Friday, November 29, 2013

The Royal Podcast of Oz: A Chat With Tim Tucker

Jared chats with fellow Oz fan and collector Tim Tucker and we hear his thoughts on Oz fandom, conventions, and some of the more popular Oz films.

This interview was "phoned in" and the sound quality is not pristine. Headphones are recommended.

As always, you can listen and download at the podcast site or use the player below.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Oziana 2013 is out!

Well, the 2013 issue of Oziana is finally available from! And this is one lovely issue!

The theme of the issue is "Traditional Oz," meaning that these stories are meant to fit with the Oz you know from the tales of Baum, Thompson and the rest. Not that the imagination of the writers and artists felt trapped!

First up is "Foiled by the Iffin" by Phyllis Ann Karr, illustrated by Dennis Anfuso. The Computer Wizard is back with another scheme to cause trouble in Oz! How far will he go in his plan and when will our friends in Oz catch onto it?

Next is "The Harvest Ball" by Gina Wickwar, illustrated by Luciano Vecchio and Marcus Mebes. When the Scarecrow has a Harvest Ball, he has an idea to amuse everyone! It'll just require a little help from Glinda. But she's away... Will an overly helpful maid at Glinda's palace help the Scarecrow or make things go horribly wrong?

Then, to fit the time this issue finally came out, "Jinnicky Saves Christmas" by Nathan DeHoff, illustrated by Shawn Maldonado. One chilly Christmas Eve, Jinnicky helps to foil yet another plot to kidnap Santa Claus!

And in "The Love Bug of Oz" by newcomer Ed McCray, Mombi and Ruggedo raid the Wicked Witch of the West's old palace to see what they can find. What they do find is a lot of trouble for our friends in the Emerald City!

Next up is "The Way of a Lion" by Jared Davis (yours truly), illustrated by Sam Milazzo. Well, this story won the International Wizard of Oz Club's first place for fiction this year at the Winkie Convention Research Table. It is my own backstory for the Cowardly Lion, explaining why he believes he is a coward. Look carefully and you'll see a few things from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz explained, and maybe a couple cameos.

I wrote the story with the intent that the reader could read it and then begin re-reading Baum's Wizard and my story would complement the Lion's story in the original classic. Aside from mentions of Lurline, I decided to focus mainly on what we knew about Oz from the first book.

And Sam's pictures for the story are gorgeous. I'd asked him to illustrate almost as soon as I began writing the story, since I knew he enjoyed drawing lions. He showed me sketches at the 2012 Winkie Convention and then near finished pictures at this year's convention. He didn't always draw exactly what I'd written, but I didn't mind. It looked very cool. I suggested I alter the text to match the pictures, he told me not to. In the end, I'm very pleased with the finished version you can see in Oziana.

(Yes, I did just give three paragraphs to my story when I only gave everyone else a blurb. I wasn't in their creative process.)

Finally is "Witches of the West" by newcomer Darrell Spradlyn and Marcus Mebes. Set to tell more about Gloma, Thompson's Good Witch of the West, the story tells of days before the Wicked Witch of the West was destroyed, and not only reveals more about Gloma, but the Wicked Witch and Mombi, including a little bit of witch lore yours truly suggested to the writers. (It will be used again in an upcoming story.)

Art by Luciano Vecchio graces the front cover, while an excellent portrait of Gloma by Alejandro Garcia.

And Oziana is only $10 at Lulu. Everyone turned out some amazing work for this issue! If you ask me, that's well worth the price!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Return to Oz: the computer game

So, when Return to Oz was released, it received a flurry of merchandise. Among it was a computer game by U.S. Gold, available for the Commodore 64, the Amstrad CPC and the ZX Spectrum. The game was rather obscure, as are most games for such systems these days. I've managed to play and win the Commodore 64 version.

Aunt Em in the barnyard
The game's mechanics are a little odd. You would see a list of commands at the bottom of the screen. Selecting one, you choose from an item on the screen.

"Look" provides a description of the item you select. Sometimes there are clues to what to do in the game are hidden therein.

"Talk" allows you to talk to a character, or, in the Nome King's palace, guess at which object is the Scarecrow. If you already know what you're doing, you're not going to use this much, but it is required in some parts to advance in the game.

"Search" is a catchall for "open" or "examine," allowing you to find more items by looking at items on the screen. Yes, this is needed quite a few times to advance in the game.

"Get" allows you to add whatever items you find to your inventory, which is accessed by "List," but more on that later.

