“She’s a spy! A spy from the sky!”
The Scoop: 2007 unrated (as far as I can tell), directed by Nick Willing and starring Zooey Deschanel, Alan Cumming, Neal McDonough, Raoul Trujillo, Kathleen Robertson, and Richard Dreyfuss.
Tagline: Follow a new yellow brick road.
Summary Capsule: An extensively re-written version of Oz, complete with… well, all sorts of things.
Deneb’s review: Let’s talk about Oz.
No, not Oz as in the show or the Buffy the Vampire character or the mutagen from Ultimate Spider-Man (good grief, I’m a nerd) – Oz as in the original. As in ‘Wonderful Wizard of’.
I really dig Oz. It all boils down to a powerful mythos and characters that have entertained young and old for well over a century, and that I personally get more out of every time I dip into them. Even if MGM had never gotten its hands on it (which I sometimes think would have been preferable, even if ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ is a mighty purty song), the original book and its sequels are timeless classics and always will be. They alone should be enough to satisfy anybody – and for some, they are.
Yet no franchise can remain fresh and vital unless it continues to change and evolve – and Oz has been no stranger whatsoever to change and evolution lately. Interestingly enough, though, it’s not the main Oz, as it were, that’s experienced this – instead, we have a plethora of alternate Ozes, looking at the material from fresh new angles. The sheer amount of them is really rather amazing, and it ain’t over yet – there are many more coming down the pipeline even as we speak.
What started all this? That’s tricky to say. However, there was a certain TV miniseries that came out a few years ago – a miniseries called Tin Man. A miniseries that does seem to have debuted juuuuust before this Oz-landslide started. A miniseries that, strangely enough, just happens to be the object of this review.
Tin Man is a bit of a slippery devil to pin down. Some people love it, some people hate it, some people simply find it way too silly to be taken seriously. I’m somewhere between the first and the third, myself.
Why? Ah, that’d be telling – and it will be, when I get around to it.
The main protagonist of Tin Man is a young lady named D.G (Zooey Deschanel). She lives in Middle-of-Nowhere, Kansas, on her parents’ farm, and holds down a job waiting tables while spending her free time sketching elaborate pictures of various strange dreams she’s had.
It’s not a bad life, per se, but D.G isn’t content with it. She’s been feeling restless for quite some time now, and yearns for something – anything – beyond the boundaries of her day-to-day existence.
Little does she know, however, that said something is about to come directly to her. In some other layer of the universe close to ours, there exists a strange place known as the Outer Zone, or O.Z for short. It used to be a lovely place to live, but that was before the sorceress Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson) and her minions set out to conquer it. This was not the limit of her ambitions, though – she has plans. Big plans. Plans that apparently could be wrecked by a certain someone back in Kansas. Hmm – what to do?
Well, the obvious, if you’re an evil sorceress – send a troop of Longcoats (named ‘cause guess why) via a “Travel Storm” to wipe her out. The problem is, this backfires, as instead of being killed, D.G gets swept up by the Storm herself. The next thing she knows, she’s in the O.Z, and her dull life has suddenly gotten very interesting.
In short order, she encounters a mismatched trio of comrades. First (OK, technically second, but I’m working towards something here), there’s Wyatt Cain (Neal McDonough), an ex-cop turned resistance fighter who harbors a particularly fierce grudge against the Longcoats for the sadistic way they ruined his life. Then there’s the “Viewer” Raw (Raoul Trujillo), a gentle beast-man with psychic powers, and finally a rather odd guy named Glitch (Alan Cummings). He’s called that because Azkadellia’s pet surgeons removed half his brain, and as a result, he’s understandably not quite all there.
He used to be, though. In fact, he used to be a personal advisor to the Queen, who Azkadellia overthrew during her quest for power. This is more important than it sounds, because Azkadellia is, in fact, her daughter – as is D.G! Yep, D.G is in fact an actual honest-to-goodness princess, and the villain is her sister – albeit a sister who has decidedly sinister plans for her.
The four rapidly get mixed up in the sorceress’s schemes, with D.G apparently the key to stopping her. But there’s one thing that’s bugging her about all this – if she used to be a princess, then how did she end up as a Kansas waitress? Why can’t she remember anything about her former life? It would be easy simply to pin the blame on Azkadellia, but it becomes clear fairly quickly that she is a lot more complicated than she looks, too. There’s a mystery about both their pasts, and if D.G doesn’t manage to solve it in time, then the O.Z may be in serious trouble…
OK, let’s start with the bad – or at least somewhat regrettable – parts. The first and most prominent is that Tin Man can at times be capital-C cheesy.
