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Tin Man (Sci Fi Channel Original)

Article Written by: Thomas Fox Averill

     Sci Fi channel executives, maintaining that stories like Baum’s The Wizard of Oz “deserve to be re-imagined
for a new generation,” did just that in their 2007 Tin Man.  They aren’t the first to re-imagine, re-invent and
renew this classic American fairy tale.  The Wiz (1975) was a hit on Broadway.  Nurse Betty (2000) paid homage from Hollywood.   Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995) and Goeff Ryman’s Was (1992) did the same in literature.  All are adaptations that enhance and reflect on Baum’s 1900 novel.

     In the Sci Fi version, Oz is the O.Z. (Outer Zone).  D.G. (Zooey Deschanel) is descended from the original
Dorothy Gale.  She is 20, living in Kansas, a waitress in a blue gingham apron, bored and sensing she has another
destiny.  O.Z. is ruled by a Wicked Witch/Sorceress, who “fifteen annuals ago” possessed the body of D.G.’s
sister, Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson), and had the young princess kill her five-year-old sister.  The Queen, their mother, breathed all her magical power into D.G. (light and protection well beyond the kiss given Dorothy Gale in Munchkin Land by Glinda the Good Witch).  Then she sent D.G. to Kansas, where she is raised by android parents who help prepare her for her destiny.

     D.G.’s fate plays out in the six-hour, made-for-television miniseries Tin Man.   The first episode became Sci
Fi’s most-wa
tched telecast and the highest-rated cable miniseries of 2007.  This re-interpretation, revival,
re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz is clever, thoughtful, and well-produced.   Even when it is not living up to the best of story-telling, it is at least engaging.

     D.G. is transported back to the O.Z. by a tornado created by the Sorceress’ longcoats as they disguise their
attempt to kill her.  She soon finds her O.Z. companions.  Glitch (Alan Cumming), the Scarecrow, is former advisorto the queen.  Half his brain has been cut out to help run a Sun Seeder machine he invented, but which will soon be turned toward evil—enabling an eclipse to fix O.Z. in permanent darkness.  D.G. rescues him from feather-bedecked Munchkins, their faces painted blue and red.  Glitch has the best lines in this adaptation, as does Baum’s scarecrow, as does Ray Bolger in MGM’s 1939 classic. 

     The eponymous Tin Man is Wyatt Cain (Neal McDonough).  In the Outer Zone, tin men were police.  Cain doubled as an agent of the resistance, trying to overthrow Azkadellia.  His wife and son are tortured in front of him and he is locked in a metal suit and doomed to view the torture in a continuous loop until rescued by D.G. and Glitch.

     Soon, they are joined by Raw (Raoul Trujillo), the stand-in for the Cowardly Lion.  Raw is half-man, half-lion, a seer who reads emotions and memories.  They rescue him from the Field of the Papay, now a dead orchard.

     The O.Z. plot is simple:  a race to find the "Emerald of the Eclipse" which will power Azkadellia’s doomsday
machine.  The powerful stone, of course, is destined to be found by D.G., once she knows who she is and begins to reassert her magic.  And how to find the emerald?  Follow the Yellow Brick Road, to Central City, not green but grey and dark, obviously ruled by fear.  In this adaptation, billed as “Beyond the Yellow Brick Road,” the Wizard role is shared.  The first incarnation is Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfuss).   When Azkadellia finds that her sister is headed to Central City, she tells her henchman, Zero, “The little bitch has gone to see the wizard.”

     The second wizard figure is D.G.’s father, Ahamo (Ted Whittall), who lives in the Land of the Unwanted.  He was one of the first to penetrate the skin between our world and the outer zone, in a balloon, of course, from the Nebraska State Fair—his name is Omaha spelled backward.  He flies D.G. to the ancestral tomb where Dorothy Gale, the “first slipper” herself, gives D.G. the magical gem.  The sequence is set in Kansas, and is filmed in black and white.

     Toto is Tutor (Blu Mankuma), once tutor to the young princesses, D.G. and Azkadellia.  Tutor shape-shifts between a hugeman and a cairn terrier.  He begins as traitor, set free by the sorceress only if he pretends to help D.G.’s party while dropping discs that track their progress toward the emerald.  Then, in true Toto style, he helps fight Azkadellia’s longcoats—thick-headed automatonslike the Winkies.  The Winged Monkeys are Mobats, who materialize from tattoos just above Azkadellia’s breasts.

     The parallels between Oz and O.Z. abound, but beyond those adaptations is the added story of the sisters’ past.  As they move into memory to reach their goals (D.G. light and freedom, Azkadellia darkness and tyranny), they recover a time when the bond between them could protect them from all dangers, all evil.  D.G. realizes that her adventurousness allowed Azkadellia’s possession by the powerful witch.  And, at the end, Azkadellia realizes she has been inhabited.  So, without a moment to spare—yes, that breathless—each finds the strength to reunite, to hold hands.  The possessing witch melts into a black puddle, the eclipse ends and light transforms the O.Z. into fruitful green once again.

     This second plot is sometimes slow in its development, but it also echoes L. Frank Baum in the books that followed The Wizard of OzOzma of Oz tells the story of how the true Princess of Oz, Ozma, has been usurped by the Wicked Witches, and been in hiding as Pip, a boy.  He’s not initially happy to discover his true identity as princess.  In other Oz books over the19-book series, Baum created magical creatures like T. M. Wogglebug and Tik-Tok, who seem to combine as inspiration for a wise man among Tin Man’s resistance movement whose body is part spider, part copper bowl.  And Baum ends the Oz series with a submerged, submarine-like world that is as fascinating as it is technologically impossible.  L. Frank Baum would have loved
the setting of Tin Man, reflecting as it does his own fascinations with magic and machinery, fairy tale and technology, time warps and time travels, mysteries and puzzles.

     Tin Man is sometimes a slave to the re-invention.  Often the recognition is a delight—the “Lions and tigers and bears” line from the 1939 film.  But when Raw turns fearful before the group storms Azkadellia’s fortress, Baum’s Cowardly Lion, rather than Raw’s character, is dictating the action.  Each viewer will have equal moments of delight and grimace at such genuflections to the previous adaptations of The Wizard of Oz.

     L. Frank Baum and his Oz have obvious power in literature and film culture.  A quintessential belief and faith in home andfamily, and the triumph of simple good over complicated evil make his an innocent and very American tale.  His great triumvirate—heart, head and the will to action—permeate all his work.  Tin Man complements, even occasionally enhances, Baum’s creation and his spirit—in a new world, for a new audience.

Tom Averill, Washburn University

Tin Man


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