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 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.

  7 Responses to “Tin Man: recycled”

  1. Yeah, I'm with you on this one. I was anticipating something slightly better than what came on.

    Overall, I was underwhelmed with the visuals. Also, in several points it feels like they cut scenes to make the time limit, but didn't cut references that the characters make to those scenes.

    Also, I would have liked to have seen a little more back story on the "wicked witch". Was she the one from the original? Another complaint, many character motivations seemed either off or down right nonsensical.

    Finally, I was really bothered by the "DG tells her friends all the things she learned from them through her journey". I call bullshit. "Oh lion, you had courage all along!" what a crock.

    Oh well, at least it wasn't a repeat of The Langoliers or another crappy Stephen King adaptation.

  2. Well, on the one hand it might be worthwhile to have the backstory (especially given who "Dorothy Gale" seemed to be), but on the other hand, I was so disinterested by the whole thing that I didn't care who the witch was.

    As far as that sappy parts, that was part of the dissonance thing I was talking about. Those segments would really belong in a classic Oz adaptation, but because they've tried so hard to make it look and feel more "adult" it just seems out of place.

  3. Wow, I'm glad I read your review. I contemplated checking this out at some point, but since I have precious few TV viewing opportunities, Tin Man was just dropped waaaay down the priority list.

  4. You're right Micheal, all in all it was a perfectly crommulent adaptation.

  5. Sparky,

    If you ever want to cross-post stuff like this to Ray Bradbury's Love-Camel, let me know and I'll add you as a team member. Or anything pop culture related (we have no real gamers contributing to the site, so you could do reviews of games, too). You've seen the site, so you know the kinds of things we put up there. We could always use more posters/posts.

  6. I enjoyed the series for what it was: entertainment.

  7. It never ceases to amaze me that people think that's some kind of excuse. There are plenty of entertaining films with scripts and staging that aren't terrible. Perhaps Tin Man should have shot for that. Even if it's "just entertainment", we can still criticize the thing for utterly failing at what it set out to do.

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