This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, mind you – there’s certainly a place for cheese, and a number of things I like include at least some such elements. It’s just that when it’s prevalent in Tin Man, it tends to be very prevalent. We even get the old “a storm is coming” line in part one, for Thoth’s sake! (Mind you, if there was ever a place for such a line, it would be in something like this, but still – overused just a tad, yah?) Lines and plot elements like that are scattered liberally throughout the miniseries. Again, they weren’t a deal-breaker for me – as cheesy stuff goes, it’s enjoyable enough – but I predict them provoking a few eye-rolls amongst more jaded watchers.
There’s also a repetitive nature to the script that starts to wear on the nerves after a while. It’s less evident at the beginning and end, but during the middle it really kicks into overdrive. I won’t say how this is the case, since it constitutes a few minor spoilers, but trust me, it is. Again, it’s not enough to ruin it, but it doesn’t make for the most innovative storytelling in the world, let’s put it that way.
Also, speaking as an Oz fan, there are some details about the O.Z that aren’t really examined as closely as they might be. It’s heavily implied that this is not so much a re-imagining of Wizard as a sequel to it set in the modern-day (which means, after all, that a good deal of time has passed since the original events wrapped themselves up, so of course things would be a little different). Overall, I’m fine with this – it allows for some interesting ‘hmm – I wonder how we got here from there?’ musings, and more than one genuine ‘hey – cool!’ moment.
The problem is that the past and the present don’t always cinch up quite as well as they might. I’m not such a fanatic about these matters that I’m going to whine about them not taking L. Frank Baum’s entire complex mythos into account (“They didn’t even mention the Flatheads and the Skeezers? That does it; I am gone!”), but there are certain differences I have difficulty accounting for, and which aren’t really addressed. The two suns, for instance – yes, the O.Z has twin suns. This, to say the least, is not mentioned in the books, and it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense – I mean, it was always implied that Oz was either located in some undiscovered corner of Earth, or at least in some sort of place that was awfully similar to it. Why are we instead on an alien planet?
Furthermore, why is the Emerald City now “Central City”? That’s a tad generic, don’t you think? And clearly the whole color-coding thing has fallen by the wayside long ago, but it would have been nice if yellow, blue, green, red and purple were still prevalent colors – I mean, they’re there, but what we generally see people wearing is plain old brown and black and such. That’s nitpicking, I know, so let’s go out on a large and glaringly obvious one – if Oz is now “the Outer Zone”, then what’s the “Inner Zone”? Is it Earth? Is the O.Z just outside the rest of the universe or something? They never say, and it drives me crazy.
So if that’s the bad stuff, what’s the good stuff? Well… just about everything else, really.
Let’s kick things off with the superficials. This mini looks great. It has the guy behind Moulin Rouge‘s striking visuals doing the same here, and you’d better believe it shows. The costumes, the sets, the props – they all range from merely good-looking to freaking gorgeous, borrowing from all sorts of cultures and themes, and in the process really selling the O.Z as a large place with a good deal of cultural variety. I’ve heard the general aesthetic being referred to as “steampunk”, and while I’m not sure whether I agree with that (for me, steampunk is something much more specific), there’s no denying that there’s an early-20th-century vibe to quite a lot of it. Whatever it is, it works.
Furthermore, every character has a distinctive look that is immediately recognizable. Whether it’s Glitch’s signature Raggedy-Andy-esque ‘do, D.G’s more modern-casual threads, or Azkadellia’s wardrobe of awesomely be-collared outfits (which I will be very surprised if various ambitious female cosplayers haven’t tried to replicate, since they really are pretty cool), you can tell at a glance who’s doing what. I can’t tell you how refreshing this is after who-knows-how-many movies and shows where the characters blend into each other due to near-identical looks.
And speaking of which, that’s the other big thing that Tin Man has going for it – the characters. While not all of them are fleshed out quite as much as they might be, they are quickly established as interesting, relatable and distinctive. They are characters you enjoy watching, and want to see more of as the plot unfolds – and as it does unfold, they are by and large used very well, with just about everybody having some sort of a story arc that they go through. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re associated with the classic Baum characters, but nonetheless, they’re strong enough that they can stand quite nicely on their own.
