OZ-sified


The last few months have seen several high profile adaptations of American author, L. Frank Baum's major work, THE WIZARD OF OZ. Indeed, due to WICKED, the book and Broadway musical, Baum's story has seldom been out of the mass popular culture consciousness for the past few years.

The summer brought OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, a prequel which imagines how the wizard got to Oz in the first place. Of course that would also involve the back stories of, in this case, three witches, and how they got that way.

This wizard being a bit of a bounder, the story is also spiced up with a bit of romantic intrigue (of which there is none in the Baum original). But ultimately this version comes off as an epic fantasia on the original book, and features some truly spectacular 3-D effects. (This cyclone and the droll credit sequence with its jaunty Danny Elfman score are both knockouts).

GREAT AND POWERFUL was released by Disney Productions which at one time had planned an OZ musical, THE RAINBOW ROAD TO OZ. Originally planned for the Mouseketeers, who actually did a promo for the film on one of Disney's 1950s TV shows, it was never made. Disney finally did do "Return to Oz", loosely based on the second Oz book, in 1985.

Coincidentally (or maybe not) the original MGM 1939 version was released in a 3-D transformation in September. Personally, I've always thought OZ was a 3-D film just waiting to happen, and the detailed set design and camera setups adapt themselves perfectly to the dimensional process. The first circular truck around Munchkinland after Dorothy steps out of black-and-white into dazzling 3-D Technicolor is breathtaking, as is the incredibly choreographed Munchkin mini-opera which follows.

Even the BxW prologue, which looks like something out of John Ford's GRAPES OF WRATH, is enhanced by 3-D, particularly the shots of the barren road leading away from Dorothy's farm which now actually recedes into the far gray distance.

An odd postscript to this year's OZ-mania in a new stage musical which played the Pantages in LA in September. This version uses the MGM score but includes several new songs by, of all people, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice (of EVITA/CATS fame). None of the new tunes were especially memorable - sample title: Red Shoe Blues, a song for the Wicked Witch! - and the overall production, co-produced by Sir Andrew himself, and, aside from a dynamic video cyclone, looked surprisingly tacky.

It's now almost difficult to recall that the source material for all this was a charmingly artless story that has been sited as the first (1900) genuinely American fairy tale. Though not without its naive charm, today the book itself seems like a first draft for the MGM film. Several writers labored for months on the beautifully cohesive screenplay, and many of the film's lines pervasively entered the language years ago.The literary Kansas opening takes up only a few pages and, there are no ruby slippers (they're silver) and no suggestion that Dorothy's journey was a dream. MGM did loosely pick up on the original W. W. Denslow illustrations, however, particularly in regard to Dorothy's hairstyle and the basic look of the Scarecrow and the Tin Man.

Foster's collection of various editions includes "Journeys Through OZ," with both "Wizard" with Denslow's illustrations, and Baum's second book, "The Marvelous Land of Oz," with John R. Neill's more sophisticated images (and a protagonist - spoiler alert - who turns out to be transexual).

Fans of the book might also search out the comprehensive "Annotated Wizard of Oz," C. N. Potter, NY, 1971. And any film buff would find "The Making of The Wizard of Oz," Knopf, 1977, by film historian Aljean Harmetz, fascinating.

So.... To Oz? To Oz!

The opinions of, and critique by, Ross Care