Let's start by saying this: Is this the worst thing I've ever seen in my life? No. It is not. Because I've seen Meet Joe Black, and that was a far worse waste of my time than any one of the three Star Wars prequels. (Any time Brad Pitt getting hit by a car is the highlight of your movie, AND it happens within the first twenty minutes of the film, you should know you're in trouble.)
I'm here to warn you about Tin Man. It comes out on DVD on March 11th, and if there's one thing I can impart to you in this review, it's that you should not pay money to rent it or buy it. If you missed the original airing and the re-broadcast on the Sci Fi channel, you lucked out. That's six hours of your time that you probably spent doing any manner of things more important than watching possibly the worst miniseries in television history. At one point in this thing, I actually thought that Richard Dreyfuss probably saw what was happening around him and DEMANDED that his character be killed in the second act. (SPOILER!)
Honestly, the main reason I'm angry about it is because there is no reason it should have failed. It looked gorgeous. The costume and set design were inspired -- there's this whole retro-futuristic thing going on that we'll get in to in a moment. Most of the CGI, especially on the wide shots that involved vast landscapes, was terrific. And the main cast was made up of four very talented actors: Neal McDonough as the tin man, Zooey Deschanel as "D.G.", Alan Cumming as the scarecrow, and Raoul Trujillo as the lion man. Four people that could just stand there motionless for six hours, and still exude charisma. (See the above photo for proof.) Therein lies the trouble: when the characters start to talk. The words that come out of their mouths are unbelievable, and there are some moments when you feel like they can't believe the things they're saying, either.
Personally, I find Alan Cumming to be terrifically charming in everything he does, so the fact that his character falls so flat in this film should be against the law. Someone should be hanged for taking the sparkle out of him, and forcing him to try to be the "comic relief" in a movie that didn't appear to be written by someone with a sense of humor. Indeed, there are only two laugh-out-loud comedic moments in the entire six hour run time, and both are pulled off by Neal McDonough. Which would be great, seeing as he is the Tin Man of the title, except he is also saddled with a ridiculous storyline about the loss, then re-gain, then loss, then re-gain, of his family.
It's the first section of the film that made me the most angry. This whole movie is billed as a "re-imagining" of The Wizard of Oz, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. For two hours I was thinking "Why claim that at all? Why not just write a cool science fiction miniseries, take out all the cutesy wink-wink nods to the original, and be done with it? WHY GOD, WHY?" It's not until the third part -- indeed, a full five hours in to it -- that it's revealed that this is not a re-make or a re-imagining at all: It's a sequel. Set 500 years in the future.
WHY DIDN'T THEY TELL ME THAT EARLIER?
Why did I have to wait until the last act to find this out? Suddenly, certain things make sense. Like why this Dorothy is name "D.G." instead of, you know, "Dorothy." (Still making me angry: That her evil sister is the only one to call her "Deeg," which would make the name less insipid.) Why everyone's clothes are a blend of Victorian fashion and sheet metal. (Though it doesn't explain why the tin man dresses like Indiana Jones.) Why the wicked witch is twenty years too young. Why there are now hookers and drug dealers in the Emerald City. (Why it is instead called "Central City" and the emerald city is just part of an evil charm bracelet: still unclear.)
Still, there are things you have to overcome to make this movie entertaining, and while taken separately they may seem to be your run-of-the-mill sci fi plot device, lumped together they are awful. First and foremost: that Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are now just really stupid cyborgs. Then there's the "imagineered" fact that the "lion men" are actually psychics with a lot of facial hair and fur pelts; that the scarecrow is just a normal guy who has literally had his brain removed, and is not actually an anthropomorphisized scarecrow; that the wizard is just some sort of theater magician with an opium habit.
Complicating things further is that D.G. is not the only character in this movie to talk like a real person. If she were the only one with non-stilted dialogue, and the rest of the cast spoke in awkward prose, I could have made peace with it. It could have been explained away easily: she's normal, the rest of these crazies are in some sort of parallel universe where Alfred Tennyson never died. However, the Tin Man (a cop named Cain) and Scarecrow (a genius named Glitch) talk like regular people, too. Some of the characters speak in broken English, and some of the characters act like they just walked into a production of A Midsummer's Night Dream. And yet still, there is a character who acts like he's some hardened New York gangster -- perhaps because he's a pimp -- and one can only wonder if this was a failure of writing, casting, direction, or all three.
While the story of a futuristic OZ (one that blends elements of Wicked with Star Wars and... I don't know, Total Recall,) sounds great, the execution suffers miserably. The entire miniseries relies heavily on flashbacks, and none of those scenes are eased in to delicately -- at one point there is ten minutes of D.G. standing in front of a mirror finding out she's actually a princess, and the other cast members stand there behind her with nothing much to say, despite all four of them knowing they're in kind of a hurry.
At no point in this film does anyone suffer from want of flashback. They could be riding on a rocket into the sun, and D.G. would have to pause for a moment and reflect on her childhood, lest she miss a crucial clue to unraveling the mystery of whose-it and whatever. In fact, towards the end of the third act, there are flashbacks to the flashbacks you just saw forty-five minutes ago, for fear most of the audience suffered a head trauma during the commercial break. Why any television show feels the need to very clearly outline connections that no one should have really missed, I don't know, but even Battlestar Galactica is guilty of this crime. It is a major pet peeve of mine, and this movie has it in spades.
Lastly, there an unevenness of continuity in the actions of the main characters. If you ask me to sit through seven years of Smallville, and characters that once tried to murder and blackmail one another show up sitting next to each other at Thanksgiving dinner, I'm going to grant you some slack (but not much,) but only because of the contradictions I witnessed in this movie. A young girl who has been harassed and tortured for her memories in turn harasses and tortures her supposed friend for his long-lost flashbacks. A guy who's been on a murderous tear to avenge the death of his wife and young son suddenly getting upset to find his young son is actually the murderous soldier sort as well, and feeling the need to impart the wisdom of patience and justice to him, though he's not done any such thing up to that point in the film.
The overall flaw in logic is the insistence that "family is most important." Yet the parents of a girl possessed by a psychopathic witch sit back and wait 15 years for their other estranged daughter to do anything about it, with the father running away and hiding at the first sign of trouble, and the mother letting her twelve year old child literally imprison her. The main character has been raised by foster parents -- who, true, were actually just robots -- that are shoved aside and made to look like cruel plot holes instead of recognizing their contribution to raising the girl who eventually saves them all from annihilation. None of this stops the tearful reunion at the end, in front of a beautiful computer animated sunrise over OZ. By then, I really just wanted to hit them all in the head with a shovel.