Nov 17 2010 4:08pm

Remaking Fairyland: A Wizard of Oz Remake?

The Wizard of Oz remakeHollywood news outlets are reporting that Warner Bros Studios plans to make a remake of the original Wizard of Oz—a live action film so faithful that it reportedly will be using the same script. The film is tentatively scheduled to compete with gently complement Disney’s planned Oz vehicle starring Robert Downey Jr. as well as a couple of other Oz projects in the development stage.

As a diehard Oz fan (I even have the little Wizard of Oz Pez dispensers....yes, yes, I’m pathetic, but this entry is not about me. It’s about Hollywood) I should be delighted, right?

Well, no, not really.

First, the avid moviewatcher in me had one, and only response to this idea: are we that desperate for original ideas, Hollywood? Okay, judging from this summer and fall’s movie entries, and the undoubted truth that the most anticipated movie of this weekend is based on a British novel, maybe, but to the point where we aren’t just doing remakes, we’re using the exact. same. script? Bring on more disastrous unstoppable train movies, if that’s the problem.

But moving on beyond the serious issue of a a desperate dearth of Hollywood creativity, I have some other concerns. As I earlier noted, the 1939 original was very much a film of its time. Certainly, many of the same issues of security, fear, financial stress and distant wars that aren’t really so distant are still with us, and in that context, remaking The Wizard of Oz makes some sense. Even the original film’s embrace of the bleakness of life has its historical parallels. But I am not certain that any director, even one with the time-traveling pedigree of Robert Zemeckis, can or should attempt to recreate that feeling.

A second, more minor concern is that some parts of the film, specifically the Cowardly Lion’s lengthy song/dance number in the middle of the film, were specifically designed for the actors cast to play them. The writers and director of the 1939 film had seen Bert Lahr act, dance and sing, and created a number that would showcase his very specific talents. (This is also why that particular number makes no sense in the film and works only if you decide to consider the entire film as only a dream.) With all due respect to current Hollywood talents, none of them are Bert Lahr.

And third, a part of the film’s original glory—that switch from sepia tones to brilliant Technicolor—is a point that simply won’t have the same impact on audiences accustomed to digital colorization.Just as I typed that sentence, I had the horrible thought that Zemeckis would, indeed, be updating that point—by filming the Kansas scenes in 2D, before throwing us until a swishing 3D world, like Avatar, only, brighter and more musical. Ouch. Let us hope no one in Warner Bros has the same thought.

It’s that I don’t want to see a remake, one that hopefully removes some of the awkward notes of the 1939 original (eliminating the horrific sound effects done on the Munchkin voices would be a great start.) And this being Hollywood, I greatly doubt that the 1939 script can or would be followed that closely, eliminating some of the minor qualms I mentioned. And, of course, I’d love to see what could be could be done with CGI effects in many of the Oz scenes, and with updating some of the dance numbers, and perhaps bringing back others.

I will, however, admit that I am more looking forward to the Disney film with Robert Downey Jr., if only because, well, it has Robert Downey Jr. in it. I admit it. In such matters, I can be shallow.

Mari Ness is a diehard Oz and Robert Downey Jr. fan. She lives in central Florida.

Chris Hawks
1. SaltManZ
A 2D-to-3D transition is exactly what I was thinking, too. I don't mind 3D, but still I shuddered.

The real question is: who on earth thinks this is something that needs to be done? Not that I think it will matter; it'll make it's big box office smash (obviously the only reason to do this is for the money it will undoubtedly rake in) then they'll press the DVDs and Blue-Rays, and shortly thereafter everyone will forget about it, while the original will still retain its "classic" status.
Ian Tregillis
2. ITregillis
Wow. My mind, it is boggled. A remake using the original script... Not seeing the point here.
3. terri-lynne movie, same script? Are they trying to grab a new audience? Or will they resurrect the original audience? I'm thinking they want a new audience, who is NOT going to connect with the old script as it had originally been responded to. As you said, it's a product of it's time.
4. ReallyNow
I've been waiting for years for this to be made. Oh, not in anticipation, but simply because it always seemed obvious Hollywood would eventually get around to it.

"If it was a Classic yesterday, it will be a Remake tomorrow." - Anyone else think that should be Hollywood's new slogan?

