Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Meet Peter Hanff

Jay interviews Peter Hanff live at Oz Con International 2016. Hear how Peter Hanff discovered the world of Oz for himself, began building an incredible collection and began research into the history of the Oz series.

This is the second in four podcasts recorded at Oz Con International 2016.

Watch the Costume Parade video.

Watch the OzPrah Winkie show.

Register for next year's Oz Con International!

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the player and links below.



Download this episode (right click and save)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Oz Con International 2016 Recap

Jay reports live from Oz Con International to let you know what went down in Portland, Oregon. Plus, hear from Sean Carlson about how his setting the songs of Rinkitink in Oz to music became a hit for the attendees.

This will be the first in four podcasts recorded at Oz Con International 2016.

Watch the Costume Parade video.

Watch the OzPrah Winkie show.

Register for next year's Oz Con International!

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the player and links below.



Download this episode (right click and save)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Wicked: News, Rumors, and Speculation about the Upcoming Stage-to-Screen Adaptation

For years, Oz fans and musical theatre fans alike have wondered what a film adaptation of the musical Wicked might be like. Jared and I even discussed it, albeit somewhat briefly, in a recent podcast. It wasn't until last month, however, that such a film was formally announced and given a release date. (You can read Jared's thoughts on that announcement here.) Although we're still a ways away from that December 20, 2019 release date (1,242 days as of this posting, but who's counting?), we're starting to learn more about the approach that director Stephen Daldry and company are taking in bringing the beloved stage show to the big screen.

Wicked's composer and
lyricist Stephen Schwartz
Just this past week, composer Stephen Schwartz revealed during a panel at San Diego Comic-Con that the film would have four songs not included in the original musical, one of which is a song that was written for but was ultimately cut from the Broadway production. This could very well be "Making Good," a song that had been written for Elphaba but was replaced by "The Wizard and I." (You can listen to a recording of "Making Good" here.) Schwartz has said that the cut song was "too mild" and that he and the creative team felt that there needed to be a bigger, more compelling (and showstopping) song for Elphaba in its place.

It seems that most people are responding with excitement to the news that the film could include as many as four new songs, but personally, I have more mixed, less enthusiastic feelings about it. I definitely understand that the film will not and should not be a carbon copy of the stage show – one reason being that the clearly defined, two-act structure is different from the more fluid, three-act structure of a film, and another being that it's simply not realistic to expect that everything from the show will be carried over to the film. I feel, however, like there's no need to add to what's already there, and I hope that the final film doesn't diverge too much from the stage show.

Disney's film adaptation of Into the Woods was generally well-received and was mildly successful in terms of box office, but there were many people who were not happy about the changes that were made from the original musical. Not only were nine of the stage show's songs absent, but much of the violent and sexual content was toned down for the film (likely in order to obtain a PG rating and to be able to appeal to a wider audience, as of most Disney's content does). I think it's also relevant to mention the most recent film adaptation of Annie, which was basically "dead on arrival" in terms of the way it was received by critics and many, if not most, moviegoers because of its contemporary approach to the material and its obvious and significant differences from prior adaptations.

I honestly don't think there's much of a chance that the Wicked movie will be so different from the stage production and so harshly-received as the aforementioned Annie adaptation, especially since the screenplay is being written by Winnie Holzman, who also wrote the book for the original musical, but I'm definitely curious to see what changes are made and how those changes are received.

I'm also curious to see how people respond to the casting announcements that will inevitably arrive within the next year or so. It's pretty much a given that Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth won't be reprising their roles from the Broadway production, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were cast in other roles or made some sort of cameo appearance in the film. Kristin Chenoweth has said in passing that she'd be up for playing Madame Morrible, and if that were to happen, you wouldn't hear any complaints from me. The bigger question, though, is if not Idina and Kristin as Elphaba and Glinda, then who? Who should take on those now-iconic roles?

Anna Kendrick and Kristin
Chenoweth performing
the song "For Good"
at Trevor Live in 2013.
Well, I think it would be remiss of me to ignore the possibility that Anna Kendrick will be cast as Elphaba, and allow me explain my reasoning for that. The Wicked movie is being produced and distributed by Universal, the studio responsible for Pitch Perfect, the movie that made Kendrick a star and that was successful enough to spawn two sequels (the second of which is expected to arrive late next year). Assuming that a Wicked movie would carry a price tag of at least $100 million, it's unlikely that relatively unknown actors would be cast (although I know some musical theatre fans may not want to believe that). Kendrick has demonstrated her star power with the Pitch Perfect franchise and her ability to work in a musical of this caliber with her role as Cinderella in Into the Woods (which shares a producer with Wicked in Marc Platt), and I can't think of any other actresses (who would be appropriate for the role anyway) of which the same could be said. Aside from that, she's already expressed interest in the role, and she even performed a song from the musical with Kristin Chenoweth at an event in 2013 (video here).

