Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Wonderous Wizards of Oz

It's all happening in Oz at the moment. No, I don't mean Australia, nor indeed the Emerald City lock-up of that great HBO show: Oz. As in the one with cowardly lions, tin men and scarecrows; the one in which a young Kansas girl famously learned how to stop worrying and love shoes.

There you are... that's the one.

There are no less than a truly staggering eight takes on L. Frank Baum's signature creation in the works at the moment, and though there's more chance of the sun setting in hell than every one of them making it to the multiplexes, don't be surprised a few years from now to find a gaggle of alternate-universe Dorothies competing for the wonderful Wizard's attention - and your entertainment dollars.

Perhaps you've already heard of the biggest-ticket of the adaptations. Oz: The Great and the Powerful has made the trades lately because of all the talk of Spider-man's Sam Raimi taking on directing duties for this Mouse House prequel. Well, he's officially signed on the dotted line now: Raimi will be sitting in the big chair when the cameras roll on Oz: The Great and the Powerful. And in front, none other than Robert Downey Jr., as the ubiquitous Wizard before he became quite so ubiquitous. When, in fact, he was but a mere circus wrangler, "transported by tornado to the mysterious world of Oz where he gets mistaken for a know-it-all." Disney are hoping for the next Alice in Wonderland with this one, but it's got competition aplenty, much of it CG-driven. Let's rattle through a few.

To begin with, there's a straight-up adaptation of the original source material in the shape of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from John Boorman, renowned director of Deliverance and The Tailor of Panama. Should be... interesting.

Shrek Forever After's scriptwriter Darren Lemke also hopes to bring Dorothy and company to the big screen in the simply titled Oz, which sadly next to nothing is known about. Except that given the caliber of its competition, let's be honest: it probably won't happen.

Dorothy of Oz, however, will. An animated 3D musical directed by Dan St. Pierre based on the book of the same name by Robert S. Baum, great-grandson of old L. Frank, what it seems to lack in directorial distinctiveness it makes up for in terms of voice talent, featuring as it does the dulcet tones of Jim Belushi, Dan Akroyd and Kelsey Grammer among others.

That's the various animations out of the way, then. But there's no shortage of live action adaptations in the pipeline either. In Oz: The Return to Emerald City, A History of Violence scribe Josh Olson joins forces with Spawn's Todd MacFarlane to present what will no doubt be a rather twisted take on the books.

Surrender Dorothy is the dark horse of the bunch, however. A direct sequel to The Wizard of Oz from a script by Stranger Than Fiction's Zach Helm, the word on the street at the moment is that Drew Barrymore, once so promising in ET, is interested in helming. Oh, but I shouldn't be so cruel. Barrymore's directorial debut, last year's little-seen Whip It, didn't actually suck. It even had Kitty Pryde!

And then... well. There's the film adaptation of Wicked, isn't there? The musical sensation everyone and their mothers adore. I need say no more.

As if that weren't enough, this just in: a teaser trailer for another Oz adaption, this time from Mark and Michael Polish, the filmmaking siblings who gave us the delightful The Astronaut Farmer, just hit YouTube. Beware its authenticity, though - even the usual rumour-mongers are qualifying their embeds:

And... breathe out. That's the lot. At least, that's the lot for the moment. Another day or two, though, and I wouldn't be surprised to see another take on a franchise that's been all-but dormant for decades, excepting Dark Oz and the aforementioned Broadway reimagining.

It's one thing to be remaking classics - Hollywood's been at it for near enough as long as Hollywood's been - but to see so many different takes on the same source material all at the same time really does makes you wonder. Wicked's success must have equated to eyes full of $$$ signs for a few studio execs. The green brick road, anyone? That said, it's a stretch to imagine eight such projects going forward in similar timeframes.

There's something strange in the air, that's for sure. I just don't know whether the Good Witch of the North is responsible for all the fairy dust, or if her wicked Winkie equivalent has something to do with it...


  1. You kinda forgot about the 2007 Syfy mini series Tin Man. That was really cool and not too long ago :D So next to Dark Oz and Wicked that may also have been a trigger for Hollywood. Will be interesting to see which ones of these projects make it!

  2. @Mieneke - Indeed.

    You ask me, though, that's one perhaps better forgotten. I had such high hopes for it too! Really, I should have known better... damn Sci-Fi channel. Give me my Farscape back! :)