Sabbath Double Feature: Tin Man (2007 TV Miniseries)/Alice (2009 TV Miniseries)
Alice Directed by: Nick Willing
Alice Written by: Nick Willing
In 2007, Nick Willing directed a 4.5 hour miniseries entitled Tin Man. The story twisted the Wizard of Oz into a new fable with science fiction and steampunk injected into it. The series would go on to be nominated for several Emmys and win one for Best Make-up (non-prosthetic). In 2009, he wrote and directed Alice, a modern take on the Alice in Wonderland mythos. This is to be my first double feature article and since both of these tales are modern twists on classic stories, I’m going to pit them head-to-head in a number of categories and then give my verdict on both of them. Savvy?
Directed by the same man and following similar concepts of re-imagining the classics, I know other critics have compared them to one another before. I’m not the first. I just don’t care. Let’s get down to business.
Despite the name, Tin Man isn’t ultimately about the Tin Man character. The TV Miniseries has its own Dorothy named DG. DG — get it? Dorothy Gale? Glad we’re on the same page now. DG is who the story focuses on as she is swept up back into the O.Z. (Outer Zone) and placed on a journey to rediscover her lost memories, find her parents, and save the Kingdom of the O.Z. from the evil sorceress Azkadellia (who just happens to be her sister). DG doesn’t seem to believe she fits in in the real world, which I take it is how we’re supposed to relate to her. She handles bad news pretty well — quick to make a jokey comment when she’s captured. All-in-all, she’s not a bad lead character to follow but … Zooey Deschanel.
Zooey, of course, is the actress who plays her. I know the name but had to check her work to see where I actually know her from … truthfully not much. Her sister is much more known to be due to the series ‘Bones’, and if I’m judging her based on this series alone, I’d say Emily Deschanel is the superior sibling. At times I found her sleepwalking or just not caring when she spoke her lines. She sort of brought down the character and made the ‘whiny’ moments just that much more … whiny. I found myself wanting to punch her when she got into her self-pity phase. I don’t know. Zooey might not have wanted the role, she might not be a great actress, or maybe she thought its what the role called for. It just didn’t work for me.
In Alice, we get … Alice, played by almost completely unknown Canadian actress Caterina Scorsone. This Alice isn’t a passive, sitting under a tree reading a book Alice. Oh no. She’s a judo sensei, which I have to say is a pretty nice way to update the character. She’s a more active character, not being thrust into her troubles, but rather because of her lack of passivity, she falls into it. After her new boyfriend runs off in a panic, she chases after him only to see him being kidnapped. She ends up chasing one of them and falls through the looking glass. Not entirely brave, Alice expresses a pretty severe fear of heights which is a shame … because most of Wonderland is floating ledges it seems.
Scorsone might be the less known of the two and maybe it wasn’t even her acting — which was fine — but the combination of her acting and a superior character, but I’m going to have to give a point to the Alice miniseries.
In the Wizard of Oz we had the The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, and The Cowardly Lion. In Tin Man, the allegories are Glitch (The Scarecrow), Cain (The Tin Man), and Raw (The Cowardly Lion). Glitch, played by Alan Cumming, was once a genius and an adviser to the good Queen of the O.Z. but has since had his brain removed and now his synapses don’t always fire right — hence the name Glitch. Cumming seems to be at home in the role and its the sort of role I’ve seen him take before … even though I still prefer his tortured performance as Nightcrawler. Yeah, that’s right — tortured. Deep word for a movie based on comic books, but I digress.
Cain is a Tin Man, the one the title refers to. In this realm, Tin Men are the officers that served when the Queen was in power. Cain had been locked away in an iron suit for years as punishment for opposing the sorceress but once he comes out of the suit — he’s all business after a quick shave. He’s the Sheriff character and I have to say Neal McDonough does a fantastic job in the role. Cain is the hero’s bad ass and I can believe McDonough as a bad ass Sheriff whose out for justice. It’ll be a pleasure to see him again in Captain America.
Raw is from a race of lion/man like beings with the ability to ‘see’. They can read into minds and project the future. I’m … I don’t know. I was okay with the character, but he just didn’t stand out like Glitch or Cain. He was there practically the whole time and I don’t have anything to say about him or the actor’s performance. Almost hate to knock him because he wasn’t bad, just not memorable.
