Monday, June 14, 2010

There's No Place Like Home...

This week, The Latest Issue sets the WABAC machine for 2007, and the airing of the Emmy Award-winning miniseries Tin Man. This series was one I'd had my eye on for a while, but only providence and a Netflix streaming account brought it back to my immediate attention quite recently. Between the diverse cast and steampunk re-imagination of the original story, Sci-Fi's (now SyFy) huge miniseries event may have been three years late making it to my consciousness, but my interest in this piece did not wane even in it's absence from my immediate attentions.

The first thing you have to realize while watching Tin Man is that this is no Wizard of Oz. Whether you loved the original 1939 film or thought it was overrated, you can rest assured that while the spirit of the story is here (magic tornado sends girl to a mystical alternate world and she must find the Wizard), Tin Man is most certainly a total recreation, more inspired by the original idea than the story itself. It bears little to no resemblance to either the film or the series of L. Frank Baum books that created the whole franchise.

Zooey Deschanel stars as D.G., a waitress in the middle of nowhere, Kansas,  living with her loving parents while wishing for a more interesting life outside her family's farm. She's a fantastic artist, and constantly illustrates her fantastical dreams, which adorn the walls of her attic loft. Little does she know that there is another dimension, and it's evil ruler Azgadellia thinks D.G. is the only thing that can stand between her and total control of the O.Z., or Outer Zone. Unfortunately, Queen Azgadellia's plan to rid herself of this nuisance backfires, and D.G. finds herself alone and very shocked when she arrives in the O.Z. Gradually we're introduced to Glitch (Alan Cumming), a man with a zipper on his head and his brain removed; Raw (Raoul Trujillo) a "viewer" who's hairy race has been subjugated by Azgadellia; and Wyatt Cain (Neal McDonough), a "Tin Man", or lawman, who was locked up in an iron suit for defying the queen. They of course are this edition's representations of the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tinman. They're all lacking in the same areas their previous incarnations had; While Glitch and Raw share the exact issues (a brain and courage), Cain's problems stem more in his coldness due to the loss of his family. Glitch even says to Cain at one point: "Oh, come on Tin Man, have a heart!"

Unlike in the earlier film, there's not much wait for our new quartet to reach Central City to speak to the Wizard (Richard Dreyfus), who was once the great ruler of Central City but has been reduced to a drug-addicted parlor act in the wake of Azgadellia's conquest. Throughout the story in which D.G. tries to understand who she is and where she belongs, there are many sly references to the first film (for instance, D.G. once refers to the O.Z. as being "in technicolor") that make their way seamlessly into the story, including a Toto you didn't see coming. For all that, it's never a show that you need to have seen the original movie or read the books to enjoy, though if you were to not understand at least half of the references I'd be forced to assume you were either naive or sheltered and only had these three episodes to keep you company. Either way you'd have no problem keeping up, the story is that easy to follow.

As for the acting, Deschanel is solid as the heroine placed in an impossible situation. She's not great, but I can't tell if that's just because watching her walk is unsettling. Remember the Seinfeld episode "The Summer of George"? When Molly Shannon plays the woman who doesn't swing her arms? Remember how that weirded everyone out? See, Zooey Deschanel is Molly Shannon. Good acting, dialogue delivered well. Doesn't swing her arms. She's regularly upstaged by her cast mates, which is a good thing. Cumming is very effective and perfectly cast as Glitch. If it was feasible for someone to not have a brain, Cumming could play them. In a heartbeat. He has regularly the best dialogue, and always delivers in spades. Trujillo is better known for his dance career, but of his sporadic acting appearances Tin Man might have been his biggest opportunity and he handled it with aplomb. There are fewer scenes for Raw to shine as compared to his friends, but what he does do, he does very, very well. McDonough rounds out the group admirably. Unlike Cumming or Trujillo or even Deschanel, he has to play the straight man, and for a man to play someone who's normal except for the fact that his surroundings are NOT normal to us is a challenge that he pulls off admirably. It's a shame McDonough has not had a star career that some might have predicted for him since his stint on 2001's Band of Brothers but his biggest role may not have been filmed yet: He's rumored to play Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader "Dum Dum" Dugan in the upcoming Captain America movie. He certainly did well by himself here.

