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Originally published Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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There's no place like postmodern "Oz"

No dancing down the yellow brick road for Zooey Deschanel, star of Sci Fi Channel's new Emerald City adaptation, "Tin Man. " And no warbling...

The Associated Press

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"Tin Man," 9 tonight, Monday and Tuesday on Sci Fi.

LOS ANGELES — No dancing down the yellow brick road for Zooey Deschanel, star of Sci Fi Channel's new Emerald City adaptation, "Tin Man." And no warbling "Over the Rainbow" a la Judy Garland, either.

"It's postmodern, more like Indiana Jones than a fairy tale," said Deschanel, whose Dorothy — the role immortalized by Garland in "The Wizard of Oz" — is a disaffected, motorcycle-riding waitress called DG.

Based on L. Frank Baum's novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," which inspired the 1939 film classic, Sci Fi's six-hour "Tin Man" is not a musical but a brooding, special-effects-driven fantasy.

"The book was written in 1900, and its story still lives," said Robert Halmi Sr., one the executive producers.

"It's a coming-of-age story," Deschanel said of the miniseries airing tonight through Tuesday.

"Here's DG acting out in a teenage way before she gets swept up by the storm," the actress said of her character's ride to the alternate universe of the O.Z., or Outer Zone, on the tail of a Kansas tornado. "Then she's forced to grow up a little bit and find out how brave she is and how smart she is. On this journey, she becomes an adult."

Along the way DG meets creatures and crises that never crossed Garland's path.

Fans of the 1939 film will recognize the classic scarecrow in zipper-headed Glitch (Alan Cumming), the cowardly lion in the wolverine-human psychic Raw (Raoul Trujillo) and Dorothy's little dog in the shape-shifter Toto (Blu Mankuma).

There's a wizard of sorts in Richard Dreyfuss' vapor-sniffing Mystic Man.

There's also a yellow brick road, although — in keeping with the O.Z.'s shadowy, retro-futuristic look — it barely glimmers.

And the title character, ex-cop Wyatt Cain (Neal McDonough), called a tin man for his tin badge, is a far more embittered type than Jack Haley's metal man was in the movie.

Yes, Halmi said, "Tin Man" is a "bit darker. To make a classic understood by young people today, you have to talk an entirely different language."

That language includes a wickedly witchy twist on family ties that "Oz" creator Baum never conjured.

And the evil sorceress Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson) gets far more screen time than her predecessor, Margaret Hamilton's cackling Wicked Witch of the West, did in the Garland film.

"It's a very daunting prospect when you're asked to play one of the most iconic film villainesses in history," Robertson said. "As opposed to playing Azkadellia archetypal and loud, I played her internal and psychological. She's narcissistic. She has every personality disorder that you can figure."

Although "Tin Man" is loaded with computer-generated creatures and settings, "most of the sets in Azkadellia's world were real," Robertson said.

"I didn't do a lot of green screen," she said of acting in front of plain backgrounds that are digitally completed in post-production. "I didn't have to imagine what her world was like."

Robertson also snagged the most glamorous wardrobe in "Tin Man," a clutch of sharply cut gowns with sinuous curves. Her necklines plunge to reveal chest tattoos that morph into flying Mobats, or monkey bats, which do Azkadellia's bidding.

"You can't be in those costumes and speak casually," Robertson said. "Something our director, Nick Willing, told us was that in the massive, epic world of 'Tin Man,' you can't be quiet and small. There has to be ferocity or you'll disappear.

"So I deepened my voice a little. My performance was slightly stylized and elevated. Whereas Zooey's character is the opposite. She's the one character in the piece where you think, 'Oh, that could be me.' "

It was this normal aura that clinched Deschanel's casting as DG. "I couldn't find anybody else who's so innocent, with eyes so wide open," Halmi said.

Wide-eyed or no, Deschanel didn't want to reprise Garland's pigtailed Dorothy in "Tin Man."

"That was such an incredible performance that there's no need to repeat it," she said. "I wanted to make this role my own."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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