The merry old land of Oz is no stranger to bleak and dystopian adaptations. Everything from Return to Oz to Wicked may count as such within reason. Tin Man, the topic of our next instalment of the RetrOZpective, takes this premise but modernises it, as well as serving a spiritual sequel to the original book.
Released in 2007, Tin Man was co-produced by RHI Entertainment and the Sci Fi Channel. A three-part miniseries, Tin Man is a contemporary take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but is actually set many years after the book. It does often have a dark undertone to it, though carries positive themes of family, forgiveness, courage, and compassion. It swaps out the fantasy elements for a more steampunk, modernised version of Oz, set years after Dorothy’s original adventure.
The series was directed by Nick Willing, who had previously helmed Hallmark’s Alice in Wonderland in 1999. Willing would later direct the similar 2009 series Alice, and the excellent Neverland, a prequel to Peter Pan.
Zooey Deschanel plays DG, a Kansas waitress in her early twenties, who wants more beyond her farmyard life. Plagued by strange dreams and memories, DG feels out of place in the world, despite the reassurance of her parents Emily and Hank (Gwynyth Walsh and Kevin McNulty).
Oz is known as the O.Z. (Outer Zone), ruled by the tyrannical sorceress Azkadellia, played by Kathleen Robertson. Azkadellia is searching for the Emerald of the Eclipse, intent on using its magic to create an eternal eclipse. Azkadellia learns the emerald may be in Kansas, dispatching henchman via a tornado to capture DG. DG is transported to the O.Z., learning she actually was born there. Wishing to find her parents, understand her memories, and get some answers, DG sets off down the Old Road.
Along the way, she meets companions who are analogues for the Scarecrow, Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and Toto. The ever charming Alan Cumming plays Glitch, a literally absent-minded genius, whose brain was removed by Azkadellia to power her doomsday machine. Raoul Trujillo plays Raw, the Lion’s stand-in, whose psychic species of empaths are targeted by Azkadellia to learn of the future. Neal McDonough plays Wyatt Cain, a former cop (i.e. a “Tin Man”), who is probably the series’ most compelling character. Trapped in an iron suit and forced to watch a projection of his family’s murder, Cain is understandably “heartless”, jaded, and blunt. Yet, his fatherly instincts kick in upon meeting DG, slowly opening up to the others. Toto appears in the second episode, actually the shapeshifting Tutor, played by Blu Mankuma, whose loyalties bounce back-and-forth to ensure his own survival.
The story reveals early on that DG and Azkadellia are long lost sisters. As children, their bond made their magic strong. That was until they find a cave containing the imprisoned spirit of a wicked witch. A terrified DG fled, allowing the witch to possess Azkadellia. DG’s death was then faked by her mother, Lavender Eyes, subtly played by Anna Galvin, sending her off to Kansas. This was all part of a convoluted plot for the witch to seize the Emerald, which is hidden by the spirit of Dorothy Gale, whom DG is a descendant of. Kathleen Robertson’s performance subtly alludes to when the witch controls Azkadellia, switching between exaggerated sweetness and cold menace. She has the flying monkeys as minions, materialising from tattoos on her body. Azkadellia’s minions and lair were inspired by 1930s fascist cultures, though with a ton of leather.
Being a sequel to the original book, it is entertaining seeing how Oz has evolved into a steampunk, modernised realm. The yellow brick road is now the “old road”, the Emerald City is a rusting city of shady streets, and the Munchkins have become an rhyming Ewok-esque colony of warriors. As for the Wizard, he is split into two separate characters. One is the Mystic Man, played by well-cast Richard Dreyfuss, who represents the staged whimsy of the Wizard, though his mysticism is fuelled by chems. The other is DG’s missing father Amaho, played by Ted Whittall, who is thankfully not a total scumbag as set up to be, but a well-meaning mentor who holds the key to the plot’s secrets.
As you might as surmised, the cast is pretty stellar. Each character is well-written and well-development, the story is often dark, but never to the point of being just plain miserable. Tin Man knows it has to balance the expected fantasy of Oz, with a contemporary setting, working well most of the time. However, it can grow a little repetitive seeing the cast running through the same forest in every other scene – even if the cinematography is beautiful. Rounding up the miniseries is the dreamy, otherworldly score by Simon Boswell.
Tin Man was nominated for nominated for nine Emmys, winning one, though won the make up award for some reason. Out of the more recent adaptations of Oz, Tin Man is arguably the best, giving a fresh new take on the characters without needing to chain itself to the 1939 film.
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