SCI FI Channel's 'Tin Man': If It Only Had A Heart

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Tin Man
is SCI FI Channel’s ’07 addition to their stable of December mini-series – impressive yearly events that have become appointment tv.  Past minis include Taken, Dune, Earthsea, The Triangle, The Lost Room, Battlestar Galactica and others.  Taken won the ‘03 Emmy for outstanding mini and, while there have been some misses, expectations are nonetheless quite high.

Tin Man, a re-imagining of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" that airs for three consecutive nights starting tonight, is a visual feast.  A few of the special effects are a tad cheesy but generally the production values - the sets and backdrops in particular  - are gorgeous.

The cast is top notch.  Richard Dreyfuss puts in a decent albeit limited appearance.  Alan Cumming as Glitch, a scientist missing half his brain, makes the best of his lines.  Hands down, the most appealing - shining through his prosthetic make-up to tug at the heart strings - is the Apache/Ute actor Raoul Trujillo as Raw, the wolverine (or Lion). 

The young actress cast as the older of two princesses is poised, sliding effortlessly from innocence to the embodiment of evil.  

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Neal McDonough as the "Tin Man," a former cop hardened by his tragic past.  Like Cumming, he’s hampered by the limits of his material.  Zooey Deschanel (the neo-Dorothy, DG) spends far too much time in reaction shots, looking perplexed.  Deschanel can sing too, but she doesn’t in this production.

The first two hours launch with a rocking tornado scene but the pace quickly cools.  The series picks up steam in the second night, so the first evening is worth some viewing investment.

There are definitely some fun moments.  The mini is basically a sequence of chases and escapes as DG races to find a powerful emerald crystal with an evil witch in hot pursuit.  There are palaces and underground cities, and dungeons and beautiful mountain lakes. 

However, the overlay of glittery production values cannot disguise Tin Man’s core problem: lame dialog and plot devices lifted straight from the Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Cliches.

"Gee," said the mathematically inclined middle schooler who watched with me, "I can write better dialog than that.  And I’m not exactly the best at dialog writing in my class."

His Dad walked in, took a quick look at the evil, sultry, power-mad witch (Azkadellia) clad in full-length black with big shoulder feathers, and said, "Ooooh, Darth Vixen!"  –  then promptly lost interest and sacked out in front of the blazing fireplace.

Tin Man is a rip-off cloned from at least ten sci fi/fantasy favorites, including (but not limited to): Lord of the Rings,Wicked, Snow White, Star Trek TOS Vulcan mind melds, DuneIndiana Jones, the Star Wars bar scene,  a VERY obvious Ewok village right out of George Lucas’ WillowAround The World in Eighty Days plus a smattering of Butch Cassidyand the Sundance Kid, Stargate SG-1, and even Dr. Zhivago.

The aforementioned middle schooler said the eclipses and the synthesis of good/evil reminded him of the Jim Henson film, Dark Crystal.

The Tin Man dresses like Indiana Jones, right down to his matching Fedora.   At one point a bad witch says to the two young princesses, "The magic is strong in you."  Oy.

Tin Man is produced by Robert Halmi Sr. and Jr. who encountered some rough going when their company, RHI Entertainment, churned out another SCI FI mini, Earthsea.   Author Ursula Le Guin, writing in Slate, accused the producers of using the Earthsea name to create "a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot." 

SCI FI successfully updated the critically acclaimed Battlestar Galactica.  But updating a universally beloved classic like the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a risky venture in the best of circumstances.

While the network is to be commended for their daring, a classic project like this belongs in the hands of someone like Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies) - not the Halmi’s, whose reputations for hoaky remakes precede them.  (ABC’s Moses.  NBC’s Hercules. NBC’s The Odyssey, which "Time Magazine" called Baywatch: The B.C. Years.  I rest my case.)

Tin Man cost a reported $19 million. According to Variety: Sci Fi’s license fee will cover less than half of the production budget, so RHI gets the international rights to "Tin Man," with no participation by Sci Fi’s parent, NBC Universal. Sci Fi gets multirun, multiyear exclusive rights to the mini in the U.S.

It’s too bad more attention wasn’t paid (and money spent) on scripting equal to the fine cast and impressive production values.  But as Ginia Bellafante wrote in "Time Magazine" ten years ago, "Halmi has a penchant for pairing unnecessarily qualified talent to schlock product."

Tin Man may sell overseas but it won’t win an Emmy or burnish reputations.

Some of the cast manage to rise above the material - Dreyfuss, Trujillo and Cumming especially.  They, along with the pretty scenery, are reasons to tune in.   But unfortunately, Tin Man is missing its heart - a good script.

The Tin Man trailer:

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