Tin Man, a Sci-Fi Channel four-part mini-series here condensed into a two-disc DVD set, is a revisionist Wizard of Oz. Part steampunk fantasy, part circus sideshow, Tin Man is yet another derivative exercise in small screen blandness.
The story is familiar: Dorothy Gale (a.k.a. DG, played by Zooey Deschanel) is all grown up and bored. She mopes around, works as a waitress, and goes to school part time. Before she knows it she's back in OZ (a.k.a. Outer Zone) and on the run from the evil sorceress Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson) and her storm troopers and clumsy CGI bats. Along the way she falls in with some Outer Zone weirdos (all, of course, based on original Oz characters) including the brainless Glitches (Alan Cumming being more irritating than ever), Raw (Raoul Trukillo), a cowardly and psychic lion-man hybrid, and, in the largest deviation, Wyatt Cain (Neal McDonough), a cowboy cop from Central City called a "tin man" because of his tin badge. Traveling the Brick Road, DG and crew encounter robots and cyborgs (Oh my!), Richard Dreyfus as "vapor" inhaling mystic (what else?), The Tutor (Toto re-imagined as Blu Mankuma), and the brutal Zero (Callum Keith Rennie).
As is obvious from the plot summary, Tin Man is a post-modern smorgasbord of dystopian film clichés -- everything from the dreary locales (Blade Runner cum Brazil) to the black leather and reality warping (The Matrix, 'natch). This sort of re-envisioning of a classic text can wield interesting and entertaining results (just look at the Shakespeare updates like Romeo + Juliet and Geoffrey Wright's recent Macbeth) but Tin Man is let down by a lack of heart. The story plods along on robotic feet, ticking off what could nicely be dubbed "homages" to other, better science fiction and fantasy films, but there is very little fun in the process, just slogging through grim landscapes and jackbooted baddies. It's as though scripters Steven Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle weren't willing to push the envelope beyond making Oz fashionably post-apocalyptic.
Interestingly enough, this road has been traveled before. Disney tried a reboot of the Wizard of Oz franchise in the mid-'80s with a film, Return to Oz, that was both dark and modern. While Return to Oz flopped, it wasn't for lack of trying. The film did follow L. Frank Baum's Oz stories closely but it was the presentation that gave the film its muscle. Tin Man tries to capture the original dark tone of Baum's tales but doesn't really give us anything new or exciting (or even honestly subversive) to savor.
The acting is uniformly poor as well. Deschanel takes DG's apathy to the extreme. Not only is she listless but she's got a bad attitude to boot. (Deschanel surpasses Summer Glau in Serenity and Alexa Davalos in Chronicles of Riddick for subbing in dour mugging for actual strength in a sci fi flick.) Cumming is hopeless and Robertson is cold. Director Nick Willing has a history of this sort of thing -- he helmed the television productions of Alice in Wonderland (1999) and Jason and the Argonauts (2000). But at least it's well shot. DP Thomas Burstyn (City of Industry) sure knows how to light desolation.
I'll miss you most of all, Scarecrow.