Robert Halmi Sr. has remade a host of classics, until the major networks tired of diminishing returns on those gaudy investments, and the venerable showman took his act to cable. Enter “Tin Man,” a semi-surreal adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz” stitched together from bits of “The Matrix,” “Blade Runner” and “Snow White” to create a brooding fantasy that — understandably given the variety of influences — proves a bit of a mess. Sci Fi has done well with minis in December, but despite the intriguing concept three consecutive nights of this adventure falls several Yellow Bricks shy of a load.
Granted, “The Wizard of Oz” has proved a fertile breeding ground for every sort of knockoff and homage, including a couple of myth-bending musicals. In that respect, Halmi has again exhibited his knack for big, marketable concepts that frequently turn out less satisfying in the actual consumption.
Written by Craig W. Van Sickle and Steve Long Mitchell, “Tin Man” begins with the grown-up D.G. (as in “Dorothy Gale,” somewhat blandly played by Zooey Deschanel), a bored waitress and part-time student who mutters that there “has to be more to life than this.”
Soon enough, she’s swept off to the Outer Zone (or the O.Z., for short), where she’s pursued by the evil Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson), a sorceress whose minions include jack-booted, leather-wearing Gestapo types and flying bat-like CGI monkeys emanating — no lie — from her villainous cleavage.
Understandably overwhelmed, D.G. begins assembling other outcasts to assist in her quest, including the babbling Glitch (Alan Cumming), who had his brain removed by Azkadellia’s totalitarian state, which seeks to “reeducate” criminals; Cain (Neal McDonough), a cop — known in the O.Z. as “tin men” — whose family was abducted; and Raw (Raoul Trujillo), a cowardly lion with psychic abilities.
With D.G. as the reluctant Neo in this piece (“She’s the key” we’re told early on), it’s pretty clear we’re not in Oz anymore, much less Kansas. The O.Z. is a grim place, filled with hookers, nastiness and a “mystic man” (Richard Dreyfuss) whose wonderfulness is derived from what he inhales out of a pipe. In short, any parents planning to sit down with young kids should be forewarned.
That leaves a target audience of fanboys and their imaginary girlfriends, but “Tin Man’s” look and action sequences don’t fully deliver the goods. At times, the tall-tree, dual-sun setting resembles a low-rent version of Ewok land, and the final installment’s drawn-out climactic sequence apes “Lord of the Rings.”
The story also drags during the second and third nights while fleshing out its convoluted mythology, incorporating ponderous flashbacks about how Azkadellia (most memorable for Robertson’s fabulous assortment of frocks) became evil.
“Tin Man” does weave in an endless assortment of puns and knowing asides, including a few that appear directly aimed at Friends of Dorothy. Ultimately, though, that’s small compensation for embarking on this extended journey.
To Sci Fi’s credit, projects of this scope require considerable courage, and the desire to breathe new life into another beloved classic demonstrates heart. Now if it only had a brain.