Or perhaps, "Hollywood - Single-handedly ripping all of your childhoods to shreds."
Mari Ness
5. MariCats
@Saltman Z - Thing is, I'm not at all sure this project will make any money - the original film is widely available (beyond the DVD, two local theatres show it regularly every summer, morning and evening shows, for $2 to $5 a ticket) and my guess is that most parents will just decide to stick with the original DVD. I'm not saying that remakes aren't popular, just that they have to offer something new, and it doesn't sound like this movie is offering anything new other than possibly computer animated digitized monkeys.

@ITregillis - Yeah. A remake is one thing, using the same script...something else.

@Terri-Lynne - I definitely believe that Oz and Oz movies have a huge untapped audience (although that might be just me) but I think, if they are honestly trying to go for that new, untapped audience, they either need to offer something different and contemporary (like the Robert Downey Jr. vehicle) or, barring that, do something that is considerably closer to the book. I think a number of people would rush to see a new version of the book. I'm just not sure a number of people will rush to see a new filming of the script.

@ReallyNow - I've been expecting a remake, but one focused more on the original book than the original script, especially since the book is in the public domain and the script certainly isn't - although since Warner Bros owns the script rights I suppose that's not the same concern for them.
Tudza White
6. tudzax1
Well, I can certainly do without the business in the Return to OZ where someone felt it necessary to send Dorothy to a mental institution and have her brain electrically altered.

I want the Queen of the Mice, song or no song.
7. James C. Wallace II
Like a pendulum, the Oz craze swings back and forth as the public demands and right now, they demand remakes of classics, including the Wizard of Oz.
Don't kid yourself, nobody would be doing this if there weren't money to be made, and tons of it if past attempts like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice are any indication.
What makes me ill is that Zemeckis is now involved in a remake of Yellow Submarine. WHY!!!!!
I'll be curious to see the reaction to this new remake once it is out and makes the rounds of the Oz festivals around the country. It is there where the overall success/failure will be decided. And Oz fans can be either overwhelmingly supportive or equally cruel!

And as a side note to tudzax1; I applaud you for your support for Her Majesty, the Queen of the Field Mice. You would be pleased to know that in my Oz books; Magician of Oz, Shadow Demon of Oz and Family of Oz(due out in Jan. 2011), she plays a major role in each book. I too love the little rodent with the shiny crown.
Mike Conley
8. NomadUK
What makes me ill is that Zemeckis is now involved in a remake of Yellow Submarine. WHY!!!!!

I think perhaps Zemeckis has gotten ahold of whatever it is George Lucas has been smoking the past several years.
9. ScottH
I'd far rather see a new adaptation of the book using modern CGI and other movie-making technology, using inspiration from Denslow, Neill, and Shanower for the character and set designs.
Mari Ness
10. MariCats
Everybody, yesterday's news is now denied:

Which just goes to show that Hollywood publicists can't be trusted. My guess, for what it's worth, is that someone threw the story out there to gage the response, and upon getting a generally negative one, decided to axe the project.
Mari Ness
11. MariCats
@tudzax1 - I have mixed feelings about Return to Oz (which I finally got around to watching recently) which hopefully I'll be discussing soon.

I agree that losing the mice is a definite loss.

@James C Wallace - I'm just going to note that at least two other novelists, one of whom has even been published by Tor, managed to comment on this entry without mentioning their own books.

@ScottH - Agreed. I think the time is long past for a new movie adaptation of the book, and I'd love to see that. (Who knows? If it was successful enough, we could maybe even have 39 sequels...

...or not.)

Seriously, I think a lot could be done with an adaptation of the book, especially with today's CGI.
john mullen
12. johntheirishmongol
This isnt the first remake ever to use an original script. The Prisoner of Zenda, which was originally made with Ronald Coleman was remade with Stuart Granger. It was a line by line remake.

And the Wizard of Oz has already been remade, with a rethought cast and music, as The Wiz (which was really pretty bad).

There are no sacred cows in Hollywood.I suspect before the end of my life, I will see a remake of Star Wars, lol.

BTW, Mari, also central fl here.
Mari Ness
13. MariCats
@johntheirishmongol - Hi, fellow central Fl!

I am also anticipating a remake of Star Wars -- a fully digital one where Lucas no longer has to work with those pesky actors but can just play with computers.
14. Ed Sholty
Does anybody know the story of an unsuccessful involvement of Maurice Sendak with the production of "Return to OZ?" I've seen some of his preliminary concept art, but don't know what happened to get him thrown off the set.
Mari Ness
15. MariCats
Hi Ed -- I'm not sure, but you might have better luck getting an answer to this question on the Return to Oz post, which is here:

Not sure if anyone will check that post, because it's fairly old, but maybe?

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