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SETTING off to see the wizard, following the yellow brick road, Munchkins and there’s no place like home. All these words have crept into modern pop culture from the movie The Wizard of Oz.
Based on the 1900 novel by Frank Baum – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – the 1939 film starring Judy Garland is a cult classic now, but it didn’t even make back its budget when it was first released. Subsequent telecasts of the film reintroduced it to the public and today it is one of the most famous, and famously requoted, films of all time.
Baum wrote 14 novels set in the world of Oz and there are several film adaptations, ranging from a 15-minute long film from 1910 based on the 1902 musical Apocalypse Oz to a short film crossover between Apocalypse Now and The Wizard of Oz, filmed in 2006.
There are several new projects in the offing, like the animated Dorothy of Oz which follows Dorothy after she returns to Kansas. TV adaptations and reinterpretations outnumber the film product. Then there’s the stage adaptations, comics, games and a multitude of books staged in the Oz universe, which include official and unofficial versions.
But, it is that 1939 film which was the real game-changer.
While the film was mostly in Technicolor, the opening and closing sequences are in sepia, so when Dorothy steps out into Oz, it was into bold bursts of colour.
It’s rated as the best film in the Fantasy genre by the American Film Institute and Judy Garland’s red slippers are one of the most sought-after pieces of film memorabilia because of their iconic status (and the difficulty in actually proving provenance).
This new film, directed by Sam Raimi, is a prequel which gives us the story of how the wizard ended up in Oz in the first place, plus it is in 3D.
So, this time around when the wizard, James Franco playing Oscar Diggs, moves from black-and-white, mono-sound Kansas via a tornado and lands in the land of Oz, he steps into a world of saturated colour, full on 7.1 sound (if that’s available in a cinema near you), and 3D to boot.
There’s even a transition between shallow shots of Kansas into extreme widescreen of Oz.
There is also a mix of computer-generated imagery (cgi) characters, real characters, puppets and even a flying monkey that could be real, or maybe not.
What was real though were the film sets. Filmmakers built the 30 sets so actors really got a chance to skip down the Yellow Brick Road and gawk at the Emerald City.
The throne room in Emerald City has a large cascading staircase, the kind seen in movies of the 1930s/40s, so when Evanora (Rachel Weisz) comes gliding down the stairs it is a total Hollywood moment. So too, the first time you see the courtyard of Glinda’s (Michelle Williams) castle, you will be forgiven for thinking you’re in Disneyland.
Almost 2 000 costumes; more than 100 characters who required prosthetics of some kind; more than 2 500 character make-ups applied over a five month shoot on seven sound stages; plus four leads who all learned to fly through the air, courtesy of a foy; and 700 CGI artists working on post-production means this is one huge production.
Whether it works on quite the same level as that magical 1939 film remains to be seen, but the bean counters are certain to be hoping it does.