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Published: Saturday, 12/1/2007

Dark journey: Sci Fi Channel presents a modern take on 'Wizard of Oz'

BY MIKE KELLY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Portraying key characters in Tin Man are, from left, Alan Cumming as Glitch, Zooey Deschanel as DG, Neal Mc-
Donough as Cain, Raoul Trujillo as Raw, and Kathleen Robertson as Azkadellia.
Portraying key characters in Tin Man are, from left, Alan Cumming as Glitch, Zooey Deschanel as DG, Neal Mc- Donough as Cain, Raoul Trujillo as Raw, and Kathleen Robertson as Azkadellia.
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Uh-oh, it looks like Dorothy's not in Kansas anymore.

No, wait a minute. That's not Dorothy. And come to think of it, that's not Oz either, at least not the way we remember it.

In the Sci Fi Channel's wild, three-part miniseries, Tin Man, which begins Sunday, there's no skipping down the Yellow Brick Road or singing "Over the Rainbow." Instead, this six-hour yarn is a darkly twisted take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

While loosely based on the story that Frank L. Baum wrote, it's miles away from the lighthearted, 1939 Judy Garland musical version that most of us are familiar with (which itself was not nearly as dark as Baum's original tale, but that's another story). The grim and menacing world of Tin Man looks more like something out of Blade Runner or Mad Max than anything that Baum had in mind with the children's story he wrote more than a century ago.

Yet anyone who knows the basic storyline, which would include most of us, can't help but notice the dozens of ways in which the new version of the story echoes the original. The heroine in the Sci Fi tale is called DG (as in The Wizard's Dorothy Gale, get it?), and she's not an innocent farm girl, but a sullen, motorcycle-riding waitress. As portrayed by doe-eyed, 27-year-old Zooey Deschanel (Elf), she's definitely a chick with an attitude.

One day a tornado whisks DG off into the clouds and dumps her roughly into the Outer Zone (O.Z.), a magical but gloomy place in another dimension where the fearful inhabitants are being oppressed by an evil sorceress - really, is there any other kind? - named Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson, Hollywoodland).

The lovely but cranky sorceress brutally keeps her subjects in line with the help of her Longcoat storm troopers, as well as a fierce flock of winged "Mobats," or monkey bats, that come to life from the tattoos that she has across her chest. (See, I told you this was no Judy Garland fluff-and-wonder fest.)

Anyway, it turns out that the only thing that Azkadellia needs for total domination of the O.Z. is a mysterious emerald, and somehow DG is the key to its location. While dodging Azkadellia's henchmen and bodice-launched Mobats, DG manages to assemble a motley band of vaguely familiar characters on her journey down the "Old Brick Road."

There's Glitch (Alan Cumming, X2: X-Men United), a zipper-headed characterwho has lost half his brain to Azkadellia; Raw (Raoul Trujillo, Into the West), a half-human, half-wolverine psychic, and Cain (Neal McDonough, Flags of Our Fathers), a bitter ex-cop (called a "Tin Man" because of his badge) who lost his family to the Longcoats.

At a place called the Twister Cabaret which bears more than a passing resemblance to the oddball intergalactic cantina in Star Wars - DG encounters Sci Fi's version of the Wizard, "The Blunderful Mystic of O.Z." (Richard Dreyfuss). He's a vapor-sniffing burnout, but he does manage to provide a few survival tips for DG, as well as a few surprising facts about the girl's past.

It turns out that DG's visit to O.Z. is not exactly an exploration of new territory but something of a homecoming. And the parents she thought she left back home are really robots - actually, Series 1487 Nurture Units, to be precise.

Hmm. Pretty weird, eh?

This certainly isn't the first time that The Wizard of Oz has been morphed into something quite different. Since the classic 1939 movie version with Judy Garland, the Munchkins, Ray Bolger, and the rest, we've seen a Broadway musical (The Wiz) with an all-black cast, a TV movie featuring the Muppets, another musical called Wicked, which tells the story from the perspective of Oz's witches, and plenty of other versions.

But in re-imagining it for the 21st century, the Sci Fi Channel takes the story of Oz and catapults it much further over the rainbow than ever before. Some viewers will doubtlessly enjoy it for what it is - a special effects-laden but ultimately dour tale of good and evil - while others might find themselves wishing they could tap their heels together three times and transport themselves to the Munchkinland of their memories.



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