Rebuilding 'Oz,' Brick by Brick26 Jan, 2008 By: John Latchem
Tin Man executive producer Robert Halmi Sr. (center), flanked by cast members (L-R) Neal McDonough, Raoul Trujillio, Alan Cumming and Zooey Deschanel.
Most producers would think twice before attempting to remake a classic. For Robert Halmi Sr., it's a matter of course.
“Every book that is at least 100 years old that is popular for generations should be redone for a new generation,” Halmi said. “It's important to keep the story alive and show it in a different context. Every generation has a different language and different morality.”
The Hungarian-born Halmi, best known for producing sprawling television adaptations of literary works and classic stories, recently served as executive producer for the Sci Fi Channel miniseries Tin Man, a re-imagining of L. Frank Baum's classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that became a ratings winner this past December.
Genius Products releases a two-DVD collector's edition March 11 (prebook Jan. 29) at $24.95. Extras include a behind-the-scenes special, a featurette about director Nick Willing, interviews with the cast and crew, and a gag reel.
In reworking Oz, Halmi thought the story had a meaning that could easily translate to today's audiences. Such efforts had historically been the domain of the Broadway musical, but Halmi wanted to distance the project from that genre while avoiding comparisons to the immortal 1939 film.
“We based it on the original book,” Halmi said. “We avoided the sweetness and fanciness of the movie.”
Halmi said he is proudest of the imagination it took to craft a new epic story that stayed true to Baum's original.
“It's very difficult to make the story as written, but also to put a different spin on it,” Halmi said. “We didn't alter the characters, but we changed some of what happens to them. I think we made the witch more interesting.”
The menacing Wicked Witch of the original has been transformed into the dictatorial sorceress Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson), who has taken control over a magical realm called the Outer Zone (The O.Z.). The only one fated to stand in her way is a girl from Earth named D.G. (for the original book's Dorothy Gale, and played by Zooey Deschanel). Once D.G. arrives in the O.Z., she sets off to discover the secrets of her past and rid the realm of the sorceress.
There's still a man without a heart, changed from the literal Tin Man of the book into a gruff police officer (Neal McDonough) with a vendetta against Azkadellia. And D.G. also joins with a brainless man (Alan Cumming) and a cowardly beast (Raoul Trujillio). The all-star cast also includes Richard Dreyfuss as The Mystic Man, Tin Man's version of the Wizard.
Early into the production, Halmi wondered if Tin Man was too ambitious. The production required a level of visual effects work that Halmi said wouldn't have been possible to achieve only a decade ago.
“The first miniseries we did with CGI was Gulliver's Travels (in 1996), and that was such a big deal at the time, but it has only a quarter of the CG work done for Tin Man,” Halmi said. “Tin Man had something like 1,400 CG shots.”
Halmi thinks the final version of Tin Man far surpasses his original vision.
“When we started doing it, I was afraid of the scope,” Halmi said. “I worried about it until I saw a cut of the movie and saw how good it is. The movie speaks for itself.”
Halmi's Classics on DVD
Producer Robert Halmi Sr. says if his many miniseries inspire viewers to read the original works, all the better.
“When we did Gulliver's Travels, Simon and Schuster said more copies of the book were sold in the month after it aired than were sold in the five years before,” Halmi said.
Next up, Halmi says, is an adaptation of Raymond Khoury's The Last Templar for NBC. He recently wrapped a modernized version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, set in Boston, and is preparing a new version of Dracula, set in New York and featuring the famed vampire as a real estate agent.
“I'm having great fun doing the classics,” he said.
Halmi also wants to give Alice in Wonderland the Tin Man treatment, he said, but his dream project would be an adaptation of Dante's Inferno.
“It's fantastic, and it would look incredible on screen,” Halmi said. “But I can't get anyone to agree to do it with me.”