Another name that's come up over the years is Lea Michele, best known for her role as Rachel on the TV show Glee. Like Anna Kendrick, Lea has expressed interest in someday playing Elphaba in a Wicked movie, and she's performed with both Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth. Chenoweth even suggested Lea in a recent interview in which she was asked who she'd like to see cast in the film. I've talked to many people who are rooting for Lea to get to the role and who feel like she's better suited to the role than is Anna Kendrick, and while I don't necessarily disagree with that, I think the reality is that Lea hasn't done enough post-Glee. Sure, she's on Fox's Scream Queens, but that show isn't popular and doesn't get very good ratings, and she, aside from a voice-over role in Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, hasn't been given a shot on the big screen since New Year's Eve, which was released almost five years ago. I do think that Lea should and probably will be at least considered for the role of Elphaba, but I don't know if casting her would be in the best interest of the film in terms of its potential to really succeed financially.

Kristin Chenoweth and Dove Cameron as Maleficent and Mal, Maleficent's
daughter, respectively, in Disney Channel's Descendants.

As for who could end up cast as Glinda, I think the possibilities are less clear than they seem to be for Elphaba. Amanda Seyfried has campaigned for the role for some time (and has even named Anna Kendrick as her pick to play Elphaba), and even though I like her and think she's very talented, my concern is that she might be a little too old for the part. Another actress who's thrown her name in the ring is Disney Channel star Dove Cameron, who shared the screen (and a musical number) with Kristin Chenoweth in the hit television film Descendants last year. In the same interview in which Chenoweth suggested that Lea Michele play Elphaba, she said that she'd like to see Dove play Glinda in the film. I'm not convinced that Dove Cameron has the charisma or the singing chops for it, but I'd certainly be open to the idea of her taking on the role.

At the end of the day, it obviously isn't up to me or any of us who will be cast in the Wicked movie or what the movie will be like, but it's fun to think about and speculate while we wait for those decisions to be made and announced and for the film to (finally) be released. As a big fan of the musical and having seen the stage production going on ten times, I'm eager to learn more about the film and to see it come together over the next three years, and I hope that it's as good and as successful as I think it has the potential to be.

Feel free to share your own hopes, ideas, thoughts, or concerns about Wicked's long-awaited move from the stage to the screen in the comments below!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The musical Rinkitink

Last year, Karyl Carlson announced that there would be CDs of her son's efforts to put music to the songs in Rinkitink in Oz. Well, Karyl's son Sean Carlson delivered!

The Songs of L. Frank Baum's Rinkitink in Oz is a 23 minute concept album in which Sean sings as Rinkitink (and speaks as Bilbil on one track), putting all of Rinkitink's ditties and songs from the book to music, reminding us that this was a very musical book.

Sean uses synthesized music as well as his own instruments, and he noted specifically that he used a ukulele and a didgeridoo. Synthesized music can sound good, and it does here. It doesn't feel like you're suddenly listening to a computer game from 1998. In addition to the songs, the album has four instrumental tracks of just music inspired by the story.

It should be noted that this is one interpretation of Rinkitink, not a definitive one. For me, when I read Rinkitink's songs in the book, I imagined Rinkitink having a deep baritone voice, and he'd belt out all his songs. Sean is not a baritone, so his Rinkitink is different with a much more gentle voice, giving more of the idea that Rinkitink is coming up with these songs on the spot and singing to himself and his friends. It's a viable interpretation, and the results are very pleasing.

Sean also doesn't try to keep the music in line with the time it was written. Perhaps I have a bad ear for genre, but the album uses all sorts of song styles for Rinkitink's songs, which lends to the idea that Rinkitink is coming up with these on the spot. Also, it helps with the idea that this story takes place in Fairyland, which has a culture that doesn't always mirror our own.

The CD comes in a digipak case (heavy cardstock with a hard plastic disc holder glued to a fold-out panel), decorated with art by John R. Neill in full color. The fold out panels include lyrics for the songs, and a track list, which reveals some of Sean's inspirations for these songs.