As for that aspect of things, while there’s certainly an element of we’re-off-to-see-the-Wizard in the first episode or so, the plot is far from a mere WoO retelling. I don’t think anyone would have minded if it had turned out that way – after all, the simplicity and universality of ‘Wizard’ is one of the main reasons why it’s so frequently mined for source material – but we’ve seen about eighty-bajillion of those over the years, and it’s refreshing to see an Oz story that strives to be original. All the classic elements are still there – the young girl from another land, the trip to the city, the wicked witch, the quest – but they’ve been rejiggered and expanded upon to the point where they have a distinct identity of their own. I know the original book pretty darn well, and I genuinely didn’t know what was going to come next while I was watching – not something you can say about many adaptations. I know Oz like the back of my hand, but I can’t say the same about the O.Z, and I applaud it for that.
To give a quick example, if I may, let us take D.G. In the original book, as I expect you know, the whole story is about Dorothy coming to Oz from Kansas and trying to find a way back. In Tin Man, exactly the opposite is the case – D.G is a native of the O.Z, and would normally never have left it except for plot reasons. Now that she’s back, there’s never so much as a consideration of returning to boring ol’ Kansas – the place is her home, her real home, and she’s going to stay there. This is not only a nice little reference to the later books (in a way I shall explain in the Intermission), it actually gives the same moral in a different way – there really is “no place like home”, but sometimes it’s not the place you originally thought was home. It’s a more mature perspective on things that fits the new take on the character – D.G is not the innocent child that Dorothy was; she’s a young woman looking to make her way in the world – it just so happens that her world is not the one she thought it was.
So since we’ve brought her up, what’s D.G like? She’s… not bad. One complaint about Zooey Deschanel’s performance that I’ve often heard is that she’s too bland and accepting of all the weirdness around her – and while I can see the logic in that (she does spend an awful lot of time just looking around all doe-eyed), there is a good reason, if you think about it. D.G isn’t reacting strongly to all this stuff because on some level, it’s not weird to her – she grew up with this sort of stuff; she’d just forgotten about it. Anyway, where she needs to show strong reactions, she does, so I don’t have much in the way of complaints. Could she have been a bit more dynamic? Sure – but she is who she is, and she has good chemistry with the rest of the characters, so them’s the breaks.
Speaking of the rest of the characters, let’s start with the title one, Wyatt Cain. (“Tin Man” is O.Z slang for a cop.) Cain (oh man, am I tired of characters named Cain – enough already!) is the straight man of the group – Neal McDonough plays him as a cynical, bitter, no-nonsense kind of guy who doesn’t stand for any shenanigans. There’s a good reason for this, though, as this character has been through hell. I won’t give away just what form this hell takes, because it’s best discovered for oneself, but it’s both a clever twist on the original material and possibly the cruelest thing you can imagine doing to a person. Cain is a character bent on revenge, and while he does soften up a bit over the course of the story (after all, considering which character he’s based on, he kind of has to), he never exactly turns into a lovable, huggable type. That’s fine, though, as he’s more or less a riff on the old Western gunslinger – and whoever heard of a lovable, huggable gunslinger?
Anyway, the lovable-huggableness is saved for another character, namely Glitch. Glitch is a pretty fun character, and Alan Cummings clearly enjoys playing him – he’s a great big goofball with an ever-cheerful demeanor and a tendency to go off on tangents when he can’t think of a way to complete his thoughts – in other words, most of the time. There’s a sadder side to him, though, as it’s not just a simple case of a scarecrow looking for a brain – here, he used to have a brain; possibly the best in the O.Z, and its loss has not done him wonders. It’s something like what the guy from “Flowers for Algernon” suffered – he vaguely remembers what it was like to be the smartest guy around, and we occasionally see hints of his old character, but by and large, he’s stuck the way he is. Poor guy.
