Thursday, May 21, 2015

How to ruin Oz?

Whenever a new Oz movie comes out, there is almost always someone who says, "Why can't they just film one of the original books?" Which is a pretty fair wish. A lot of recent Oz films almost seem as if they have no respect for Baum's original text or would rather go in new directions with it that are more in line with currently popular properties. Oz the Great and Powerful probably came the closest of the most recent projects, but you almost feel as if that was more so they wouldn't get sued for cribbing from the MGM film.

So, we're left with the question, why hasn't anyone anyone tried to directly adapt Baum's world for the cinema?

And, after many years of considering this, I have the answer.

You can't.

At least, not if you want to actually have an audience.

In an article I wrote recently for The Baum Bugle, I examined the differences between MGM's The Wizard of Oz and Baum's original book, focusing not on what was dropped or added, but how the storytelling style was quite different for the film. The book has an episodic plot, while the movie has a linear one. When viewed from that angle, the other changes began to make sense.

So therein lies our problem. Most of Baum's books are very episodic. The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz each work fairly well with linear plots, though each have episodes and sometimes characters that could be easily eliminated.

So, I thought, how would a story like The Emerald City of Oz work if you tried to make the plot linear?

And so, I've been puttering at a screenplay for The Emerald City of Oz that tries to do exactly that. I say it's based on Emerald City, but it actually draws from several of the Oz books, actually jettisoning a large part of the original book's middle and reworking part of Tik-Tok of Oz in its place. A song from The Patchwork Girl of Oz has been reworked into a song sequence here, and Ozma has dialogue adapted from a bit in The Road to Oz.

There are a number of pieces in place actually original to this version that would depict Oz not as a place where people stay where they are, but as a living, moving place. And while it's rather different from Baum's original story, I think it's going to be faithful to his world. (And I mainly got the idea when I heard a song I knew would work as a montage to end the movie.)

Basically, you can't take the Oz you find in Baum's books and put it directly to film. It just won't work that well. But you can do some streamlining and wind up with a reimagined version of Oz that feels faithful to the ideas of the books.

You may remember I started this blog discussing how to adapt Oz for film, and while we've certainly moved past that, it's still a subject I think about a lot. I mentioned my own screenplays, but let me tell you, those are probably not going to see the light of day ever. That said, if this screenplay actually got produced, I'm certain that there will be Oz fans who believe I've ruined the story.


Sam A M said...

Wow, you make it sound so hopeful . .

Another way of Ruining Oz on film is quality: a 90s 25-min video and the '69 "Land" matinee show you can be faithful to the story, but a lousy cast and poor animation can really ruin the experience.
Then there's annoying characters or the wrong choice of actors . . .

Crispian said...

A great topic of discussion.

Some of the less linear and episodic books could make for a movie that drags, but I think most can be remedied. An alternative is to present the books like TV/youtube shows. Lord of the Rings also comes to mind - Bombadil's and Radagast's scenes were omitted, for example, in order to make a more linear story, but couldn't they have been included while still making for very good movies? Some people nitpick the ents as a distracting tangent, but how many of us loved them?

I don't know how an audience would respond to some of the rougher moments of the books. Justifying the lion's clandestine meal but not the bobcat's dinner pursuits doesn't seem very nice. So many deaths at the hands of our heroes, the abuse heaped upon the Sawhorse, the Gump's existential despair, Ozma's maddening laissez-faire attitude. Can these things make sense on the screen in the context of the magical land of Oz that people expect? Maybe I'm not giving audiences the credit they deserve; can these kinds of things work when presented on a screen without the breathing space to appreciate or digest that is afforded by the experience of reading a book?