"Leave" lets you move on to another location.

Accessing "List," we see that Dorothy can sure hold quite a lot! (Not seen here: a ladder and a large mirror.) In this one and only submenu, you can select an item to drop (it won't always let you), use (another catchall term), and actually quit (or rather restart) the game.

The problem with this submenu is that every emulator I've played the game in (I don't have a real C64) uses a different key to exit the submenu. (Which is also how to cancel selecting an item from the picture on the screen.) CCS64 uses "shift," and Frodo for Android (which I used to take these screencaps with) uses the emulated F2 key. On the Java emulator I set up on my Oz website, you have to use the Caps Lock key. Basically, experiment until you find the proper key. (Shifting between options uses the space bar, while confirming them is, of course, the Enter key.) A similar issue has prevented me from trying the Spectrum version, which has wholly different graphics.

EDIT: I have since tried both the Amstrad and Spectrum versions. Bafflingly, in these versions "Quit" in the inventory submenu actually lets you leave the submenu rather than quit the game. I managed to finish the Amstrad version, but had problems with the Spectrum version.

The plot adaptation is rather faithful to the movie, but has some additions. In Dr. Worley's clinic, you have to find a tinder box before going to the operating table. (Like a lamb to slaughter...) This is used when everything goes dark so you can talk to the girl who whisks you to Oz. You actually don't go to Oz, but you use a sandboat to cross the Deadly Desert to Oz.

After recovering Tik-Tok, you have to go underground because the bridge to Mombi's palace is broken. Along the way, you face off against a nose on two legs (you use dust to make it go away), a flame-spurting carrot (somehow Billina destroys it) and a pit of lava. (You have to close the floor.)

An addition to Mombi's palace is that when you go to get Mombi's ruby key, you must drop your shoes either in the tower room or in that room before searching Mombi's bed.

On the Nome King's mountain, there's an optional quest to connect a tunnel leading to it to the one under Mombi's palace. (So perhaps it actually does have a connection to the movie.) Along the way, you run into a crab who can turn people to stone with the way it looks. (It simply blocks your path. It's defeated by showing it a mirror down the tunnel.)

The Nome King will not transform your friends, but says that if they fail all three attempts at freeing the Scarecrow, he'll send them to Mombi's palace. (The quest to connect the tunnels is to simplify returning to the Mountain.)

The ornament rooms are nothing like the movie, looking more like a junk room. The only objects that you can select from are a bottle, a bomb(!), a book, a brick, a baseball bat, and a vase. Which one's the Scarecrow? Well, one of these things is not like the other...

And, of course, those Ruby Slippers look stunning in those VIC-II graphics!
I was being sarcastic. They look just like your regular shoes with a dark grey interior instead of a light grey one.

And of course, at the end, you set Ozma free. Not by using "Search" on the mirror, you have to add it to your inventory and "Use" it to free Ozma. To get the ending, you drop the Ruby Slippers and leave the Emerald City. And look at that ending screen!
As I said, I made the game available on my Oz website through a Java-powered emulator. Right here!

Other sites have the Amstrad and Spectrum versions available for online play and download.

Here's some more screencaps.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Disney's Journey to Oz, part 3

In 1980, Walt Disney Pictures production chief Tom Wilhite brainstormed with sound designer Walter Murch about the latter stepping into the director's chair for a Disney production. Murch mentioned that he'd like to make an Oz film, and Wilhite remembered that the Disney company was still sitting on the rights of the Oz books, the earliest of which was going to be slipping into the public domain soon, making any remaining rights the company had worthless. And thus, the movie that became Return to Oz began development.

Murch decided to do a markedly different take on Oz than the classic 1939 film that audiences knew so well. Instead of going back to MGM's 1939 Kansas, Dorothy would live in 1899. And instead of a Judy Garland lookalike (she was 16 when she filmed her famous role), nine year old Fairuza Balk would play Dorothy. The production itself took visual inspiration from John R. Neill's illustrations.

The story would be a sequel to L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz rather than the MGM film, but so as not to completely lose the audiences familiar with Garland's Dorothy, Disney obtained a license to use the Ruby Slippers in the film. Also, the film played with Noel Langley's motif of having characters and objects in Kansas suggest characters in Oz.

The movie was based on The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. Dorothy, suffering from insomnia due to no one believing her stories about her trip to Oz, would be taken to be subjected to a new electrical therapy. (What we now call electroshock therapy.) She is rescued from Dr. Worley's clinic by a mysterious blonde girl. Being chased by Nurse Wilson to a river, Dorothy and the girl jump right in, Dorothy finding refuge in a chicken coop.

