Tin Man

Written by Craig W. Van Sickle & Steven Long Mitchell

Based on “The Wonderful World of Oz” by L. Frank Baum

Directed by Nick Willing

2007


Cast:

Zooey Deschanel

Neal McDonough

Kathleen Robertson

Alan Cumming

Raoul Truillo

Richard Dreyfuss


Studio:

Theatrical:  RHI Entertainment & Reunion Pictures

Television: SyFy Channel

Video: Vivendi Entertainment


Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Codec: VC-1

Disc Size: 44.24 GB

Feature Size: 43.90 GB

Bit Rate: 29.02 Mbps

Runtime: 4 hrs. 27 min.

Episodes: 3

Chapters per epsiode: 10

Region: (Undetermined)


Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1


Subtitles: English


Extras: 5

Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: Making of Tin Man (21:50)

Nick Willing: On Set with the Director (6:00)

Wizard Tricks: Bloopers & Gags (9:18)

Brain, Heart & Courage - Interviews (ca. 86 min.)

Making the Mystic Man (36:30)

Original Trailer


Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray case: 2 discs

Release Date: June 20, 2010

Introduction:

I hung up my television broadcast spurs with the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in May of 2003.  After that I would watch what TV I wanted to watch only on home video.  I felt no need to keep up with the times - six months or so late was OK by me, and in exchange I could watch whatever, whenever, with or without audio commentaries or subtitles.  With the advent of High Definition TV and Blu-ray, I was hooked, and I never looked back.


As a result, I sometimes would come by a title I knew absolutely nothing about prior to its arrival in the post for review.  “Tin Man” is one such title.  I had reviewed SyFy’s “Alice” on Blu-ray just a few months earlier and, once I realized the gist of what I had in my hand, I was not surprised to see Nick Willing’s name at the helm - though, I soon discovered, “Tin Man” was aired two years before “Alice.”  When I noticed Zooey Deschanel’s name at the head of this cast,  I thought, “Sure, she would have been the perfect Alice.”  And I predicted she would be just as right for the role of a modern Dorothy - or “DG” as she is called here.


     


Originally aired on the SyFy channel over successive evenings in December, 2007, “Tin Man”  is to L. Frank Baum’s popular children’s book, “TheWonderful World of Oz” as that same channel’s “Alice” was to Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland” - a kind of sequel in modern fantastic CG dress.  It even has the same director, Nick Willing.


The idea here was to take the basic Baum story, with all its map points, and leaven it with psychological layers and more adult characters and situations along the way.  As an idea, I found this worked quite well - I particularly liked how the story unfolded and presented our ersatz “Dorothy” with more challenges than overcoming magic spells, though there was plenty of that, too. But there is still the telling of the story - and therein lies the rub.  More on that presently.


     


The Movie: 4

“DG” is a farm girl who works as a waitress in a small town in Kansas.  She is bored, restless and has troubling dreams.  She complains to her parents that life has to hold something more for her than this.  Her parents exchange knowing bits of conversation apart from DG.  Something is up- and it’s not in Kansas.  Cut to the parallel universe of Oz - or the “O.Z.” as it is known in those parts.  The beautiful and evil sorceress Azkadellia will stop at nothing to get her hands on the emerald that could plunge the country into eternal darkness and give her ultimate power over the land (think: Sauron).  But she fears one person who could conceivably upend her plans.  (Guess who?)  So she dispatches her henchmen to Kansas to dispose of DG.  They arrive in the expected tornado, in whose whirling substance DG makes her unwitting escape.


DG lands in a strange forest peopled by odd looking little men in odder costumes who take DG for one of Azkadellia’s spies.  They imprison her in a suspended hut where she finds “Glitch” a man with no brain, quite literally.  It’s a wonder he can talk or move at all, but then, logic and natural law have little sway in the O.Z. After their escape DG and Glitch pick up other traveling companions: There’s Wyatt Cain, an understandably cynical ex- tin man (a policeman whose Stetson suggests more than passing resemblance to Indiana Jones) who’s been locked away in an iron suit for several years.  And there’s “Raw” a lionlike fellow who lacks spine but, in the manner of Spock’s mind meld, has a heightened ability to read thoughts and feelings.  They are on their way to find the Mystic Man in Central City, not so much to recover their absent parts, but for other reasons that, we guess, will ultimately lead them to find their brain, heart, courage and home.