The CD was for sale at Oz Con International for $12 a copy (this is a small run of a concept album by an independent artist, so it will become a collector's item), and several copies will be available at Oz Con Philly next month, so if you're going or know someone who is going, your chance to get one is not far off. All sales will help fund future Oz Con events.

To order online, go to http://Paypal.Me/OzConInternational, enter $17.00 ($5 to cover shipping) and log in.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

John Boorman's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Some time ago, I wrote here about some of the Oz movies that could have been, a subject that, for some reason, I find really fascinating. In that blog entry, I looked at ten projects rather briefly, but now, I'd like to expand on one of them in particular, and that would be John Boorman's animated feature film adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

We first caught word of the planned film in late 2008, when reports surfaced online that Boorman, best known for directing such films as Deliverance and Excalibur, would direct a computer-animated feature film based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from a screenplay penned by Boorman and Robots writers Ron Mita and Jim McClain. The film had a planned summer 2010 release date and a $25 million price tag attached to it and would be produced in France by Action Synthese, the animation studio responsible for producing the film The Magic Roundabout, which was released in the United States as Doogal in 2006 by The Weinstein Company. Little was divulged at this time about the approach the film would take to adapting the source material, although it was established that it would not be a musical like the MGM film, would "maintain the main characters and settings" of the book, and would be voiced by English-speaking actors.


Almost immediately after the film was announced to be in pre-production, more information about the film and a couple of images made their way onto the internet via Action Synthese's (now defunct) website, which included a lengthy statement from Boorman on his vision for the film.
Why should we make an animated version of this story at all? Given the technical limitations of the day, and the demands of live action, the iconic MGM film could only engage with a fraction of the novel. Animation will allow up to explore the magical fantasy of the book and bring the array of strange and frightening creatures to life. Therefore my objective in recreating the universe of the land of Oz is to realise the glories of Franck [sic] Baum’s novel. 
Also present on the studio's website was a link to some sort of "teaser," although it was for a long time password protected. The footage, which was more an animation test than a teaser trailer, wasn't made available to the public until almost two years later, when it was discovered by Bleeding Cool. The teaser (which I could not embed here as I normally would because of the video's privacy settings but can be viewed on Vimeo by clicking here) consists of the scene in which Dorothy meets the Scarecrow. The animation was rather impressive for its time and, in my opinion, still stands above most foreign, low-budget animated fare today.

In the two years or so following the film's announcement, many pieces of conceptual artwork circulated online, often being pulled shortly after being posted at the studio's request. An official poster was released to coincide with the Annecy International Film Festival in June 2009, although it was unknown at this point how far the film was from being completed or if it was still on track to make its expected release date.

The production status of the film remained unclear, in fact, until Boorman was asked about it in an interview with Film Ireland in March 2011. Boorman revealed that the film had "stalled" before it ever got into full production. He confirmed that a script had been completed and that the entire film had been laid out in storyboards but stated that unfortunately, "there was no money there to make it." This is the last that was heard of the film, which was, as the Munchkin Coroner would say, "really, most sincerely dead" (along with a planned sequel to The Magic Roundabout) when Action Synthese folded in 2013.

Would John Boorman's film have been one of the most faithful (and even one of the greatest) film adaptations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz ever made? While, sadly, we'll never really know the answer to that question, I personally think that, yes, it would have. I don't believe that the screenplay has ever found its way onto the internet, but from what we know, it seems that Boorman and his co-writers were respectful of the source material and were committed to creating a unique, beautiful film that could stand on its own two legs rather than be tied to or heavily influenced by the MGM film or any other Oz adaptation.

I've done some digging around online to find as much artwork and as many renderings created for the film as possible, which you can see below. (These gorgeous images come from artist Robert Nageli, modeling supervisor Ariu Jean-Marc, and art director Florent Cellai, who worked on this film for four years and for Action Synthese in various capacities for more than eleven years.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Land of Oz video game on Kickstarter

I don't typically copy/paste press releases that I get emailed here, but as I'm on a bus headed to Portland, Oregon for Oz Con International, I'm not exactly in the best place to write something original.

I've actually pledged to this Kickstarter, for a $20 reward level. If you like Oz in video games, this is worth checking out.