Last among the heroes (well, not quite, but the others either constitute spoilers, are best discovered for yourself, or aren’t there long enough to talk about) is Raw. Out of D.G’s three companions, he’s the one who kind of drew the short straw in terms of characterization – he can basically be described as timid, gentle and empathetic, and that’s more or less it. This is not to say that he’s pointless – Raoul Trujillo imbues him with a real pathos and vulnerability that shines through whenever he gets a good scene. He’s a very likable character, and evokes the spirit of the original Lion pretty well; he just doesn’t have much to do when compared to the more complex Cain and Glitch, whose subplots take up most of the non-D.G related story. There are hints of a wider backstory for him, but we never find out what it actually is. I like Raw, and given that he’s the only non-human main character, I would like to know more about him – but as it stands, he’s just not terribly interesting. Shame, really.
Moving on to the villains – well. There is really only one villain to speak of, and that’s Azkadellia (which really ought to be spelled ‘Azkadelia’, incidentally, as that’s how everyone pronounces it – but the credits say different, so I’ll play along). Azkadellia is awesome. Kathleen Robertson plays her as the sort of person who speaks ever-so-sweetly to just about everyone, but there are razors hidden in the honey, and they bob up to the surface as soon as she’s through playing games. She is sleek and polished, glamorous in a you-don’t-dare-touch-this kind of way, wields power like a scalpel, and all but the most twisted of her own men are clearly terrified to death of her. (And this isn’t even mentioning the flying monkeys. The flying monkeys are kinda freaky in this – they’d chew up and spit out the ones from the MGM version, that’s for sure.)
Yet there is more to her than this – in fact, quite a lot more. Azkadellia is… well, to avoid spoilers, let’s just say she’s got some issues she needs to work out. It’s this working out that makes for a good chunk of the mini’s drama, and while it’s not always handled as well as it might be, it does make for some very effective sequences, and makes her far more than just another eeeevil villain. (I wouldn’t have minded if she had been just another evil villain, mind you – I like evil villains – but I’m certainly not going to complain.)
Oh – there actually is one more villain worth (briefly) talking about. He’s Zero (Callum Keith Rennie), a Longcoat captain and the guy who’s responsible for ruining Cain’s life. As such, he’s important to the plot, but he’s otherwise just your average two-dimensional gloating bad guy, so there’s not really much to say about him, besides the fact that I really dig that one-arm gladiator armor thing he wears. I’ve always kind of wanted one of those.
When all is said and done, Tin Man is one of those rare… well, it’s not technically a movie, but let’s just call it that for the purposes of this sentence – one of those rare movies where most of what’s good and (almost) all that’s bad about it can be boiled down to what it was intended to be, rather than what it actually became. What was it intended to be? A full series – not just a mini, but an ongoing. This isn’t just speculation, either; it’s common knowledge, and it shows. The cheesiness? It would seem less cheesy in an ongoing series. The repetitive nature? Spread out over multiple episodes, it would feel much more natural. The missing bits of characterization and backstory for characters like Raw? With the extra time a series would provide, they could be added, no problem. On the other hand, the strong characters, the distinctive visuals, the compelling storyline? All trademarks of a good series, the sorts of things that attract viewers’ interest and keep them coming back for more. Tin Man is just begging – begging, I tell you – to be a series, preferably one that lasts at least one season. There’s a reason why its fans have been hankering for a sequel to it ever since it came out – it needs one. It has a world and characters that are waiting patiently to be fleshed out, and if the Sci-Fi/SyFy/whatever Channel finally gets off its rear and makes one, it will be greeted with cheers.
So that being said, is it worthwhile seeing as is? Sure. The positives are still positives, and overall, I like Tin Man quite a bit. I’ll even admit to being quite moved by certain parts of it. It’s not for everyone – some people think it’s silly, or don’t like the acting, or what have you – but for others, it just hits that nerve. If you’re an Oz fan, or a fantasy fan, or you’ve just seen The Wizard of Oz a million times and you’re curious to see the other ways that the story could be interpreted, give it a look.
Meanwhile, I’m a-lookin’ forward to that other stuff that’s coming out. Let’s give it a look-see…
- D.G’s childhood ‘practice doll’ is clearly meant to be an effigy of Ozma, the ruler of Oz. It’s decked out in her usual regalia, and wears her distinctive crown.
- The number-plate on the farm’s fence reads 39. 1939 was the year that the MGM Wizard came out.
- One might wonder why the name of the miniseries is Tin Man when Wyatt Cain is not the central character. The answer’s simple – he used to be. The original concept was for a sort of police procedural, set in the Emerald City and featuring Cain as an active (as opposed to retired) Tin Man on the force.
