically his heart) taken away from him, and can’t move – not because he’s rusted in place, but because he’s imprisoned in a torture suit. He also was a ‘Tin Man’ – a cop in Central City (presumably so called because of their tin badges). The actual use made of these ideas wasn’t always great, but the concepts are fantastic.
“Oz” being re-rendered as “The O.Z.” (Outer Zone) was a nice touch, apart from the failure to explain what it was outside of, and the fact that it sounds a lot like “The O.C.”, which left me with some very strange images of Azkadellia fighting Mischa Barton for the affections of rich surfer boys.
The Mobats did a great job of reminding us that real flying monkeys probably wouldn’t be very nice. The “field of the Papae” was a nice spin on the poison poppies – although the Papae themselves were a bit of a let down.
Now, that good stuff said I have to admit there were things about the show that I didn’t enjoy. Zooey Deschanel for instance as the central ‘Dorothy’ character DG, who I actually found rather annoying. She seemed to have all the acting range of a loaf of bread, with her characterisations limited to looking bored, looking glum, and opening her eyes really wide to express any other kind of emotion. She was quite good as Trillian in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so I don’t know what happened here. It may be the fault of the script which mostly limited her to walking around looking confused, and having flashbacks.
(On the subject of the flashbacks – I know they were important to the plot but they started getting really tedious about halfway through. It’d be five minutes of the characters walking around going “So what do we do now?”, one of them suggesting DG try to remember something, and boom! Ten minutes of DG-Junior and Azkadellia-Junior running around the woods and making dolls spin around in the air. At least some of these scenes could have been replaced by DG just remembering stuff without showing us the whole damn recall process!)
Neal McDonough as Wyatt Cain (the Tin Man character) was fairly wooden, which I suppose is kind of ironic given that the original Tin Man was a Tin woodsman. This is kind of appropriate at the start since his family (as far as he knows) is dead, and he’s been locked up without human company in an iron suit for years, but once he rediscovers a reason to live (no doubt symbolically finding his ‘heart’) you’d expect him to lighten up a bit – but he doesn’t. It’s hard to say if this is the fault of the script, or the actor, but it feels like he phoned in a lot of his performance.
Raw (the Lion character, played by Raoul Trujillo) was a bit of mystery. I don’t know if I missed a bit of exposition, or if Channel Seven (or even the series producers) cut some scenes for time, but there seemed to be a big chunk of his backstory missing. By analogy with the Wizard of Oz we know that he has to be a coward, and all the characters treat him like a coward, but in no scene is it actually established that he’s a coward. They rescue him from the Papae, take him with them, and are suddenly commenting on how he needs ‘some spine’. Then there’s the other psychic-lion dudes imprisoned by Azkadellia, with whom Raw seems to have some kind of history – but this history is never explained. We can perhaps extrapolate that Raw’s cowardice led to the other lions being captured, but we shouldn’t have to extrapolate – it’s the job of the show to tell us this kind of thing.
Alan Cumming as Mr Glitch/Ambrose (the Scarecrow) was actually a highlight – I can’t fault his performance or character at all. If the rest of the show was to same standard as he was, it would have been fantastic.
Kathleen Robertson was passable as the evil Sorceress Azkadellia (more or less the Wicked Witch of the West). Her main problem was that she didn’t do a lot, apart from remotely observe DG’s progress and send various people and things out to stop, hinder, or (again) observe her. This is probably a quite realistic portrayal of a fascist dictator (they have people to take care of the gory details) but this kind of banal evil doesn’t make for great television. Her constant boob flashing was – I must admit – quite enjoyable (Azkadellia is easily the most attractive looking woman in the O.Z.) but it didn’t add a whole lot to the plot or to her character.
The young Azkadellia (which we got to see a lot of thanks to DG’s incessant flashbacks) was actually much more interesting – she came across as a smart, strong, likable kid. Once the witch possessed her though she lost all traces of personality and just became the generic “evil child”, a-la The Omen and Village of the Damned. You would have thought her parents would have picked up on this – particularly when she came back from the woods with a whole bunch of tattoos.
Tutor (able to shape-change into a dog nicknamed Toto) was an interesting character, but not a lot was done with him. The ambiguity over whose side he’s on could have been played up a bit more. In fact a nice character arc would have been him serving Azkadellia out of fear and despair, and then being inspired to defy her and come back to the good side by DG and the gang’s actions and belief. As it was they uncover his treachery, he says “I had to do what she says or she’d kill me”, they say “OK”, and from that point on he’s one of the good guys.
The Mystic Man (more or less the Wizard) was quite well done – Richard Dreyfus played him well. Unfortunately the hair and costuming choices made him look like Dr Phil, which was rather disconcerting.
The CGI budget could have used a boost. The Mobats were usually passable (although they had their crappy moments) but the Papae were terrible – they looked like someone stole some graveling footage from Dead Like Me and threw it in at the last minute. Possibly they spent the bulk of the money on virtual sets – Azkadellia’s tower and Central City were quite impressive.
The Grey Gale idea was pretty smart, as was naming the Dorothy character DG. Unfortunately I got both references as soon as they were mentioned, which kind of ruined the surprise they were going for. I have to admit though I didn’t figure on the ‘grey’ bit, which was actually damned clever.
The ending was bit of a cliche. Sisterly love and believing in yourself wins the day. I also can’t help but wonder what happened next. I mean you’ve had this evil dictator oppressing the O.Z. for fifteen odd years, murder, torture, disappearances, fascist dudes in trenchcoats beating people up, and a grand plan to engulf the world in darkness. Then suddenly the royal family re-appears and says “It wasn’t her fault, she was possessed!”. Somehow I doubt the farmer who had his crops burnt, his son murdered and his wife lobotomised is going to be in a forgiving mood. Not to mention the fact that the touching family reunion is taking place on the top floor of a tower full of Azkadellia’s hundreds (if not thousands) of brutal henchmen, many of whom are unlikely to react well to being told that the plan has changed and they now have to be “nice”. The O.Z. is going to be having a lot of war crime tribunals, revenge killings, and probably some kind of civil war against the hardcore remnants of the Longcoats. But hey, at least the witch is dead (ding-dong!).
So yeah, Tin Man was a valiant attempt that fell a bit short. But the effort is certainly worthy of applause, and is a valuable addition to the pop-cultural mileau of the Wizard of Oz. I enjoyed it and may get around to buying it on DVD, if only to find out if Raw has more of a back story (the fact that Azkadellia’s boobage will hence be under my complete control is surely just a coincidence 😉
(I owe people emails, I know, and will get them written shortly. In the meantime merry late Christmas, happy late birthday, and happy early new year!)