Dec 082007
 
As Tin Man, the Sci-Fi Channel’s “re-imagining” of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz entered its fifth hour, I found myself wishing that I was watching The Wiz instead. I don’t mean that The Wiz was a better piece of cinema than the new mini-series, though arguably it was more visually inventive. However, it shared an important virtue with the book and the original movie musical that the present adaptation lacks: it knew what it was. The Oz story is not a sophisticated adult story about contemporary morality, it is a child’s story about wonder and adventure. It can be turned into something more sophisticated, with enough effort, but that’s a task at which Tin Man manifestly failed.

The presentation looked more sophisticated, I grant. But dressing people up in black leather does not, in fact, make for a sophisticated story. All this dark, steampunk set-dressing looks pretty cool, but it doesn’t really fit with the theme of magical little girls who save their world with the power of love. The more adult visuals simply didn’t mesh with the story that was presented. As a result, I felt a certain dissonance, as if I were seeing Strawberry Shortcake depicted as a dominatrix.

And while the story was unsatisfying on its own merits—a tale of a counterproductive MacGuffin fetch quest that heavily involves amnesia, of all damn things—it was even less satisfying as a re-imagining of Baum’s original. When you re-imagine something, you ought to say something new, otherwise you’re just making fan fiction. But Tin Man is essentially childish in its presentation of good and evil, and the only adaptations it makes to Baum’s world are to insert stock elements from other sci-fi worlds and movies, as well as importing Nurse Ratched’s hair. You can read Wizard of Oz crossovers at fanfiction.net if that’s what you want; there’s no reason to make a movie out of them.

Don’t misunderstand me, Tin Man isn’t bad. It looks nice, and the actors largely do a good job (although the child who plays little DG was not very good). The music leaves something to be desired, but doesn’t offend. But Tin Man just feels unnecessary, a superfluous bit of fluff trying to staple a grown-up look onto a childish and irrelevant story.

The Sci-Fi channel is a curious contradiction. Most of its original series (at present, anyway) are actually pretty good, and their re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica may be the best scripted show on television. Their original movies, however, are largely pathetic drivel starring actors that have washed up on this shore after fading from better careers. And then there are the mini-series, which are typically of very high quality, probably because many of them are adapted from books. In this case, it seems, the movie quality bled into the mini-series. Although the production values of Tin Man were high, the writing was poor, and in the end, you’d be better off watching the original, rather than this fanfic.