- Before she gets to the O.Z, D.G had been looking at a travel brochure for Australia – or, as it’s commonly nicknamed, Oz.
- While the signature colors of Oz are not very evident in the present O.Z, they are in the past. During certain key flashback scenes, D.G and Azkadellia are shown wearing red and green, respectively. These are significant, as red is the signature color of Glinda the Good, whereas green is both the signature color of the Emerald City region (which Azkadellia will go on to rule) and, of course, the skin-tone of the Witch from the MGM film (who she will grow up to be, more or less), thus setting up the ‘good witch bad witch’ conflict in later life. Also, their mother the Queen has lavender eyes as her most distinguishing feature (she is, in fact, named “Lavender Eyes” in the credits). Lavender is a shade of purple, the signature color of the northern Gillikin region of Oz, which may make the character a reference to the “Good Witch of the North” who greets Dorothy in Wizard.
- D.G’s waitress outfit is quite obviously a reference to Dorothy’s dress in the MGM movie.
- The mystic symbol that acts as a plot device is a somewhat stylized version of the old Oz insignia, a Z inside an O. A more standard version of this seems to have been adapted by Azkadellia, and can be seen on standards and wall-hangings throughout her tower.
- The “Fields of the Papay” would seem to be a clear reference to the poppy fields in Wizard. The Papay themselves may be a reference to the Kalidas, a recurring Ozian menace.
- In addition to being a reimagining of Wizard of Oz, Tin Man also incorporates plot elements from The Emerald City of Oz. In that, Dorothy leaves Kansas for good (as D.G does), takes up a permanent role as a Princess (a role D.G must fight to regain), and is faced with an overpowering military threat (the Nomes, etc. in the original, the Longcoats in Tin Man).
Repeated line (with variations): Two little princesses dancing in a wood,
Spinning fast and freely on their little toes.
Where the light will take you, there’s only one way to know.
Two little princesses dancing in a row.
Glitch: Oh come on, Tin Man, have a heart!
D.G: You guys are out of your tiny minds!
Azkadellia: The little b**** has gone to see the Wizard.
Glitch: I was the top dog’s… (pause) right-hand man.
Wyatt Cain: I know what you’re doing, kid. I’ve led men through battle myself.
D.G: And, um, how am I doing?
Wyatt Cain: Well, there’s less hugging when I do it.
D.G: Where I come from, freaks like you drive vans!
Glitch: Y’know, when I had a brain, I was twice as scared as I am now with only half a brain – which means that if I had no brain at all, I would be four times braver than I was when I was brainy.
Wyatt Cain: You want that bad attitude drippin’ outta your ears?
Raw: Brave man… Good man… Tin Man.
Azkadellia: A fierce new world is awakening.
D.G: Why the sudden change of heart?
Wyatt Cain: Believe me, heart’s got nothin’ to do with it.
Antoine DeMilo: The guy’ll flay me like a Munchkin!
Eastern Guild fighter: She’s a spy! A spy from the sky!
Azkadellia: (repeated line) “The majestic Queen of the O.Z
Had two lovely daughters she.
One to darkness she be drawn,
And one to light she be shown.
Double eclipse, it is foreseen,
Light meets dark, and the stillness between.
But only one and one alone
Shall hold the Emerald
And take the throne.”
Glitch: I have a proper name, you know. (pause) And when I remember it, I will tell you.
Wyatt Cain: It amazes me that you once influenced the Queen.
Glitch: I know. Me too.
D.G: My mother was really good with the to-do lists; she just wasn’t so good with the how-to-do lists.
Repeated line: All of life’s answers can be found along the Old Road.
Wyatt Cain: You’re a deep well, Glitch.
Azkadellia: Your adventures have a way of getting me into trouble.
Raynz: All you people need is encouragement.
Raw: Raw just need courage!
Wyatt Cain: I’d shoot you in the heart if I thought you had one.
D.G: I feel very safe with you guys.
Glitch: Really? I don’t.
Azkadellia: How is it that a young, unarmed girl in a party dress eludes the toughest division in my army?
Glitch: My sinuses are flaring.
Azkadellia: If it isn’t the great and terrible blah blah blah himself.
Wyatt Cain: If you don’t have heart, you have nothing.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Return to Oz