Sexier than a librarian (your librarian may vary).Okay, that's a cute concession... I think. I'm still not buying one, though.
Last night I caught Tin Man, the Sci-Fi Channel's "original reimagining" of the Wizard of Oz story. I shouldn't have caught it -- I shouldn't have even bothered to raise my glove -- but a few weeks back I had a conversation with my pal Mo, who is probably the biggest L. Frank Baum fan I know east of the Mississippi.
"You gonna watch it?" she asked me. "Zooey Deschanel is in it. Richard Dreyfuss is in it. Alan Cumming is playing the scarecrow character. I got ahold of the script."
"Yeah?" I said. "How is it?"
"Oh my god."
"Is that oh my god good or oh my god bad?"
"Just watch the damn thing. And be online when you do, because I want to see your reaction."
Oh, I had a reaction all right, bordering on the anaphylactic.
It wasn't that someone had gone and taken The Wizard of Oz and made something new out of the characters and mythos. There's been plenty of "reimaginings" or whatever they're calling adaptations nowadays. I rather like The Wiz, for one. Even though it's definitely a product of its time, it's still a very imaginative approach and faithful to both its roots and its "urbanization" concept. Gregory Maguire went and wrote hisself a nifty revisionist prequel, exploring why the Wicked Witch of the West was so darned wicked. Then Stephen Schwartz came in, set the prequel to music, and made it pop-yu-ler. (He also gave a lot of young women reason to wear green makeup while he was at it.)
But there are good adaptations and there are bad adaptations. And lordy mama, this one ain't so good. It's got a great concept which emphasizes the dystopian angle from the original stories, makes things dark, I'm cool with that. And ok, sure, it's cute to make little Oz-like nods at the beginning while Zooey our heroine (named D.G. -- get it? GET IT?!) lives in the Real World. She pines for a life Anywhere But Here, rides a motorcycle instead of a bike, is harassed by Officer Gulch (the name of the mean old lady in Kansas who tries to steal Toto) and works as a waitress at a diner where she wears a familiar-looking blue-and-white checked apron. But too many cutesy nods turn grating and contrived, and you start looking for things to hurl at the TV screen when Alan Cumming tells the Tin Man (who's not really metal, he's a flesh-and-blood lawman, get it, tin badge) to "have a heart" or when the Evil Character in this story (a sorceress named Azkadelia or something) learns of DG's trip to the decidedly un-green Central City and haughtily remarks "Well! She's off to see the wizard." (The guy's known as The Mystic Man in this story, and nobody uses the word "wizard" except for this one scene. Ha ha ha. Ho ho ho. And a couple of tra-la-las.)
But frankly, the thing lost all its credibility entirely due to one incredibly poor choice in naming. See, the Oz setting in this story is a parallel universe split off from our own and, in a prescient move, the inhabitants named their universe the "Outer Zone." Okay, that's pretty cool.
But everybody refers to it as "the O.Z." That's right. "The Oh-Zee." THE OH-ZEE. Somebody was obviously watching Fox when they wrote this screenplay and let me tell you, the ultra-hip abbreviation was ludicrous enough in the original. Its adapted counterpart sounds absolutely horrid in Tin Man. Each time someone says "the O.Z." the show loses another chunk of potential coolness. And people say it a lot. My shoulders hurt from all the cringing.
Enough of the non-spoilers. This is how we roll in tha O.Z.
The script is riddled with cliches and not good or fun cliches, but ones that make Roger Ebert roll his eyes and point knowingly to its entry in his Bigger Little Movie Glossary. For example, when the evil sorceress Azrael or whatever kills her second-in-command because he's "failed her for the last time", she then turns to the next henchman standing there and says "You've just been promoted." Haven't seen that one before, no sir.
And then there's the Big Deviation. The one that, looking back, seems almost inevitable because lord knows the plot couldn't have been handled in any other way. It's the one which makes me want to go up to Joseph Campbell and kick him square in his Power of Myth.
D.G. isn't, of course, a normal girl thrown into this crazy world. No, no, she's actually the daughter of the former queen of tha O.Z. And the sister she never knew she had is (bum bum bummmmmm) the evil sorceress Azkaban! Azeroth delivers this exposition in not only a flashback viewed through a magic flashback mirror, but also in the form of a recited prophecy which is written, as all prophecies must be, in terribly clunky rhyme. Oh, and also, while living in the Real World, D.G. had these dreams about a woman with lavender eyes, and she drew pictures of this woman, and it turns out to be her real mom, who sent D.G. to the Real World after Aztheworldturns decided to go and kill her little sister, and D.G.'s farmer parents in the Real World are actually robots who were, and I swear this is an actual line, "programmed to love you and protect you" until the story says it's time to travel to tha O.Z. This is because, as the prophecy tells us:
There is a magic emerald which is very green and shiny
And to get her hands upon it the bad girl will kick some hiney
Cause the sister with the emerald will be the one who rules tha O.Z.
