The 1939 movie version of "The Wizard of Oz," starring Judy Garland as a Kansas farm girl who rides a twister into a fairy-tale land -- and Margaret Hamilton as perhaps the most famous movie witch ever -- is all people know of L. Frank Baum's 1900 story, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."
What they may not know is that there's a lot more to the tale, and what's there is weird.
Premiering Sunday, Dec. 2, and running through Tuesday, Dec. 4, Sci Fi Channel's six-hour reimagining of the classic, called "Tin Man," isn't exactly a faithful interpretation of Baum, but it is suitably twisted -- and that suits writers/executive producers Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle just fine.
"We like to say," says Van Sickle, "'We do weird.'"
"We do weird well," adds Long.
"Some of the earlier drafts were pretty out there," Van Sickle says, "but Sci Fi really encouraged us to do that. To some degree, we run with some of the stuff that's in the books."
"Everyone was nervous," says Long. "We were attacking one of the greatest icons ever."
"We don't want to be 'The Wiz,'" Van Sickle says.
"No one is in roller skates in this one," says Long.
Sci Fi Channel has tackled both science fiction and fantasy in its December miniseries, and "Tin Man" is a blend of both. Shot all over British Columbia, Canada, it turns the Land of Oz into The O.Z., short for Outer Zone, held in the grip of the sorceress Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson).
Aided by her Longcoat storm troopers and winged Mobat (short for "monkey bat") spies, Azkadellia usurped her mother (Anna Galvin), the rightful queen, and compromised the once-powerful leader called the Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfuss).
The tiny, fierce Resistance Fighters of the Eastern Guild oppose her, but they are losing hope.
Into all this drops DG (Zooey Deschanel), a wide-eyed Midwest waitress, who has no idea just how much she is connected to this strange land and its ultimate fate.
Heading down the Old Brick Road, she meets Glitch (Alan Cumming), who lost his brain in Azkadellia's torture chamber; Wyatt Cain, a heartbroken cop (Neal McDonough), or Tin Man in O.Z. parlance, who had to witness the murders of his wife and son; a half-wolverine empath called Raw (Raoul Trujillo); and the shape-shifting Toto (Blu Mankuma), who can switch from dog to man and back again.
Finding unexpected reservoirs of O.Z. lore buried in her memory, DG tries to thwart Azkadellia and uncover the mystery of her own past.
While many of DG's companions somewhat resemble Baum's original characters, the Tin Man is a radical departure. Tragedy has hardened his heart, but he is fully human. And, according to McDonough and the writing partners, he would be as at home on the range as in the O.Z. (which you might guess from his broad-brimmed hat and duster coat).
"The Tin Man is an iconic character," Long says. "It's a real throwback in a lot of ways. It's almost an Eastwood character. It's a guy who knows the difference between right and wrong. It's a very iconic Western character.
"When we made the list, Craig and I, we kept going, 'We need Neal. We need Neal.' He has strength as a man. He is unabashedly a man and unapologetically a man."
Although he owns horses, McDonough's wide variety of roles -- from war hero ("Band of Brothers") to alcoholic cop ("Boomtown") to doctor ("Medical Investigation") -- have not included a cowboy.
"I've never done a Western," he says, "which is crazy, because those are always my favorite characters from history. I got to do everything -- ride horses, get shot, get my butt kicked, kick someone else's butt, save the day and forgive everybody."
He will admit being upstaged a bit by Cumming's Glitch, saying, "You just can't help that."
As for Cain's journey, McDonough says, "It's really about heart and soul in this thing, which is what your life's about, especially for Wyatt. He's stuck in this Iron Maiden, unable to move for eight years, watching holograms of his wife and son being killed, over and over and over. That's all he sees. You'd go crazy. The beard is down to here; my hair's down to there. When I get out of this pod, I'm going to kill the people who did this.
"I'm as angry as I possibly can be, and slowly but surely, layers come off."
For Robertson, creating Azkadellia meant putting layers on.
"Angus Strathie, who won an Academy Award for 'Moulin Rouge!' designed my costumes," Robertson says, "so they were to die for, amazing, fantastic, gorgeous, but god-awful uncomfortable. I was corseted throughout the whole movie.
"I'm 5-5, so playing this larger-than-life character, it was important for me to be as big as possible. So we worked on bulking me up. I wear a lot of armor. My heels were literally these sick, crazy stripper heels. I needed the height."
Although director Nick Willing offered to let her doff parts of the costume not seen on camera, Robertson found she couldn't do it.
"I'm not a Method actor," she says, "but I needed it. This, for me, more than anything I've ever done, if I didn't have the wig, the makeup, the boots, the corset, the armor, I couldn't do it."
Like a true man, McDonough took a lot less time to get ready.
"I loved the outfit," he says. "All the other guys are in two hours of prosthetics, and I show up in the morning, toss it on, get five minutes of makeup, and I'm done."