Monday, 12 May 2008

TIN MAN – "Into The Storm" (Part 1 of 3)

Monday, 12 May 2008
Writers: Steve Mitchell & Craig Van Sickle
Director: Nick Willing

Cast: Zooey Deschanel (DG), Richard Dreyfuss (The Mystic Man), Raoul Trujillo (Raw), Callum Keith Rennie (Zero), Kathleen Robertson (Azkadellia), Alan Cumming (Glitch), Anna Galvin (Lavender Eyes), Neal McDonough (Wyatt Cain), Blu Mankuma (Tutor), Shawn MacDonald (Lylo), Jason Schombing (Antoine DeMilo), Ted Whittall (Ahamo), Ian Wallace (Raynz), Donny Lucas (Vy-Sor), Gwynyth Walsh (Emily), Kevin McNulty (Hank) & Rachel Pattee (Young DG)

A waitress is transported to the magical Outer Zone, where she teams up with three bizarre friends to defeat an evil sorceress and rescue her birth mother...

"The little bitch has gone to see the wizard."
-- Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson)

The television mini-series. Is there a more unpredictable format for success or failure? For every Merlin with Sam Neill, there's a Jack & The Beanstalk with Matthew Modine. For every Lost Room with Peter Krause, there's a Snow Queen with Bridget Fonda.

The latest mini-series comes courtesy of The Sci-Fi Channel, producers of the aforementioned Lost Room and Steven Spielberg's Taken (a 2003 Emmy winner), so they have a decent pedigree with this stuff. But both those shows had original concepts that justified their runtime, whereas their latest offering needlessly skews a children's classic into a disappointing shape. It's The (Not So) Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, here re-branded as Tin Man...

A sci-fi re-imagining of L. Frank Baum's novels (he wrote 15, but most people are only familiar with the first, the basis for the 1939 Judy Garland movie), Tin Man stars Zooey Deschanel as DG, a wistful tomboy Kansas waitress who's been having dreams about a lavender-eyed woman (Anna Galvin) and spends her free time drawing fantasy pictures.

Unbeknownst to DG, there exists a genuine fantasy world called the Outer Zone (OZ, geddit?) which is under the control of bosomy sorceress Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson), who sends her Gestapo-style thugs ("Longcoats") through a storm to capture DG – only for her to escape their clutches with her parents and return to the OZ herself, via a tornado.

Once there, DG meets three odd characters on her journey to find her missing parents: Glitch (Alan Cumming), a half-brained man with a zipper on his cranium (analogous to the Scarecrow), Raw (Raoul Trujillo), a hairy man-beast with psychic powers (analogous to the Cowardly Lion), and Wyatt Cain (Neal McDonough), a former-cop (analogous to the Tin Man).

Let's just cut to the chase: Tin Man is terrible. Everything good about it has its basis in Baum's novel, while all the new material is awful and the tweaks to the famous story are ill-advised and undercooked. I mean, this is a sci-fi re-imagining that doesn't think to turn its Tin Man character into a high-tech cyborg! Instead, a "tin man" is just the OZ term for a police officer. How bland can you get?

As our heroine, Zooey Deschanel certainly looks the part (a diminutive brunette with saucer-eyes), but her whiny voice clashes with her elfin looks, and DG is written as a humourless tomboy. Her reactions are also totally unbelievable: after landing in OZ, where she's confronted by tiny men with painted faces, who capture her and dangle her inside a cage high up amongst their tree-houses – she barely even questions the experience! There's no sense of joyous wonder, no disbelief at the sights she sees -- nothing. With a central character who fails to delight in the experience of being whisked to a magical realm, it quickly becomes just as joyless for the viewer.

Alan Cumming is the best of DG's friends, although Glitch's tendency to "glitch" (repeat his words, etc.) is a trait best suited to a malfunctioning robot, surely? Cumming essentially regurgitates his pallid oddball shtick from Spy Kids, but it's a great deal more interesting than what anyone else is doing on-screen. As Raw, Raoul Trujillo makes no impression, not helped by some terrible make-up (fur coat with a Rod Stewart wig), and Cain (Neal McDonough; no stranger to low-budget crud) isn't too bad, it's just that he's not like what you want a Tin Man to be. There's a thin attempt to justify his metallic name, as DG and Glitch meet him imprisoned in a man-shaped metal cage, but it's nowhere near enough.

With a quartet of boring, bland, disappointing heroes, any hope for some scene-chewing villainy is extinguished too. Kathleen Robertson makes a moderate impression as a quivery-lipped evil sorceress, upstaged by her heaving bosoms, but she lacks malice and there's no chilly humour to her performance. Azkadellia's right-hand man Zero (Battlestar Galactica's Callum Keith Rennie) looks imposing as the Aryan leader of her Nazi-style Longcoats, but it's all surface-level shine. He's as clichéd and boring as everyone else.

I mean, seriously – nothing of importance works. It's just a procession of poor-to-middling FX and dumb skewing of the classic characters. The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz himself (whose identity is one of the novels' big surprises) is introduced halfway through as The Mystic Man: a zonked-out Richard Dreyfuss, sat on a hovering chair of peacock feathers with a face covered in chalk. It's really quite tragic to behold.

Tin Man starts off very on-the-nose, crawls along in OZ disappointing you at every turn, until things eventually pick up pace in the last 30-minutes. But even then it's only because there are revelations that, while painfully easy to predict (guess who DG's related to, folks?), at least exhibit forward momentum. Sadly, even the episode's best idea (flying bat-monkeys that sprout from tattoo's on Azkadellia's boobs) is fudged by poor CGI. And the idea was stolen from box-office dud Elektra, anyway -- of all things!

Retro-1930s sci-fi, mixed with fantasy traditions, seen through the lens of Baum's classic novel, should have been much, much better than this. It's a witless rethink made by people who don't understand what made The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz so beloved. It wastes the talents of Cumming and Deschanel, lacks the budget to brings its ideas to life, underwrites every character, and limped along so badly that when the obligatory cliffhangers arrived (with characters in peril) I really couldn't care less about their fate.

Insipid, uninspired, slow, irritating and not worth anyone's time or effort (especially viewers). Only my commitment to review Tin Man kept me watching after the first hour, and I certainly won't be watching the next two parts. If you want to visit Oz, I recommend you get the Judy Garland movie on DVD or read the book: incredibly, it's 108 years old -- but the story and characters surpass Tin Man in every respect.

11 May 2008
The Sci-Fi Channel, 8.00 pm