The four travelers seem so familiar. One lacks courage, one has no brain, one lost his heart, and the other was brought here by a tornado. But as these ragtag pals traipse through the forest in search of their destinies, they don't break into song or meet sweet, helium-voiced witches in big, poufy ball gowns. They are in the O.Z. — aka the Outer Zone — a dictator state where bullets fly, people are horridly tortured and prostitutes peddle instant gratification on the roadside for "reasonable rates."
This isn't L. Frank Baum's nightmare. It's Tin Man (Sunday, Dec. 2 through Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 9 pm/ET), a radical Sci Fi Channel adaptation of his beloved book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. And though it was filmed near Vancouver amid idyllic surroundings — snowcapped peaks, placid lakes — make no mistake: This six-hour, three-night redo wants to slap us out of our over-the-rainbow stupor.
Starring Zooey Deschanel as frustrated waitress DG (Dorothy Gale. Get it?) and Neal McDonough (Traveler) as Wyatt Cain, a heartbroken ex-cop whose badge makes him the Tin Man of the title, it's the latest in a long line of Sci Fi's high-profile December epics (The Lost Room, The Triangle, Steven Spielberg's Taken).
"But Tin Man is not just another miniseries for us," insists Mark Stern, the channel's executive VP of original programming. "This is the kind of material where we just gotta get it right. Despite our mature approach, there is a spirit and a legacy to uphold."
Tin Man riffs on the 1939 MGM musical by tossing in evil flying monkey bats, resistance-fighter little people and even a surprising Toto. There are subtler shout-outs, too. "Some of the references you'll get immediately," Stern says. "Some you'll catch on a second or third viewing."
Yes, the powers at Sci Fi see Tin Man as an about-to-be-born classic, a holiday perennial and, soon, a must-have DVD. The cast is cheekily eager to make that happen. "I was apprehensive when I got the script," McDonough admits during a break on the set. "How can you outdo The Wizard of Oz, one of the greatest films ever? But this is completely different. A lot of kids today will watch the 1939 version and go, 'That's, uh, kinda goofy, isn't it?' This they will think is cool."
Tin Man pits Deschanel's character against the despotic sorceress Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson), who has a mad lust for violence and kinky leather. Those traveling with DG all have their own reasons to despise Azkadellia. Her gestapo-like soldiers tortured Cain's family, then forced him to watch the crime endlessly on a holographic loop. She carved out the mind of former royal top advisor Glitch (Alan Cumming) and inflicted so much pain on the kind leonine Raw (Raoul Trujillo) that he lost the nerve to use his psychic powers. The wizardly Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfuss) doesn't appear to be of much help: He's a drugged-out oracle who performs at a sleazy cabaret.
"I don't connect Tin Man to the Judy Garland movie," Deschanel says. "But they both do the same thing — make me get lost in the adventure and feel like a kid again." As a bored waitress, DG wears blue gingham — à la Garland — but off the clock she's an intrepid jeans-and-T-shirt kind of gal. "DG is a little reckless and a bit of an Indiana Jones," Deschanel says. "She doesn't need the other characters to protect her."
But she does need them as friends. For all its in-your-face audacity, Cumming says, "Tin Man is still what Oz has always been about — finding the power within and forging a family of one's own. And who doesn't love that?" A Tony-winning Broadway baby, Cumming points to the monster success of Wicked as proof that Baum's wild world "will not only survive but thrive when it's reimagined. This is mythic stuff."
He dismisses any suggestion that Tin Man goes too far. "We've still got a yellow brick road," he says. "We've just given that old road some new twists and turns."
Take a trip to the O.Z. with clips of Tin Man in our Online Video Guide.
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