End me, begin press release.

~~~

Land of Oz RPG (Press Release)

A pixel video game set in the magical Land of Oz

Playwrights Haven has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for their latest project, Land of Oz. Set years before Dorothy’s arrival, Land of Oz is an RPG that allows the player to traverse through Oz and interact with famous characters like the Wizard and the Nome King. Along the way, the player must make choices that will impact world and its inhabitants.

Land of Oz Kickstarter Link

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2063013267/land-of-oz-video-game

Land of Oz will be a PC exclusive and will be released sometime in July, 2017.

The Story

In the game you play as Captain Fyter, a tin soldier sent out west to investigate reports of flying monkeys being spotted over Winkie Country. Fyter is a character from The Tin Woodman of Oz, one of L. Frank Baum’s later novels in the Oz series. In the story, he was once human until the Wicked Witch of the East enchanted his sword, causing it to chop off his limbs until his entire body had to be replaced with tin parts (For more information, check out http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Captain_Fyter )

By the time Fyter is sent out west, Oz is in a state of upheaval. The ruling monarchy has been overthrown by a mysterious wizard and the Wicked Witches have taken this opportunity to expand their influence.

Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform that allows backers to donate to projects in exchange for rewards. If a campaign reaches its monetary goal, the money is then used to finance the project. If a campaign does not reach their goal, the backers keep the money that would have been donated to the project.

The Land of Oz campaign is using the money from kickstarter to partially fund the game’s music, coding and graphics. This will allow Playwrights Haven to expand the scope and quality of the game. A portion of the funds will also be used to cover licensing fees, Kickstarter's transaction fees, and backer rewards.

Rewards

Here is a short list of rewards being offered for Land of Oz backers:

$3 - You will be listed in the 'Special Thanks - Kickstarter Backers' section of the game's credits.

$10 - All of the above, plus:

A digital copy of the game when it comes out.

$20 - All of the above, plus:

An eBook describing the development of the game, from the kickstarter to post-production. You will also receive a digital copy of the music from the game.

$200 - All of the above, plus:

One of the Non-Playable Characters within the game will be named after you.

$300 - All of the above, plus:

Your NPC will have a side quest for the player.

Those interested in helping have until August 5th to donate to the kickstarter campaign ( https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2063013267/land-of-oz-video-game ). Besides donating, you can help spread the word about the project and follow Playwrights Haven on Twitter @Playwrightsfilm #landofoz





###

Playwrights Haven is a multimedia group dedicated to providing entertaining products ranging from comic books, games, and film. Besides Land of Oz, Playwrights Haven is currently developing a graphic novel called ‘The Tanglewood Outcast.’

Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Dreamer of Oz" on DVD

I was one of the lucky people to watch this tele-movie when it first aired on TV and I would rent the video whenever I could (it had a nice cover).


Once I knew enough, I made it a point to watch this movie every year on L Frank Baum's birthday, even if it is just one (inaccurate) portion of his life.

I also had and enjoyed listening to the CD (and reading its vastly illustrated and written booklet) whenever I could (which you can buy here on Amazon).

Personally I would have Track 16 say "Magic Land"
or "the Munchkins" rather than "Oz"

And like many other viewers, if not all, I wished and wished and waited for it to come on DVD (I particularly wanted a "Commemorative" Special Edition to be made after John Ritter's death) ... but one day WB included it in their set for MGM's the Wizard of Oz.

But I am here to talk about another DVD release it has had - as well as a comparison of the two prints.



Warner Bros has the movie in a Set, you have to unpack to get out the disk, together with the Special Features that may focus on Frank Baum, usually the earlier Silent Films and 1933 Ted Eshbaugh cartoon.
  The picture is not restored or remastered, due to the type of video used for filming for TV in those 90s days, so the lines and quality often looks double-exposed or "side-by-side".

This version of the video is by a fully licensed and famous studio that distributes widely, in store and online.

Screenshot of the Opening Title from the official WB release


Another version of the movie's DVD release is simpler and lesser known.

As you can see above, the cover uses the art from the CD soundtrack.

Menu screenshot from the "rare and collectible" single-disk version


Surprisingly, the picture is a little different:  by comparison it is not as colourful nor is it out of focus and the size when playing is different to WB.
But also note how the colours are not as strong nor is the contrast as deep, so the green is a bit paler, the darker areas are a bit greyer and the picture is still overall soft.

However there is no trailer or short video ad that reveals the distributor or DVD manufacturing company; the Menu uses the Opening Title as its design and the movie itself will not play on my computer's VLC player (hence explains why I do not have anymore screenshot comparisons).
On DVD/Blu-ray Player, however, it repeats the movie as soon as it finishes.

