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Other OZ

Movie bannerMV5BMjMyMzQ1ODM1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjE2MTQxOQ@@__V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_A couple of weeks ago I took my seven-year-old daughter Madeline to see OZ : the Great and Powerful. She’d gone to see The Wizard of OZ with me when the Capitol Theatre in Cleveland screened it a year or so ago and it had been her first time seeing the movie. I thought it would be cool for the two of us to hit the theatre to see the new one together as well. I discovered it was playing at Amherst Cinema so I scooped up Maddie and off we went to OZ.

Someone explain to me why the new movie “OZ : The Great and Powerful” is getting nothing but hate?


My best guess is that it’s because for most people, the Wizard of OZ is simply Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, and that’s a shame, because there’s so much more to the Wizard of OZ in all of it’s forms than that.

A lot of people will know that the Wizard of OZ is a book. Not all of those folks will have actually read the book in one form or another but they’ll at least know it exists.  Not quite as many people know that there are fourteen books written by OZ’s creator L. Frank Baum, and forty altogether that are considered canon. The Fourteen Baum books have fallen into public domain and are freely available on the internet. Check over at Project Gutenberg and you’ll find the original fourteen along with a few of the later ones by other authors.

Hardly anyone knows that there were a grand total of four OZ movies (two of which were actually titled “The Wizard of OZ”. I own copies of ALL of them) that came before the Judy Garland film. Here’s some details below :

wizard_of_oz_1910THE WIZARD OF OZ
  Release date:        1910, March 26
  Description:         A short based on "The Wizard of Oz".
  Production Company:  Selig Polyscope Company
  Producer:            William Nicholas Selig
  Director:            Otis Turner
  Screenwriter:        L. Frank Baum and Otis Turner
  Length:              1,000 feet of film (one reel)
  Cast: Bebe Daniels (Dorothy), Hobart Bosworth, Eugenie Besserer,
        Robert Leonard, Winnifred Greenwood, Lillian Leighton, Olive Cox

his-majesty-the-scarecrow-06DOROTHY AND THE SCARECROW IN OZ
  Release date:       1910, April 19
  Description:        Based on excerpts from "The Wonderful Wizard
                      of Oz" and "The Marvelous Land of Oz".
  Production Company: Selig Polyscope Company
  Producer:           William Nicholas Selig
  Screenwriter:       L. Frank Baum
  Length:             1,000 feet (one reel)

his-majesty-the-scarecrow-01THE LAND OF OZ
  Release date:       1910, May 19
  Description:        Based on excerpts from "The Marvelous Land of Oz".
  Producer:           William Nicholas Selig
  Screenwriter:       L. Frank Baum
  Production Company: Selig Polyscope Company
  Length:             1,000 feet (one reel)

OZ films
  Release date:       1925, June 27
  Description:        A slapstick comedy that is loosely based
                      on the original story.
  Production company: Chadwick Pictures
  Director:           Larry Semon
  Asst. Director:     William King
  Screenwriters:      Larry Semon, L. Frank Baum Jr. (Frank Joslyn Baum),
                      and Leon Lee
  Cinematographers:   Hans F. Koenenkamp, Frank B.) Good, Leonard Smith
  Art Director:       Robert Stevens
  Editor:             Sam Zimbalist
  Distributor:        Chadwick Pictures
  Length:             7 reels, 6300 feet1925 Wizard of Oz
  Cast: Larry Semon (Scarecrow/Farmhand/Toymaker), Bryant Washburn 
        (Prince Kynd), Dorothy Dwan (Dorothy), Virginia Pearson 
        (Countess Vishuss), Charles Murray (Wizard), Oliver N. Hardy 
        (Tin Woodman/Farmhand/Knight of the Garter), G. Howe Black 
        (Cowardly Lion/Rastus (Snowball)), Josef Swickard (Prime 
        Minister Kruel), Mary Carr (Aunt Em), G. Howe Black (Rastus), 
        Frank Alexander (Uncle Henry/Prince of Whales), Otto Lederer 
        (Ambassador Wikked), Frederick Ko Vert (Phantom of Basket)

So, what’s my point?
The fundamental problem with an OZ movie since 1939 is that the OZ everyone else knows, isn’t quite the OZ I know. In a very real way, the Judy Garland film transcended  the source material and became a thing of it’s own. It’s it’s own entity with it’s own following and it’s own identity. the problem is, there still exists a property (to wit; the book and the previous and subsuquent films) that has the same name and a very similar story…..but not nearly as much market penetration. More people know the Garland OZ than know the source material, and as I said; that’s a shame because while it’s a seminal movie, a brilliant classic with groundbreaking effects and imagery….but it’s not a great portrayal of the source material.