Those are your main three. Meanwhile, Alice brings us — the always important — Mad Hatter (Andrew-Lee Potts)! What Wonderland story would be complete without one? In this version, the Mad Hatter deals in emotions. Apparently in Wonderland, human emotions sell like money and there’s a stock market of sorts for the sale of liquefied emotions which are taken pretty much like drugs. He’s a wishy-washy character at first and we’re not sure if he’s trustworthy, but soon becomes the mainstay character and Alice’s real accomplice.
They later run into Charlie (Matt Frewer), a White Knight — a group of people who they had thought were eradicated. Somehow, Charlie survived. He’s basically what would happen if Don Quixote joined the Knights who say Ni. He’s functionally retarded, but reliable and provides a lot of the comic relief. He’s got a good heart, but he might not be as brave as he claims himself to be and we find that out.
It’s a tough call. While Andrew-Lee Potts was a more likable Mad Hatter than Johnny Depp’s incarnation (Yeah, blasphemy), Neal McDonough was just plain awesome and interesting as the Tin Man. The others balance each other out as far as I’m concerned.
Special Guest Star
In the Wizard of Oz, the plot involved … going to see the Wizard! In Tin Man, the Wizard is a small-but-important character referred to as the Mystic Man. When we meet him he’s drugged up by the sorceress and isn’t much help, but after coming down off the ‘vapors’, he ends up providing valuable information to DG. Unlike his Oz counterpart, he’s a good guy from start to finish. Who did Tin Man get for the role? Richard Dreyfuss. It took me a moment to realize it was him … could this be Leo Marvin? Yes, yes it could. Dreyfuss represented. ‘Nuff said. Good actor doing an interpretation of an iconic character and pulling off a great performance.
In Alice, we get Dodo played by Tim Curry. I love Tim Curry. He’s the leader of a sect of The Resistance, a group opposing the Queen of Hearts but we quickly come to find him a scoundrel who wants the ring (an important plot device) Alice carries for his own reward. The role is rather small and I can’t help but feel Curry’s talents were squandered here. In fact, we get to see his stunt double (very noticeable) almost as much as him during a fight scene.
This one’s hands down Dreyfuss. Sorry, Tim. You deserved better.
Winner: Tin Man
A villain needs their minions …. I mean, why not, right? Well, in both cases we’re lucky to have a set. The Tin Man is host to the Longcoats, a group of soldiers loyal to the sorceress led by Zero (Callum Keith Rennie). Zero is also the man responsible for the imprisonment of Cain and is actually … a pretty damn good villain. There’s one very, very odd thing though.
When did the Third Reich march down the Yellow Brick Road? Seriously. The Longcoats are very reminiscent of the Gestapo in attire. The castle itself has tapestries that seem pretty Nazi-ish, and the evil scientist at the end? He reeks of Hitler support. It’s pretty jarring actually. I’m cool if you get your chocolate in my peanut butter, but your Gestapo in my Oz? (None of that is sexual innuendo, by the way — so shut it). I don’t know. It just seemed very off.
On the other hand, the Queen’s minions in Alice are your standard suits. I’m actually cool with that. It’s nothing fancy, but as Reservoir Dogs and The Matrix taught us, suits just work. They’re headed up by a robotic (?) assassin called Mad March who has the head of a white rabbit and speaks with a Brooklyn accent … there’s a bit of build up there to the character, but ultimately they never flesh him out as much as they should.
In the end, Callum Keith Rennie is just a bad ass in his confrontation with Cain. He’s just more threatening and imposing. Even though the Longcoats just seem a bit out of place, he makes it worthwhile.
Winner: Tin Man
Every story needs a good central villain to piece it together. In the Wizard of Oz, we’re familiar with the Wicked Witch of the West. Well, look no further ’cause … well … she’s sort of missing. Not completely! Just … sort of. I guess we get an analog for her, but she’s sort of … within … the actual villain. Is any of this making sense? If it makes sense and just sounds kind of lame, then we’re on the same track. Our real villain though is named Azkadellia, the sorceress that has usurped power from her mother and is actually the sister to our protagonist.