And the other will have to star in indie films with Parker Posey.
These six stars are here to give you time to try and comprehend all of this.
Now that you've at least tried, let's move on.
This was not a story that was written on a computer in screenplay format. This was a story that was scribbled in a spiral-bound notebook covered in Lisa Frank stickers.
At this point I threw my hands up and decided to let 'em have their nasty little way with the story, because there was nothing that I could to do to stop this cannonball express of suck. Have I mentioned recently how sick and tired I am of The One stories? Well, I'm sick and tired of The One stories. I hate stories which can't give us a compelling enough protagonist without resorting to informing us that we're supposed to be rooting for this character-free blob of uselessness because it is, and has always been, their Destiny to be The One who Saves The [day/land/city/people/planet/universe/co
This also completely goes against the original Wizard of Oz story in a way that the other adaptations didn't, and they didn't for a very good reason because it's one of the most fundamental aspects of Dorothy's journey: Dorothy is a normal girl in a normal, boring world who quite literally drops in to the fantastic kind of land she's always wanted to visit. She learns, however, that this land ain't the awesome Technicolor paradise she thought it was, but makes some friends along the way who pledge to help her in the same way she selflessly helped them.
And what's her motivation and her goal? To get home. Simple as that. The Wizard whom she must consult, the task she must accomplish in order to have her boon granted, and the realization that the Wizard is just a little man behind the curtain comes after that, but it all comes about because Dorothy simply wants to go home. She was never predestined to kill both Wicked Witches, she was never The One who, it was foretold, would descend from the sky, free Munchkinland and become leader of the Flying Monkeys. She just does, though, in her quest to get home.
There's something to be said about sometime not being afraid to have your protagonist accomplish something enormously important due to basic kindness and a good dash of dumb luck. Fantasy and wish fulfillment be damned, not EVERYBODY can be The One. Grr. Peeve.
So in Tin Man, it's set up so that D.G. doesn't necessarily want to go home. Her (robot) parents travel to tha O.Z. with her as well so her first goal is to find them. Well, actually, judging from the way Zooey Deschanel lets her character deal with every new situation and complication, her first goal is to figure out What The Hell Is Going On Here, and then hopefully find her parents. She then travels to see The Mystic Man to ask where her parents are, What The Hell Is Going On Here and, once she knows, What The Hell Happens From Here? (I'm guessing on the last one there.)
The Mystic Man, played by Richard "I don't need to put up with this, you know! I was in Jaws!" Dreyfuss, is an oracle who does his thang in a cheesy nightclub setting, introduced by dancing girls with tom-toms on their hips who can't think of anything better to sing than "He's the Mystic Man! The Mystic Man! He's the Mystic Man! The Mystic Man!" For crying out loud, they don't even mention that he does whatever a mystic can.
In time-honored oracular fashion, the Mystic Man gives his miraculous answers after smoking some Really Good Shit (hey, there's historical precedent here.) And in order to have his audience believe his answers, he shares the Really Good Shit with them, too. This turn I rather liked, actually. The nice people of Central Not-Emerald City aren't simply guileless, gullible dupes; they're gullible dupes who've been drugged into belief.
When the story does something good, it does it reasonably well. Same with the Tin Man character, whom we first encounter inside a metal shell. A former lawman for tha O.Z., he and his family were attacked by Azalea's evil bald henchmen. His family were killed and, with Truman Capote unable to stop by and write about the tragedy, the Tin Man was imprisoned in the metal diving suit and forced to witness the slaughter over and over and over and over again as it played out in a time loop. That kind of cruelty really defines a villain, but it's sad when we actually watch the villain(ness) strut around and not do much on her own other than give imperious orders to "find that emerald!", kill henchmen and promote others, and then show up once D.G. makes her way to the royal castle of remembering things and trash talk in that evil sorcereress queen bitch fashion (no bippity-boppity hat, but she does wear this metal outfit with a high collar that must hurt if she turns her head suddenly.) You don't believe someone this campy could do stuff that horrible.
Such are the contradictions running rampant thru Tin Man. You don't believe something this cool could've been done so wrong. The concept's there, some of the design is really nifty, I actually do like the "heartless" Tin Man's lawman character who really belongs in his own dystopian Western, but oy. The constant pain does not justify the occasional flashes of "Oh, cool."
If anything, Tin Man has but a single moral, and that moral is there's no place like MGM.