Outside the main foursome, the casting gets a little weird. Kathleen Robertson portrays the evil Azgadellia, and unfortunately she's long on sexy and short on talent. As an evil sorceress, she's unbelievable, and that's not acceptable from a lead role. One of the more interesting things about Azgadellia are the tattoos on her chest. These tattoos are actually her flying monkeys and releasing them requires her to... um... unstrap her corset and shove her bosom at the camera. Then we see the tattoos change into flying monkeys and fly off. Well, at least Robertson had the cleavage (or at least outstanding support) for the role. Much better is Callum Keith Rennie (of pseudo-BSG fame) as Zero, captain of the guard who's got it out for Cain. He's the one who took Cain's family away and locked him in the iron suit in the first place, so their scenes together are definitely worth watching.

Then we get to the Wizard. I'm still not sure Dreyfus brought anything special to the role, though he certainly hammed it up a lot. Perhaps that was all the role asked for, so if that was it, he certainly did that. It's a success for Dreyfus just being in something good (Seriously, he's been in very few good things since Jaws in 1975!) so we shouldn't be too hard on him. He doesn't hurt the story, so we'll give him a pass. Other great performances by Blu Mankamu, Ted Whittall and a young Alexia Fast help add character to the story.

The world of the O.Z. is both beautiful and ugly, inspiring and reprehensible. It has many faces and many sides, and a populace to match. On the special effects side, much of the 3D animations are done very well, and the costume and set designers did quite well building places and people who would reliably inhabit these types of scenes, and should be commended (in fact, they won an Emmy for best makeup in a miniseries, and were nominated for four Emmys related to effects) for their hard work. The only instances that didn't look right or real were some blue screen moments, ones involving our heroes running and the camera looking up at them from below. It's painfully obvious that the actors are running in place, and the movement behind and above them looks like it's happening somewhere else, with the actor edited in later. It really kills the atmosphere when something like that happens. Thankfully, it's not often enough to really disassemble the otherwise outstanding visuals.

I may have been 3 years late reviewing this, but Tin Man was everything I hoped it'd be. Sure, some of the casting was a little skewed, and I'm sorry but the ending was a little anti-climactic (although perhaps ironically appropriate). What this series showed was just how much the Sci-Fi Channel could accomplish with it's own original material and an open license. After all, this is the same channel that's brought us Eureka, the new Doctor Who, and Battlestar Galactica, probably one of the best shows on TV, period. Tin Man, though not a regular series like the previously mentioned shows, had all it's strengths and was a lot of fun to watch. If you haven't seen this yet, I definitely recommend it.


Opinioness of the World said...

Fantastic review, John!! I definitely will have to check this out. Although, it does sound eerily similar to if "MirrorMask" and the book "Wicked" had a love child!

Love Alan Cumming (who was fabulous as "O" on "Sex and the City")!! He can do no wrong. And besides "Jaws," Richard Dreyfuss was also good in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Stand By Me," "Nuts" and "Mr. Holland's Opus."

Opinioness of the World said...

Oh and nice with the "Seinfeld" reference...great visual!!

Gianni said...

Just for the record (and to be finicky) I never that said Dreyfuss was in nothing good since Jaws, just that he had been in very little that was good. I will fully accept the aforementioned films listed by the Opinioness as "good" movies he's done. For as long a career as he's had, though, I would expect more.

Thanks for the great feedback, though, it's much appreciated!

brian said...

Good Richard Dreyfuss movies since Jaws:

Close Encounters
Down and Out in Beverly Hills
Stand by Me
Stake Out
Tin Men
Postcards from the Edge
What about Bob
James and the Giant Peach
Night falls on Manhattan
Piranha 3-D (haven't seen it yet, but clearly it's going to be awesome).

These are just the ones I've seen.

Good review other than the dismissal of RD's career. I'll probably never watch this, but good job nonetheless.