And as you can see from the above Menu, there are no other options whatsoever, NONE AT ALL ... so no subtitles.

Most likely this is a bootleg copy, piracy of which is a crime, so I will not include the link of where I got this to support that kind of purchasing (even if that site has another movie I've been wanting on DVD).
Hopefully this post will make others aware of unlicensed copies.

It would be so much better and a pleasant surprise if WB would put in the effort to restore and remaster "the Dreamer of Oz" for a new release, on its own or with MGM's "Wizard" again, especially since there are many photos out there that could be put together for a Gallery and there was once a bunch of videos on YouTube that had some of the actors (Munchkins) talking about the telemovie on a Daytime Show.
Not to mention, WB could also include the new and improved remastered 1933 cartoon on future releases, now that Thunderbean Animation has put their DVD+Blu-ray version out.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Warner Brothers and Oz

Angelo posted a blog recently wondering why Warner Brothers doesn't do more with their ownership of the MGM film, The Wizard of Oz. This coincided with the latest entry in their direct to video Tom and Jerry movie: Back to Oz. Angelo reviewed that here, and since he does a good job of keeping it spoiler-free, I'll save my review until Sam and I review it on the podcast.

I did purchase and watch Back to Oz and found it to be surprisingly well-done. Tom and Jerry could easily have been written out and the entire thing presented as a direct to video animated sequel to The Wizard of Oz. Paul Dini (veteran writer for Filmation and Warner Brothers animation including DC Comics properties, and co-creator of Harley Quinn) did a very good job of bringing in elements from the Oz books and mixing them with elements from the MGM movie.

I suspect the Tom and Jerry mix with Oz was to lend the project a bit of grace in the eyes of fans. It wouldn't be a direct sequel to a movie classic, it was a sequel to a previous Tom and Jerry movie. But it really didn't need to be. You get people who care about telling a good story and who are respectful to the source material and the fans, and that's all the grace you need.

So, am I saying Warner Brothers should consider doing a line of animated Oz movies for direct to video? Yeah. Back to Oz was basically proof that they could do something good with the right team. All I'll ask is that they keep them as family films, and try not to appeal only to the very young.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wicked the Movie finally gets a release date

Fan poster by Angelo Thomas,
Featuring a fancast Anna Kendrick
as Elphaba
Every Oz fan knew that a movie version of the hit musical Wicked wasn't a question of if, but when. (Except Sam. If you listen closely, you can hear him yelling "NO!!!" all the way from Australia.)

Well, although I'm sure most Oz fans have heard, the question has finally been answered. The movie is set to open to theaters in the US on December 20, 2019. (International releases should be around this time.) I, for one, think they should've set it for October (since the movie is about a witch, and that would tie it to Halloween), but it seems movies based on musicals get December releases now.

It will have been 13 years since Wicked debuted on Broadway, so it seems this has given quite enough time for the show to run in Broadway, tour the country, and open in other countries before a movie is made.

We knew a movie wouldn't come right away because film adaptations of Broadway hits aren't fast-tracked anymore. (Note the last Oz stage to film adaptation, The Wiz in 1978, opened a mere three years after the Broadway debut.) It's important for plays to be a hit in their own right before they get a movie nowadays. And Wicked isn't just a hit, it's become a part of Broadway history and without a movie has earned an important part in pop culture.

Fan poster by Angelo Thomas,
Featuring a fancast Julianne Hough
as Glinda
So, what's in store for the movie? As Angelo and I discussed in the latest podcast, there's likely to be changes. The stage of the Broadway version is framed with a clockwork motif as part of the Time Dragon Clock. As I mentioned in my review of the play, this can be interpreted as the entire story being depicted by the Time Dragon Clock from the original Gregory Maguire novel. Could this be interpreted into the movie? The Time Dragon Clock can't be in every scene. Or would it be too much? Would it require a framing sequence?

Speaking of which, a play has to compress the events of a story to a number of scenes or have some things only referred to. A movie has more freedom. Could we see a more fleshed-out version of the story in the movie? That would be akin to how The Sound of Music was adapted for film. Perhaps Stephen Schwartz will be penning a new song or two, or reviving ones they dropped during development years ago.

In my opinion, that might be ideal so that the movie version will offer a different experience from the play, so that both versions of the property will offer something unique. Winnie Holzman is writing the screenplay, based on her original script, so that should be in good hands.

And then there's casting. Fans already have their ideas, but I think we should trust the creative team to pick the best people to portray the characters. Fancasting is fun (and Angelo's made a couple picks that he's made into art that decorates this article), but I think fans should have fun with coming up with picks, but don't fight because they don't like someone else's picks, or the actual final casting. All I'll say is that Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenowith should certainly get at least cameos.