Tin Man, Oz and my odd view on media
Posted by shannonclark on December 5, 2007
I have read all of the original Oz books and many of the later continuations by other authors. Indeed one of the reasons I am a collector of books was my love of the Oz books and my sadness that my mom’s childhood collection of all 1st editions of the Oz books is now lost to the family, sold or donated sometime when my great-grandparents moved to a small home.
This week the Sci Fi channel is running a mini-series, Tin Man, based on the Oz books. Very loosely based in many ways and with much updating and reinterpretations. The reviews have not been kind.
However I love it.
But, and this is a big but, I have to also explain that I do NOT like the original Oz movie. My memory and love of Oz is and has always been for the books, not the movie. The movie was in many ways a simplification of the books, true to the books in some respects, but very different in many other ways.
I know, however, that my view and love of books vs. movies (and don’t get me wrong, I’m also a huge movie buff and former projectionist) is somewhat in the minority in America today and in the past. That far more people focus on the movie version than usually read the original books (even the Harry Potter series are neck and neck though there perhaps the books actually have the upper hand – though only just).
Hollywood for some reason however does not seem to trust great children’s books to make movies from them, instead usually insisting on radical changes and simplifications of what are actually more subtle and complex stories than usually given credit for being and TV adaptations are no exception to this trend.
In a few days a Hollywood version of a more recent children’s book, The Golden Compass is going to be going into wide release (sneak previews where held a few days ago though I missed them). Apparently the movie in a bid to win some acceptance here in the US manages to avoid all mention of a key element of the book – i.e. the strong anti-Church message and the underlying arguments against religion and God (small spoiler – in the last book of the series Pullman kills off “god” with almost literally a whimper).
I am an atheist and I am happy to see The Golden Compass get a movie treatment, but saddened that the power of Pullman’s book is diminished and weakened by the Hollywood treatment – I would have much preferred (I suspect) a more accurate treatment of his book – though I do also definitely plan on seeing the movie on the big screen.
But back to Tin Man. I am frankly surprised that the Oz series (and it is a very, very long series, there literally 100’s of books by various authors now part of the series, with many of the earliest books being highly collectible and fairly valuable. Don’t believe me? Spend some time exploring the comprehensive Oz Timeline) has not been made into a tv series or series of movies before. Perhaps the first Wizard of Oz movie has cast a rather too long shadow.
What I always loved about the Oz series was their inventiveness and though as I grew older I started to wish for a bit more grit, a bit more complexity, I also appreciated that though there was good and evil in the books good triumphed without itself being evil. This last bit may come as a surprise to anyone most familiar with the movie or the first book, where there are some actual killing (of evil witches admittedly) and other violence, but over time less and less of the books involve violence as a solution to problems – indeed non-violent solutions that don’t involve killing are emphasized.
So why do I really, really like the Sci-Fi channel’s Tin Man series? For one thing, I am enjoying their riffs and modern updatings and takes on the original materials – mostly it is all there, just stretched and modified – and the post-modern in me loves these bits of metafiction to the series.
I also find it a visually compelling work, perhaps as in all too much of American filmmaking a bit overdone in repetition of key sequences (a pet peeve of mine, I’d rather filmmakers figured out a way to not just reuse the same images for constant flashbacks again and again). The ability of modern filmmakers to leverage green screens and CGI’s is rapidly changing what it is possible to imagine and create – as a fan of the fantastic I am enjoying seeing how this creative freedom and increasingly accessible realism is being used by directors – CGI only characters can now have a great deal of depth and impact.
I understand that some fans don’t like this series, however for me it is a really enjoyable work of reinterpretation. Though part of me wishes that rather than a one-off miniseries it was in fact the beginning of an ongoing series – I think, though fans of just the 1938 movie may find this hard to believe, there is a richness and depth to the Oz series which would and could support an ongoing television series. Though it would, like only a few other series, be one with a changing cast of characters – the beauty and richness of the Oz books is that they feature a wide range of characters and stories – they are not at all just the ongoing story of Dorthy.
Though Oz is a very American tale, perhaps in some ways the first truly American Fairy Tale (and since the 1938 movie an ongoing part of the American psyche) I feel there is some degree of kinship between Oz (the books) and my favorite TV show of all time, Doctor Who. Both feature a wide range of stories and characters and to a degree a similar approach to the world – an approach which is not religious in nature (surprisingly for an American story perhaps, especially these days) and one which assumes that good can and usually will prevail. The even when it seems darkest and that all may be lost, hope, good will and intent can find a way.
Perhaps that’s stretching a point a bit – but I see and feel some kinship.
In any case not owning a TV I am awaiting the Sci Fi Channel putting the third and final part of Tin Man online for all to view for free (I watched the other parts via the website).