Dorothy awakens in the coop joined by her pet hen Billina (who has trouble laying an egg), finding themselves just outside of the Land of Oz in the Deadly Desert. Using rocks, Dorothy carefully makes her way to Oz. She finds a lunchpail tree for food, but soon wonders why she hasn't encountered anyone. Finding her old house, she spots a torn up yellow brick road, which she follows to a broken down Emerald City where everyone has been turned to stone.

The only remaining inhabitants are the maniacal Wheelers who force her to find Tik-Tok, the clockwork Royal Army of Oz. He forces a Wheeler to take them to Princess Mombi, who seems to be the only other person alive in Oz. She reveals that the Nome King took the Scarecrow to his mountain, took all the emerald of the Emerald City and turned everyone into stone. She also reveals that she can swap her heads (Dorothy had previously noted stone headless dancing girls) due to a large collection.

Dorothy defies Mombi when she takes an interest in her head and is thrown into the tower, where she meets Jack Pumpkinhead, who tells her of Mombi's Powder of Life. Dorothy sneaks out to steal it to build the Gump, a conglomerate flying machine. Finding it with Mombi's original head, Dorothy accidentally wakes the headless Mombi and her heads. Being led back to the tower room by a mysterious shape in a mirror, Dorothy brings the Gump to life (which Tik-Tok and Jack assembled) and they make their escape to the Nome King's mountain.

The Gump falls apart midflight, but luckily everyone manages to land somewhat safely on the mountain, where the Nome King offers them to take part in his guessing game to free the Scarecrow, who has been turned into an ornament. The Gump, Jack and Tik-Tok take their turns before Dorothy and fail. Before she goes to make her guesses, the Nome King reveals that he was able to capture the Scarecrow and wreak havoc on Oz with the Ruby Slippers that fell off of Dorothy's feet on her way back to Kansas on her first visit to Oz. He had justified his actions by claiming that the gems used in the Emerald City were really his and that the Scarecrow was a thief. He also offers to send Dorothy home with the Ruby Slippers and make her forget about Oz.

Dorothy goes to make her guesses anyway as Mombi arrives in the Nome Kingdom, fearing that Dorothy might guess correctly and find out about Ozma. The Nome King is sure that Dorothy will fail, until with her final guess, Dorothy selects an emerald that proves to be the transformation of the Scarecrow. Realizing that the people from Oz must be green ornaments, Dorothy frees the rest of her friends, except Tik-Tok.

The Nome King has sunk into a rage and become little more than a rock face (the failure of each of Dorothy's friends allowed him to take a more humanoid form). He attempts to eat Dorothy's friends, taking the Gump's body, but when he tries to eat Jack, Billina (who was hiding in Jack's head) finally lays her egg, which falls into his mouth. The Nomes cry "poison!" as the Nome King dies, his last words revealing that eggs are poison to Nomes, which was why he had previously been wary about chickens.

Dorothy reclaims the Ruby Slippers and uses them to return to and restore Oz. After arriving safely just outside the Emerald City, they find a green badge on the Gump's antler and it proves to be Tik-Tok's transformation.

In the Emerald City, Dorothy and the Scarecrow are welcomed back by a joyous celebration (consisting of many characters from later Oz books), and the people cry for Dorothy to become their new ruler. But Dorothy decides she needs to go back to Kansas. Wishing she could be in both places at once, Ozma, the true ruler of Oz, appears behind Dorothy in the mirror, and Dorothy recognizes her as the blonde girl from Kansas. Setting her free, Dorothy gives Ozma the Ruby Slippers, which she uses to send Dorothy home, promising to look in on Dorothy from time to time, and allowing Dorothy to return to Oz whenever she wants.

Awakening in Kansas, Dorothy is found by the river by Toto and Uncle Henry, who were leading a search party for her. Aunt Em tells her that the clinic was struck by lightning and burned down. Everyone (including damaged patients in the cellar) escaped, except Dr. Worley. At home, Dorothy wonders if her trips to Oz might not have been dreams after all, until she makes the Oz symbol on her mirror, making Ozma and Billina (who stayed in Oz) appear in it. Dorothy calls Aunt Em, but Ozma shushes her gently and vanishes. Aunt Em encourages Dorothy to play outside with Toto as the credits begin to roll.

