FROM JASON AND ANDREW’S ‘THE SCREAM’ POSES — We were really looking forward tonight to watching the premier of Sci-Fi’s Tin Man miniseries. Here was a chance to take a revered fantasy world and make it something more, something darker, something indelibly twisted. We were hoping to see the candy coating stripped from the 1939 film and replaced with barbed wire.
But after five minutes, our enthusiasm had already devolved into a chorus of periodic “oh Jesus” and “sweet zombie Moses”-es.
We’re not going to worry about spoiling this one. After all, Sci-Fi already did that.
Not subtle and not clever
Acronyms ruined Tin Man from the start. I suppose Sci-Fi felt compelled to use them because they’re somehow hip (?) and modern and synonymous with technology — but whereas a lot of steam punk elements worked, the acronyms were a headache.
In the opening sequence, we’re introduced to our protagonist (though not the title character), young DG — that’s right, Dorothy Gale. That elongated name is very intentionally never mentioned at all, though.
She’s whisked away from her Kansas homestead via tornado, but in this incarnation of the Frank Baum’s Oz legend we’re told that tornadoes are the norm when it comes to magical transportation.
DG (ugh, we can hardly stand to type it) arrives in The Outer Zone, which caused us to pause and ponder the oh-so-deep initials for all of three seconds. But wait, there’s more. The writers is make the name even more shallow by constantly, insistently slapping us in the face. At every opportunity, they have the characters call it The OZ — which sounds an awful lot like The OC. It’s all about context, and the way it’s thrown again and again into casual reference makes it sound like Ryan and Marissa bantering at the beach.
This isn’t a Technicolor dreamland
The OZ (holy hell on wheels, we can’t believe we’re using the term) isn’t the happy-go-lucky Candyland we expected. There are Munchkin-ish creatures, to be sure, but they’re paranoid, and have every reason.
the Wicked Witch of the West the evil sorceress Azkadellia is in charge and Glenda — whom we later learn is her mother — is imprisoned in a castle of ice. The inhabitants of The OZ (oh lawd) are enslaved. Instead of an emerald city, we have a grimy urban slum populated by prostitutes, patrolled by the sorceress’ gestapo, and brimming with duplicitous informers.
Some of that set design is really great, but feels entirely stolen from Final Fantasy VIII (as does some of the plot… there are amnesiac orphans ahead). We’re willing also to give a nod to the use of a neat blurred-around-the-edges filter that gives Oz an other-worldly feel. But rampant use of CG effects, especially on badly-rendered giant spider-wolf hybrids, detracts from Tin Man‘s overall art score.
No more whimsy
Azkadellia’s going to get top billing in discussion of the characters, because actress Kathleen Robertson was really the only thing that kept us watching past the first eight minutes.
She’s hot. That’s all there is to it. She’s not green, doesn’t have a hooked nose or a wart, doesn’t cackle incessantly. She does sway nicely, though. We can’t blame the writers for putting her in a tight corset and leather, or pushing the whole naughty-girl femdom action to hook the 15-30-year-old male demographic. Maybe that’s why we were so willing to believe her performance was the best of the cast, despite the presence of both Alan Cumming and Mr. Holland himself, Richard Dreyfuss (he must have wanted a new boat to take this job).
Dorothy — er, DG — is plain Jane like her predecessor, Judy Garland, but is less than half the actress. The seems constantly confused, mouth agape, brow furrowed, head cocked, but rarely in touch with what’s going on around her. There is an overt lack of any kind of realistic response to being whisked away to a world with two suns. She doesn’t seem nonplussed by the whole affair or incredulous to the… well, incredible… everyday impossibilities she encounters. In one scene, a hovering, grandfatherly android brands her hand with a mysterious symbol and DG doesn’t even flinch.
Cumming is perhaps the worst offender when constantly referencing The OZ. He’s the scarecrow of the piece. But rather than stupid, the writers chose instead to make him lobotomized — there’s even a zipper on his head (wide open when we meet him and apparently without consequences). Azkadellia removed his memories to hide the truth about DG’s identity (more on that later).
Our Tin Man is an ex-cop — police are called tin men in this Oz — who lost his family. He’s locked in an old metal diving suit and forced for decades to watch a holographic movie of his family being murdered. After part one of the miniseries, we’re still not sure why he’s the title character, but the closing shot shows him shot in the heart and sinking through a sea of ice.
The lion? Well, he’s basically been useless so far with little character development. Again, there’s a bit of tweaking — the lion isn’t so much cowardly as he is phobic after a life of hiding from the sorceress. Did we mention that his species is hunted down because they can see the future? That gimmick is used a couple of times in the first episode.
Earnest goes to Oz
Here is our biggest problem with the show so far: Substitution does not an awesome story make. Sci-Fi’s goal was to take The Wizard of Oz and give it a dark pall, and to some extent it succeeded. But in many cases it just tried to casually flip nomenclature for a cheap pay-off.
It’s obvious that the writers were trying so hard to say, “Look! Look at how much depth and symbolism we can shove into this movie!” But for all its earnestness, Tin Man is lacking — so far, at least — real substance. At the moment, it’s just thinly-veiled shots at “wouldn’t it be cool if….”
There were some truly cliché elements to wrestle past — DG is sent on a coming-of-age quest and we’re told (misleadingly, it turns out) that she’s an orphan. That dynamic thankfully gets retconned in the last 15 minutes; the backstory of Oz is rewritten as a political intrigue within the royal house, and we discover DG and Azkadellia are sisters.
We’ll see if that goes anywhere, or folds back on itself in a mundane battle-of-the-sisters mess.