The Sci-Fi Channel’s three-part “re-imagining” of L. Frank Baum’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ gets off to a sleepy, tedious start as we meet DG (Zooey Deschanel), a troubled youth stuck in a dead-end waitress job while living on her parents’ farm in rural Kansas. She keeps having dreams of a faraway land, and of a woman with lavender eyes (Anna Galvin). Meanwhile, in a realm known as The Outer Zone, or O.Z., the sorceress Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson) rules with an iron fist, using both magic and plain old military might. However, she learns of a girl from outside the O.Z. that might be a threat to her rule, and sends her Longcoats to eliminate her. Using a magical “travel storm” that generates a tornado, the Longcoats, led by the ruthless and cruel Zero (Callum Keith Rennie), attack DG and her parents. They escape by jumping into the tornado, which deposits DG in the O.Z.
She’s captured by the Munchkins, small primitive warriors (sort of a cross between the brownies in WILLOW and RETURN OF THE JEDI’s Ewoks) that suspect her of being a spy for Azkadellia. She’s imprisoned with Glitch (Alan Cumming), who’s had half his brain removed by Azkadellia because he knew too many of her secrets. They escape when the Longcoats attack the Munchkin village, and soon encounter a horrific scene of Zero torturing a family. DG tries to stop it, but the assault turns out to be a holographic recording left behind as a form of torture for a man imprisoned in a metal casket. He’s Wyatt Cain (Neal McDonough), a former law enforcer–or Tin Man, because of the tin badge he wears–from Central City who was helping the resistance movement against the sorceress. Presuming his wife and child dead, he seeks to kill Zero. DG and Glitch are looking for the Brick Route, which will lead them to Central City. Reluctantly, Cain agrees to show them the way, as it will take them through the territory of the deadly Pa-Pays. Edging carefully through the wild terrain, they find a timid, half-human creature trapped in a cocoon and release it. The Pa-pays attack, forcing the foursome over a cliff and into a lake below. Once safe, the creature is revealed to be a psychic known as a viewer, named Raw (Raoul Trujillo).
Following the Old Road, as it’s also called, they arrive in Milltown, the childhood home of DG’s parents, and she realizes they are from The O.Z. The town at first seems abandoned, but is actually populated by robots and cyborgs — including DG’s parents! It turns out she’s an O.Z. resident sent away by her real mother in the care of two Nurture Units, until it was safe for her to return. Milltown’s leader, Father Vue (R. Nelson Brown), tells DG that her real mother has lavender eyes, and had brought her to him as a young child to be sent away. Vue scorches a magical seal into her palm, telling DG it will lead her to her mother. He then suggests they continue along the Old Road to Central City and contact its former ruler, the Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfus). Cain knows the Mystic Man, having served in his police force, and agrees to get them into Central City. Once there, Cain leaves to search for Zero. DG, Glitch, and Raw see the Mystic Man, who has degenerated into a hack stage psychic, addicted to the drug-like “vapors” Azkadellia uses to keep her subjects subdued. But, he recognizes DG’s blue eyes, and sends her North to find her mother. As Zero and his henchmen arrive, Cain helps DG and the others escape. Just before they leave, the Mystic Man tells Cain that DG is the key to ending Azkadellia’s tyranny, and makes him swear an oath as a Tin Man to protect the girl at all costs. Missing his quarry, Zero takes the Mystic Man into custody. Azkadellia tortures the wizard, extracting the information on where DG is heading.
Heading North, the group eventually discovers a frozen palace that was once home to DG and her mother, who is the rightful Queen of The O.Z. Raw senses bad memories, and uses a mirror to show DG how her mother came to realize DG must be sent from the land for her own protection. Azkadellia and her Longcoats arrive, but Cain creates a diversion that allows the others to escape. Cain fiercely battles Zero and his soldiers, while the sorceress summons her Mobats (monkey-bats) to capture the fleeing DG, Glitch, and Raw.
Turning Baum’s enchanting fantasy tale into an overextended, brooding dark fantasy is nothing new. Walt Disney’s RETURN TO OZ amped up the scarier aspects of the Oz books back in 1985, but it still retained some of the charm inherent in the stories. McFarlane Toys’ Twisted Fairy Tales toy line created a set of Twisted Land of Oz figures that put a decidedly adult, goth/S&M edge to the tale, while keeping the basic premise recognizable. What writers Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle have done, though, is drained off all the charm, magic, and innocence of Baum’s plot, filtered it though their TV-writer sensibilities (both have written for 24, THE PRETENDER, SHE SPIES, MURDER SHE WROTE, and ALIEN NATION), and then liberally borrowed concepts from various sci-fi and dark fantasy films. Director Nick Willing (THE RIVER KING, DOCTOR SLEEP, 2000’s JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, 1999’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND) has a sloppy style that wastes Deschanel’s expressive eyes (often staring blankly when they should be emoting) and Dreyfus’ quirkiness. Really, casting Dreyfus as The Wizard in a version of THE WIZARD OF OZ that was faithful to Baum would have been a masterstroke! Here, he’s just … well, phoning it in, honestly. The rest of the cast tries their hardest, but the pedestrian scripting and uninspired effects work combine to conspire against them.
TIN MAN continues tonight (12/3) and tomorrow (12/4) at 9:00 PM on the Sci-Fi Channel.