     


Every good fairy tale should have a killer villain, and Kathleen Robertson’s Azkedellia is made to order.  She is as dangerous as she is smoldering.  Dressed in a stunning hourglass corset and bustier that rivets our attention to, among other things, tattoos that spring to life every now and then in the form of flying monkey-like creatures.  Azkedellia has imprisoned her mother, the queen, on some small obscure plot of land (a lovely piece of property, actually) while she plots to find and gain control of the Emerald of the Eclipse.


On the whole Tin Man’s art design is imaginative and, as with the diving suit that the tin man is locked in and the manner in which Azkadellia imprisons her mother, occasionally brilliant.  However, there are altogether too many instances, some of them serious, where the screenplay doesn’t quite line up with what we see.  One example should serve:  Upon DG’s arrival in the O.Z. she is held captive in a large wooden hut, suspended from a tall tree.  From there she can see the “Longcoats” below looking for her.  Despite the evidence of the camera looking down over her shoulder, the script makes as if she can see them but they can’t see her, for all they have to do is casually look up, and there she’d be. But they don’t - look up, I mean. To make this paradox all the more problematic, the creatures that put DG in the hut live in these very tall trees, like Ewoks, and this fact must be known to all.  The Longcoats would naturally look up if for no other reason than to see if any of these weird little creatures, no friends of Azkadellia, are about.  DG’s escape is as easy as it is improbable.


     


The screenplay, oddly titled “Tin Man” - since his story, though interesting, is not central - by Craig W. Van Sickle & Steven Long Mitchell, is the movie’s most glaring liability.  Among other things, it’s hard to say who the target audience is.  On the one hand, the show is entirely too violent for young children, whilst for us adults, the dialogue frequently lapses into subletting popular cliches (“There has to be more to life than this”).  The writers appear to be satisfied with half baked stabs at iconic phraseology, and I suspect their script is the main reason why it takes so long for the likes of Alan Cumming and Zooey Deschanel to find their character.  For the longest time both of them appear to be in a daze.  Zooey positively sleepwalks through the first thirty minutes.  I recognize that her character is restless and uncertain about her place on this earth or where to find it, and I accept that Alan Cumming’s character has had his brain removed and speaks in halting phrases, but a good screenplay will cue the actor as to how to affect that confusion in a dynamic way so as to engage the audience.  A good director can help, but can’t make pig’s ear out of a purse, even in a fantasy.


Perhaps the most bewildering scene in terms of writing, is the dialogue between DG and Mystic Man in Azkadellia’s dungeon.  Mystic Man makes it clear that Azkadellia has the place bugged and suggests a code which they first agree to and then promptly violate at every turn.  It’s a waste of two good actors.


     


One thing that has always amused me about sci-fi movies in general is how everyone speaks understandable English but, so as to demonstrate to the audience that this is another time and place, there is the occasional term that stands in for a perfectly good expression in English.  I usually let this pass as a more or less unavoidable consequence of story telling, but in Tin Man these lapses are often unintentionally laughable, as in substituting “annuals” for “years”, even though the writers are perfectly comfortable using words and phrases like “bogus” “head-case” “hypothermia” and “professional psychiatric help”.


Many of the ways in which writers and co-producers Sickle & Mitchell (sounds like a Dickensian law firm) make their own use of Baum’s language struck me as unimaginative or silly, by turns: Take “DG” for instance.  Given who this character is, there can be no doubt as to the inference (Dorothy Gale), but what parents would christen their daughter “DG” I ask you?  This is not a nickname, mind you, but her actual name.  With far more exotic names, like “Azkadellia” floating about like escapees from a Harry Potter novel, you’d a thought . . .


     


Then there’s “Toto” - you remember, the dog.  How DG’s tutor gets to be called “Toto” is one of the real groaners lying in wait for us. And in place of “Oz” they have “the O.Z.” by which they mean the Outer Zone.  I like the “Tin Man” (for his tin star) and “Raw” (for his growl, which he announces at his first opportunity and which comes off better spoken than it appears in print.) As for “Tin Man” - that’s not really his name.  It’s Wyatt Cain.  DG calls him “Mr. Cain” presumably so as not to make the Wyatt reference any more obvious than it is.


