By Stephanie Zacharek
By Charles Taylor
By Chris Klimek
By Chris Klimek
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
So Baum's second Oz book was directly shaped by ancillary media. That was often the case with the others: The Tin Man's name, Nick Chopper, comes from that first musical. In later books, Baum sometimes forced crossovers with characters from his less popular properties, like Queen Zixi of Ix. He tried writing sequels to the Broadway show, including one based on Ozma of Oz, the third Oz novel, but rights issues involved with the first show meant he couldn't use the Scarecrow or Tin Man; when the new play failed to move beyond its initial run in Los Angeles, Baum adapted that adaptation into the eighth Oz novel, Tik-Tok of Oz, the first in which his two most popular characters don't turn up at all.
Between 1914 and 1915, Baum himself even wrote and produced a trio of short Oz films. In these, the wizard has genuine magical powers, and almost every scene features the strenuous dancing of pantomime animals. Here's the most accomplished of these, His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. Baum is credited as director.
The film and some choice images are below. Worth noting in it:
00:15 The smiling beauty is meant to be Ozma, the queen of Oz from the third book on. This brief shot of her face branded the three films produced by Baum's Oz Film Manufacturing Company.
7:10 The scarecrow is brought to life through the magic of a Native American spirit woman. That's, uh, not in the book.
8:40 Isn't Burger King still using that costume today?
12:50 The witch Mombi summons a batch of additional witches, who caper evilly for far too long.
16:20 Witches versus a pantomime horse!
20:40 As in the 1939 film and almost all theatrical productions, the Scarecrow has some trouble walking at first.
29:40 The Tin Man chops the head off Mombi the witch, slightly perturbing her.
31:10 Flying monkey versus Cowardly Lion, who, again, is an un-talking pantomime animal.
35:00 After suffering an assault by a swordfish, the scarecrow is aided by a mermaid with an umbrella.
36:07 A great crow saves the Scarecrow; then, after some awkwardness, they dance.
46:00 At long last, we see the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion together.
48:40 The Wizard of Oz, now a magician of great power, cans and preserves the witch Mombi.
Despite such direct involvement by Oz's creator, the 1914-15 films still don't feel much like what most viewers probably expect or want from an Oz adaptation. Raimi's film comes closer, I think, although it has its disappointments: The lavish 3-D chase scenes can drag, and the woman-spurned origin of its witch's wickedness would be weirdly retrograde even without the example of Wicked. (And why would Raimi cut short a from-nowhere musical number in Munchkinland when he allowed them to run so long in his last Spider-Man?)
Still, Oz the Great and Powerful shares three key qualities with the 1939 film and the best of the books themselves: An emphasis on odd friends who learn to work together; a smart balance of the fun and the scary; and the sense that Kansas practicality and decency will best all magic, no matter how powerful.
So there's no point in worrying about purity of vision in this newest film Oz. Or in Walter Murch's undervalued but too-sinister Return to Oz, the 1985 film where Dorothy has PTSD and gets chased by wheeled extras from A Clockwork Orange. Or in Victor Fleming and King Vidor's beloved MGM extravaganza, which itself introduced an idea entirely unfaithful to the books: The suggestion that maybe that place over the rainbow was all in Dorothy's head. In Baum, that's impossible: In The Emerald City of Oz, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry move to Oz themselves. In the movies, though, the possible madness of Dorothy is just another puking duck — another iffy idea that Oz can survive.
Speaking of puke: Savor this trailer and clip reel from the only Oz movie as bad as Semon's 1925 eyesore.
"You'll be Ozzified," the narrator promises; it's up to you whether or not that sounds like a threat. Surprisingly, Barry Mahon's stiff and rickety 1969 travesty The Wonderful Land of Oz is the Oz movie that is most by-the-book faithful to Baum, which shows you just how much fidelity is worth.
It plows straight through Baum's The Marvelous Land of Oz, right down to the book's peculiar politics of gender: At the climax, the hero, an orphan boy named Tip, gets transformed against his will into a princess, Ozma, who will rule over Oz for all the books to come. Meanwhile, General Jinjur, annoyed at the hegemony of men, leads her all-girl army against the Emerald City, deposing the Scarecrow — Oz's ruler after the first novel — and forcing men to do housework. (Less nobly, in the book, the girls also crave the capital's emeralds, which they plan to use in jewelry and gowns. Worse, the revolutionaries get run off by a couple of field mice.)
The movie is a cramped, shadowy bore, staged and designed by budgetless amateurs. It's not at all helped by a lead who can't remember his lines and croons dirges with titles like "I Don't Want to Be a Statue" — that one could be an honest assessment of his performance. (The kid, Mahon's son, never again deigned to act.)
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