I’d be okay with that. I really would, except that movie is so big – it poisons any attempt to further explore OZ…something Disney’s been trying to do for decades.

Some folks will remember Return to OZ.  This was the first real chance Disney had gotten to do an OZ film. There had been abandoned attempts to do some of the OZ sequals in the sixties and seventies for “The Wonderful World of Disney” but none could get off the ground….partily because of the hold the Judy Garland film had on pop culture.

They gave it a good try. They tried to pull directly from the source material, making a movie by mashing up two of the later novels (that in of itself probably led to some thematic issues . One novel would have been a better choice). In addition, one of the things they insisted on was making the characters look like the illustrations in the books. The problem with that however, isReturn-to-OZ-return-to-oz-31219337-1200-770 too many people expected those characters to look like the ones in the Garland film – that and too little scree time for character like the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man. The movie felt beholden to the garland film as well, keeping the ruby slippers and making them a plot point (the slippers were silver in the book and are not as big a factor in later novels). The other big problem (and I wonder if it was an issue at the time) is that it looks dated. This is defiantly an ’80’s movie. You can tell. While The Garland film is timeless, the airbrushed look on the Wheelers and the dress on the witch are absolutely hallmarks of the time.

It’s other issue is that while it tries to incorporate the Garland film, it tries to hard to be dire as well. The electroshock scenes are dark and some of the thematic elements seem almost deconstructionist – something which doesn’t work well for OZ. Still it’s  a better film than anyone gives it credit for, overshadowed as it was by it’s 1939 predecessor.


And that brings us to 2013.

I don’t hate on prequels just on general principle. I think Smallville (at least in it’s first few seasons) is a brilliant prequel. My favorite Star Trek novels are prequels to the series and feature Robert April and a teenaged James T Kirk.

On the other hand, OZ can inspire some pretty rotten ones. The Lion of OZ  ( was an interesting try, but it bugs me because it stomps all over too much of the established continuity.  I despise Wicked. Remember what I said about deconstructionism not working with OZ (It’s got something to do with the purity of the vision. It doesn’t work  well with Superman or the Lone Ranger either….but I digress)? That goes double for Wicked.  So how does OZ : the Great and Powerful rate?

This is the best new movie I’ve seen in years.

No, seriously. This is the OZ movie I’ve been waiting all my life for.  A while back I was criticizing Sam Raimi for some of his handling of the Spider-Man movies? I forgive him everything. I like a lot of his films, but I’ve never held him in high regard just because he’s a horror icon. I’ve always though him good, but still growing. This may well be his masterpiece.

They keep the look and feel of the Garland film without being beholden to it. When they need to diverge, they do. The shiney plastic flowers are now CG.  The Emrald City…oh my God. It’s just as I envisioned it: sprawling and beautiful. They fill the world up with amazing creatures – the China girl is the best character in the movie. The effects are spectacular, and I honestly can get past the CG for once, especially for the effects that are supposed to be illusionary.


Going with a prequel was a good idea this time around. There’s no expectation of seeing Dorthy or the Tin Man or the Lion or the Scarecrow. It gives us a chance to clear the slate and start a new franchise….and boy… they ever. There are plenty of nods to what will happen in the Wizard of Oz though – the book or the movie, it doesn’t matter. Some of those made my jaw drop, especially when we find out who the Wizard’s long lost love is – and who Glinda looks like. Ozphiles will know that this fulfills long-held speculation on why Glinda doesn’t have a Kansas counterpart (the way the Witch and the Tin Man and the Lion and The Scarecrow do) in the Garland film. Moreover, it gives the later stories more depth. Suddenly it makes sense why Glinda would send Dorothy to the Wizard, it makes sense why, in later books  she would forgive his usurpation of the throne of OZ and teach him real magic. There’s so much more going on in this movie that we realize and it serves to give the OZ stories greater scope.

I love this movie. This is OZ as I know it. It’s OZ as I’ve always dreamed it could be. I look at these characters and I can see them growing into their counterparts in the 1939 Judy Garland film. I look at this movie and can see how they could create a whole new series of OZ films in their own continuity. It took decades, but Disney finally got it right.


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