Browsing in Netflix, I spotted a miniseries called Tin Man, a re-imagining of, you guessed it, The Wizard of Oz. It’s nothing whatever like Gregory Maguire’s wonderful novel Wicked — but both of them prove that, against all odds, Frank Baum’s goofy story has entered the realm of Living Myth, right alongside Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, and Frankenstein.
A case could be made that major creative works like these ought to move into the public domain a lot sooner. We’d have more stories like this to ooh and ahh over. But that’s a debate for another time.
Tin Man is pretty good. Not great — the special FX are TV quality, not movie quality, and the acting ditto (though Richard Dreyfuss turns in a great performance as Mystic Man.) There are way too many group hugs in the third and final segment of the story, and the plot makes about as much sense as the plot of the average fantasy or sci-fi movie, which is to say, no sense at all. But the action and complications keep the story moving, and the visual design is good.
Above all, if you know the source material (and who doesn’t?), you’ll appreciate the tricky changes wrought on it. All of the essential elements are in place — a tornado, a little dog, a hot-air balloon, a bunch of short people, a goofy guy with floppy limbs and no brain, a big hairy coward, a yellow brick road, a very wicked witch who melts at the end (though not through being doused with water), and of course the title character, who is a tin man mainly by virtue of wearing a cowboy hat, carrying a six-shooter, and having a badge.
Everything is skewed in much the same way. The heroine is 20 years old, not 12, and her name is D.G. (Dorothy Gale, geddit?) In one scene, two little girls are in the woods, and somewhat frightened, as their mother told them it wasn’t safe in the woods. What do they have to be frightened of? “Lions. And tigers. And…” Cut to medium shot of large brown bear lumbering toward them through the trees, snarling. “Oh, my!”
Tin Man is almost skewered by this sort of cuteness, but somehow I didn’t mind. It’s as if the scriptwriter was winking at the audience, saying, “Look, we all know what I’m doing here, but I’m going to tell you a good story too, so hang onto your seats.” The actual story has very little to do with the original Wizard of Oz, it’s just a tale of how good finally triumphs over evil. Stock fantasy, in other words. A wicked queen, evil henchmen in long black coats, imprisonment, torture, all the usual suspects. Pretty well done, though. Worth renting.