There was certainly a lot to like about Return to Oz. Its script showed quite a bit of ingenuity in combining two of the Oz books into one narrative. Fairuza Balk made an effective Dorothy and Nicol Williamson gave a wonderfully wicked performance as the Nome King. The visual effects, such as Will Vinton's Claymation and wonderful animatronics and creature effects, are successful in selling the odder creatures of Oz as actual characters. David Shire's music is beautiful and very evocative. On the other hand, its dark tone was off-putting to audiences and critics who had expected another light-hearted Oz adventure in the spirit of the MGM film.

The production itself suffered many cutbacks and many plot elements (such as additional members of the Army of Oz and the Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion appearing at the Nome King's mountain) were cut as the production tried to stay within the already inflated budget. At one point, Walter Murch was almost fired from the production, until a number of famous directors intervened on his behalf.

Return to Oz was not a box office success by any means when it was released in 1985, not even making back half of its $28 million budget in the US. Apparently the film was quite popular in the UK and Japan, but that was not enough to make Disney think of turning the film into a franchise as was originally planned.

On home video, however, the film has found a second life as a cult classic, though the most attention it received was Anchor Bay's VHS and DVD releases in 2000. Disney released their own DVD edition, carrying over the Anchor Bay special features. Today, fans hope for a Blu-Ray release and Disney has a rather unimpressive yet definitely HD version available through iTunes, Vudu and Amazon Instant Video.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Oz apps vol. 1

So, as I mentioned, I recently actually got a smart phone. So, with it there was a variety of apps to try and play with, and yes, there are a number of apps based on Oz in some form. Here's the first two I tried and enjoyed. (I also tried a couple apps called "The Complete Oz Vol. 1" and "The Complete Oz Vol. 2" which were the Baum books in an ebook format. However, I find accessing Project Gutenberg much more worthwhile, particularly as the pages appear to be static and I couldn't read the tiny type on my phone. Maybe if I had a tablet or a bigger phone, it would be worth it. They were free.)

Please note that these particular apps are for the Android platform and were used on a phone running version 4.1: Jellybean. They are available on the Google Play store. They also seem to be available on Apple products.

The Wizard of Oz by Boluga is an abridgement of Baum's first Oz book as an interactive picture book using Denslow's original illustrations. Some are simply animated (Dorothy melting the Wicked Witch) while a good many others let the user actually interact with the illustrations. Set the Scarecrow free, oil the Tin Woodman, and even fill the poppy field with more poppies!

I thought the interactive pages were fun, and they can be reset with an icon in the corner, but there seemed to be too few. Still, for only 99 cents, you can't complain too much.

Temple Run: Oz is the only digital game released for Oz the Great and Powerful. (Sometime I should tell you about the only Return to Oz video game.) It's a variant of the Temple Run game series, in which a player runs through a course, jumping over obstacles, sliding under them, running to the side of them, or making a very sharp turn.

Jumping is done by swiping your finger (or a stylus) on your screen up, sliding is done by swiping down, turning is done by swiping to the side you want to run to. Going to the side is done by tilting your device to the side.

By default, you control Oscar from the film, running without his coat or hat down the yellow brick road, pursued by the winged baboons. You have to stay one step ahead of them, so they don't catch you and carry you off to who knows where! But on the other hand, don't run into a rock or tree root or fall into a ditch because that would be quite... counterproductive. Also, there are plants that will try to snatch at you that you can run by, but running through them will slow you down and possibly let you get caught by a baboon. Along the way, you can pick up coins or (very rarely) a gem.

The game costs 99 cents to get, but the reason why it's so cheap is that you can buy more coins or gems (which will let you continue if you tap the screen quickly if you fail). The coins will let you purchase costume changes for Oscar adding a hat, or letting you run as "The Great Oz" (Oscar's stage persona at the beginning of the movie). Also, you can purchase an alternate character and run as China Girl instead. You can go ahead and spend more money to get coins to purchase these, or just keep playing the game and slowly build up your coins.

The game is actually pretty fun and the challenge actually makes for a lot of repeat playings. In addition, you can upgrade the game by downloading (for free) additional stages you can run to. I'm not sure if you unlock these when you get there, but the other stages are the Dark Forest, the Emerald City, and the Winkie Country.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New comics!

 I got the latest comics again last Friday, but didn't read them right away because I was getting ready to load my new Android phone with apps. But I did take some time out on Saturday and read them.

First up is The Emerald City of Oz #4. It's the penultimate issue of this Oz book adaptation and perhaps the line of Marvel Oz comics. The teaser image for the final issue looks quite appropriate if what we fear comes to pass.