Azkedellia and the Tin Man are really the only characters that keep us interested in the movie for the first couple of hours.  Alan Cumming’s Glitch, unlike Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow, evidences neither heart nor brain.  Dreyfuss has the only truly touching scene in the movie in his dressing room as he comes in and out of a drug-induced stupor, just beginning to realize what he has done with his life.  But none of these actors is able to rise above the material for long.  Director Willing is of little help, especially when so much of the action is staged against a green screen.  Can you imagine the MGM musical without its sets?  I don’t think their actors would have been able to either.


     


Image: 6/7

This has to be one of the strangest looking pictures I’ve come across in a long time.  Strange because there’s really no reason for it to be so odd:  We normally focus on faces and the eyes first in most scenes unless it’s an action scene or the faces are a small part of the frame.  What’s strange is how frequently the focal point is not the eyes or face but somewhere on the tunic.  Faces are generally without texture - though not waxy as if DNR had been applied.  In fact, I noticed no transfer oddities over the four and half hours.  DG’s face is particularly soft and fuzzy - and for this I can offer no dramatic rationale.  Hair is often matted, though not always.  Once or twice hair is naturally light and wispy.  On the other hand, trying to make sense of what Glitch has on top of head besides the zipper is an exercise in self-abuse.  Beyond this, several of the CG landscapes have very poor definition, though castles and the facades of other buildings are superbly rendered.


When I scaled down from my 104-inch screen to examine the disc on my 24-inch iMac display it appeared surprisingly passable.  Keep this in mind as you consider your expectations.  So much for the benefits of a high bit rate.  I was so distracted by the image’s lack of distinction I forgot to see if there were transfer issues, but if there are they are nothing in comparison.  I doubt that any of the problems I see are the fault of the transfer, rather it seems to the result of selective post-processing.


     


Audio & Music: 7/6

While the image quality invites extended comment, I’m happy that I can’t say nearly as much for the audio.  It’s certainly consistent: dialogue is always clear and there is some attempt to render it properly given the scene (Azkadellia’s dungeon, the Great Hall at the end of Episode 1, outdoors).  The tornado that brings the Longcoats to Kansas and sweeps DG back to the O.Z. has plenty of power; we can close our eyes and feel its presence all around us.  Simon Boswell’s music, while appropriate enough, unabashedly channels the likes of fantasy composers like James Horner and John Williams circa The Empire Strikes Back.  The music always opens up the soundstage, often deep into the surrounds, as with the tornado.  Most of the time, there is only a modest attempt at atmospheric ambience, but not nearly to the extent of what we would expect in a sci-fi or fairy tale presentation.


     


Extras: 4

For all the extra features, there is only one that is a making-of look at the movie.  The twenty-one minute “Beyond the Yellow Brick Road” is divided into four sections: the first, occupying some eleven minutes, examines each of the main characters, how they are derived from Baum’s original, and how they function in the mini-series.  Then there are two segments that look at production: CG effects and Art Direction (set design, makeup and wardrobe.)  That’s precious little time devoted to what catches our attention.  This feature winds up with a brief bit about the movie’s message or philosophy, which hardly needs revisiting or exploring, being clear enough on film.


     


There is quite a collection of interviews with the director and the principle members of the cast: Nick Willing, Zooey Deschanel, Alan Cumming, Neal McDonough, Kathleen Robertson, and Raoul Truillo, clocking in at about ten minutes each - double that for the director.  The time is hefty enough, but the substance is not there, I’m afraid.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but these interviews are very self- and other-congratulatory with lots of gee whiz factor thrown in for good measure.


“Making the Mystic Man” is a curious segment: more than a half-hour is devoted to watching a fairly unedited HD fly on the wall as Dreyfuss more or less directs his entrance and those about him.  It’s rather fascinating, in its way.


     


Recommendation: 5

Tin Man is harmless enough, even if it has precious little brain or heart.  Kids around ten and fanboy types might eat it up. Despite the two discs, the price is a steal at RRP $19.97.  Still, I’d rent first.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

July 6, 2010



     


 

      
    
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