Kathleen Robertson plays her pretty over-the-top, but I’m not sure its her fault. The outfit she starts out in is just … ridiculously over-the-top. The costume department should be fired (though they redeem themselves later. If nothing else, Robertson has some nice tits and there’s cleavage galore). I imagine her just taking one look at the outfit and figuring … ridiculous villain archetype is what they wanted. Her subordinate Zero is more intimidating. Plus, Robertson is just too young and beautiful to really come across as a threat. Take that as a compliment, chick.
On the other hand, we have Kathy *shivers* Bates of Misery fame playing the Queen of Hearts. You know, I can’t say she gives a very memorable performance as the Queen and she definitely downplays the fire and brimstone woman we’ve seen in other incarnations. She’s just sort of a bitch. However, memorable performance or not, she’s Kathy Bates. She should never be allowed near a pair of legs ever again. That alone just makes her an terrifying villain — ain’t that some shit? She doesn’t even have to try. She wins.
At the end of the day we need a story to glue it all together and make these characters worthwhile. I think part of its going to depend on which of the original stories you preferred more — are you a Wizard of Oz fan, or are you an Alice in Wonderland fan? You can be both, but which do you like more? For me, it’s always been Wonderland. I’ve watched every incarnation I can get my hands on and even when they disappoint (Mr. Burton, I’m looking at you), they’re still not terrible to me.
Both stories are more modern interpretations of the classic stories and both, like their counterparts, start in the real world. In both situations we get the contemporary world, which is an obvious update to make, but I’ve got to say I really like what they did with Alice. With DG we see her as a waitress who hates her lot in life and wants more … but she still lives on a farm. I got to give points for turning Alice into a judo instructor in a city environment.
Also, in both stories, there are lost fathers of some sort. I won’t spoil how either story wraps up these plot points but I will say — they’re both actually done rather well.
As for the adventure? Once again, both films really take you all over their respective worlds. Tin Man definitely tried to cram more genres and ideas (sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk and even a bit of western …. maybe a bit of World War II…) while Alice mainly stuck to sci-fi and fantasy. The universes reflect that and most of the O.Z. — which, by the way, every time they talk about “The O.Z.”, I think of these asshats.
— now that I’ve got that off my chest, as I was saying, the O.Z. is a lot of wooded areas. A lot of … walking in those wooded areas. We get some Ewok-like battle sequences and the once-in-a-while trip to a dark, seedy city. Meanwhile in Wonderland we get a lot of colorful and odd imagery, some interesting cities and landscape designs I must say. It’s a lot more varied I think than its Wizard of Oz counterpart. The scenery really does impact the adventure and I’ve got to say, both were fun, but I really liked the variety in Alice.
As for the love story? Tin Man doesn’t really have one. Some people are bound to appreciate that. There’s familial love by the butt-load, but no romantic interest to be found. In Alice, there’s a definite romantic subplot, but it serves its purpose. It didn’t make me groan — that’s high praise enough. I might have grown a vagina at one point or another during it, but at least I didn’t groan.
I’m going to wrap this up by getting to the ending of both series. In both situations, things are resolved as every non-Debbie Downer movie will be. In Tin Man though, things just sort of … end. There’s no flash forward to show how the events changed things. I mean … some really big things just happened and an entire family was just reunited, an entire world was just saved … I kind of wanted the obligatory flash forward to show how it all came together. Instead it just sort of ends.
Alice on the other hand gives you what you want. You get the ending that wraps everything up in a neat little bow. It’s a nice, happy ending and everybody’s OK. I just spent a month reviewing movies where generally people’s lives were made a living Hell. Let me appreciate my happy endings.
Tin Man definitely received more universal praise while Alice was a mixed bag. It got more positive reviews than negative, but when compared most people felt it fell short compared to Tin Man. I disagree. While individual components go to Tin Man in some categories, the story of Alice was more entertaining (but remember, I’m a Wonderland whore). Tin Man was great too. I’d recommend watching both series, honestly. You might not find them out of this world, but you’ll at least like it … unless you’re from the crowd who really hate seeing the classics re-imagined. In which case … I can’t help you.
So yeah, the points for story AND overall go to Alice.