Dorothy goes to Bunnybury before rejoining her companions at last and they visit the Flutterbudgers and Rigamaroles before arriving at the castle of the Tin Woodman, who delivers the bad news about the Nome King. Looking forward to the next issue, and hoping beyond hope that we may yet see a teaser for The Patchwork Girl of Oz at the end.

Second is The Steam Engines of Oz #3 (which is really #4 as the Free Comic Book Day issue should really be counted, though the comics industry is not above labeling an issue #0). Victoria and her friends seek the one person who can stop the war between the Tin Man and the Lion's resistance: the Scarecrow.

This issue wraps up this storyline, but the back promises a new series soon. I will be following it! Although not my preferred Oz, I have been enjoying this particular take.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion

And the celebration of the 75th anniversary of MGM's The Wizard of Oz has brought another book from Jay Scarfone and William Stillman. And covering the production of the movie in The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History and the production design in The Wizardry of Oz, what's left to cover?

Surprisingly, The Official 75th Anniversary Companion still manages to bring new material to readers. The three books form a rather comprehensive trilogy about the making of the film, and there are still other aspects that Stillman and Scarfone haven't touched on. (Aljean Harmetz's The Making of the Wizard of Oz—yet to be covered on the blog—covered a lot of the studio head's work, and John Fricke's book for the Rhino soundtrack album covered the music. Both of these aspects are not highly covered in the Scarfone/Stillman books.)

The book endeavors to bring a number of previously unseen or rarely seen images from the production of the film. There are several that I haven't seen before, while there are still some pictures that will be familiar to those who have read up on the film.

The book is broken into several segments. First and foremost is Baum, then Samuel Goldwyn's attempts to bring Oz to screen before he sold the property to MGM. Stillman and Scarfone tell of a rarely known friendship between Walt Disney and Mervyn LeRoy. (Including that during the many rewrites of the script, Disney loaned MGM a print of Snow White for them to get a better idea of what kind of a story they were going for.)

Sections cover each of the main cast, then the peculiar peoples of Oz, using rarely seen photos to show some of the development of the character's look. Then a summary of the production of the film, how Thorpe began (including the only color photo of Judy Garland in her blonde "Lolita Gale" wig) and Fleming took over after Cukor did some revisions. What exactly the cast did in between shots is also covered, turning up new material.

Then special effects and the design of the film are covered, including some revisions to what we'd thought we'd known about how they created the cyclone and the Horse of A Different Color. Then, the release of the film and its re-releases, and debut on television and legacy. On each topic, the authors dig up some new information.

In the back of the book, there's a silver-colored envelope containing a number of paper memorabilia, some newly designed, some recreated from 1939 items. There's a bookmark, a lobby card, two posters, a booklet of reduced size lobby cards, the death certificate of the Wicked Witch of the East, certificates from the Wizard for Dorothy's friends, a cardboard frame that shows your choice of several paper photos of the Oz characters, and a large mock newspaper clipping from the fictional Oz Herald. It almost feels like the recent Collector's Box set of the film intentionally left any 1939 replicas out just for this book. (Which, remember, it does have two advertisements for.)

Overall, though, the book doesn't really need the bonus memorabilia. The rare photos and new information in the book are worth the price of the book alone. Well done to Stillman and Scarfone!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Comic update!

Well, I'm all caught up on Oz comics so far. At least the ones I follow. Well, the next issues of The Steam Engines of Oz and Marvel's The Emerald City of Oz will be shipped to me next week, so... Uh... Anyway, let's get to these three.

First up is The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #11—12. As you can see from the covers, the winged gorillas are the focus of these two issues. The Tin Man, Jack, Tip, Scarecrow and the Lion are at Mombi's ranch, while we get to meet the new Witch of the East and West. (Who's exactly who I thought she was.) Why doesn't she have any control over the four gorillas at Mombi's ranch? And who's the mysterious prisoner trapped in emerald that Jinjur's found? The story is continuing, and I admit that I'm looking forward to #13!

In Grimm's Fairy Tales: Oz #3,  Dorothy finds a few new friends as they continue to the Mage, fighting hordes of baddies and finding the mysterious Grafft who gives them some vital information for their quest. And someone doesn't survive to the end.

And still, I say the focus is too much on the violence and such rather than creating a really unique story. I'm sticking around to the end (only three more episodes), but if it gets picked up as an ongoing series, I may not be continuing.