Did we like it?
Even though it owed more to Star Wars than the original Wizard of Oz, this was an often beguiling, atmospheric fairy tale let down by some dull supporting characters outside the dreamy, whimsical protagonist DG and bewitching Glitch.
What was good about it?
• Zooey Deschanel as DG, as she captured the bewilderment of a young woman who over the course of a fantastical adventure discovers that her whole life is a counterfeit veneer, wrought to protect her from the malevolent machinations of her elder, less favoured sister, Azkadellia, who ultimately usurps their mother to take the crown and become ruler of the Outer Zone (OZ), which was once part of Heaven, or something.
• DG is also impetuous, inquisitive and imaginative making her a magnetic screen presence and easily compensating for her dreary friends and foes. When she witnesses what appears to be a family being attacked, she bravely rushes in to help, despite the more timid Glitch’s protests.
• But perhaps the world most resembles the dream world in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman story A Game of You, which was set in a land full of Wizard of Oz-like childish imagery but one that is shot through with devastating, violent intrusions from the adult world such as Cain (the eponymous Tin Man) who is forced to watch an endlessly looping film of his family being tortured while imprisoned in a deep sea diver’s suit.
• Alan Cumming as the fey, forgetful Glitch (AKA the Scarecrow) who has had part of his brain removed as punishment, he says, for being a threat to the rule of Azkadellia. But for much of the episode, his noble assumptions are questioned by amongst others Cain, who as a former policeman – a tin man – believes him to be a common criminal. Glitch also provides the most unsettling dialogue, sometimes rambling, sporadically incoherent, but you suspect, capable of spouting indelible truths about the Outer Zone and DG’s quest.
• Perhaps it’s because of the feeble adversaries they face, but the most exciting scenes were those in which DG and her merry band were pursued by CGI-created monsters such as those bark-skinned canines that appeared to be so doggedly spiteful and malignant that they could have made of the wood that would be later used to make a copy of the Daily Mail, or the swooping homunculi that reside dormantly on Azkadellia’s chest in the form of a necklace tattoo.
• The references to Star Wars are utterly blatant, so rather than being a desperate act of plagiarism it instead becomes a sardonic wink to the sci-fi genre. For instance, DG is a restless young adult eager to experience the world but is discouraged by her guardians who haven’t told her the truth about her heritage. When she is transported to OZ the first thing she sees is the alien sight of two suns setting, an iconic Star Wars image, and the first creatures she encounters are dwarfish tree-dwelling savages (sound familiar?). And there’s also a villain related to the protagonist who ensures a high turnover of military staff by killing them if they fail her.
What was bad about it?
• Azkadellia (Katherine Robertson) is an unconvincing villainess, especially when compared to the horrifying Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 movie. Where Margaret Hamilton’s witch would cackle and threaten to bring the damnation and hellfire down on meek Dorothy, Azkadellia pinches her face with aggravation like a daytime soap villainess about to try to poison a rival for the wandering eye of the new promiscuous bequiffed young buck who has just pulled his Porsche up outside the exclusive health club. The bit where she sucked out the soul of her incompetent general was a lame, mechanical “Look how bad I am” moment.
• Her sidekick Zero (Callum Keith Rennie) isn’t much better, with his cybernetic implants and Action Man-style scars a weak effort to instil some vivacity and malice into this lumbering husk of a baddie. What makes it even worse is that Zero’s nemesis is destined to be Cain (Neal McDonough), the Tin Man, who despite the trauma of observing his family being tortured, struts about the Outer Zone like a stubby slab of emotional granite. This matters so that when Cain falls from a tower into the frozen lake below after Zero shoots him, you don’t feel sympathy for Cain or resentment towards Zero, just a pleasing urgency that the narrative may soon switch back to the much more thrilling DG and Glitch.
• The insipidness of Cain also causes the narrative to drag along like a broken leg being pulled across a barren beach. This is especially so when there was a sequence of about three scenes without any action as the band tried to gain entry to Central City and visit the Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfuss), which was reduced to a grim funereal procession of monotonous dialogue and cumbersome direction.