Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Big Finish's Wonderful Wizard of Oz — Review

Some Oz fans got rather excited when they heard Big Finish Productions would be releasing an audio version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz this September. Famous for their officially-licensed Doctor Who audio dramas (which gave many of the later classic Doctors a chance to further define their roles) and a great dramatization of The Picture of Dorian Grey, hopes were high for Oz, joining their new series of audio productions based on classic literature.

It must be noted that Big Finish is a British company, and any actors voicing American characters are usually British actors attempting American accents.

This is, of course, not the first time a full-scale audio dramatization of the story has happened. The BBC has twice offered audio productions, and in the US, Monterey Soundworks, Colonial Radio Theater and the Children's Museum of Los Angeles have also produced adaptations. (There's also been several for kiddie records and the "Classic Wizard of Oz" set.)

Seemingly, Big Finish is quite aware of this and decided to do something different in their adaptation. The production starts well enough with a male character narrating (it's unclear on if it's the Wizard, supposedly Baum, or someone else entirely) and the tornado striking Kansas, but when we get to Oz, our first scene is the Wicked Witch of the East asking the chipmunk-voiced Munchkins who stole her Golden Cap. During Dorothy's journey, we cut over to the Wicked Witch of the West hearing news about Dorothy and her journey. From the journey south to the end, the Good Witch of the North takes over as narrator.

While the Munchkins, the witches (good and wicked), Dorothy and the Wizard sound passably American, Dorothy's friends are clearly not attempting to sound American, the Lion even using the term "blighters."

There are several story changes. The Tin Woodman tells his backstory, but his girlfriend is absent from it. Instead, the Wicked Witch of the East enchanted him to cut himself to pieces because she didn't want him cutting down her trees. All the troubles on the yellow brick road are condensed into two episodes: facing the Kalidahs as they try to get across a bridge, which causes the Field Mice to pledge allegiance to them. Then, they encounter the poppy field, where the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman simply call the mice to rescue Dorothy, Toto and the Cowardly Lion. When they head west, the Monkeys automatically are sent out, and it's revealed the Wicked Witch is marshaling an army to attack the Emerald City, and has a thing for spiders. On the journey south, they find Dainty China Country invaded by the destructive Hammerheads, who they fight briefly before calling the monkeys to take the Hammerheads away, but this can't be done, so they are requested to take them to Glinda's air palace instead. At Glinda's palace, she's been trapped in there for months after the Wicked Witches stole her Silver Shoes and Golden Cap and set a giant spider to keep her captive.

The problem I had with the story changes were that in all the episodes, Dorothy's friends were pushed to the side as Dorothy was made the heroine. This felt as if the writer didn't understand how Baum had the characters function. Dorothy is yes, a heroine, but her friends—who feel their vulnerabilities strongly—are supposed to rise to the occasion. Having Dorothy work out how to solve all the problems takes away from their development. In addition, we know Baum's Glinda would never let herself be caught like that!

I suppose production values are very good, except they tried to make it sound like a kiddie fantasy. John Troutman—who is typically a fan of Big Finish productions—was very turned off by the high-pitched Munchkin voices. The Queen of the Field Mice also has a definitely increased pitch, which might actually be overdone. My thought is that if you want a character to sound small, increase pitch and lower the volume of their voice. Big Finish did not do the latter.

I can't recommend this for someone who wants a good audio dramatization of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I'd recommend Colonial Radio Theater or even the Los Angeles Children's Museum's way too long version over it. If you're a fan who wants to experience a lot of different versions of Oz, then go ahead and give it a shot, but know that this isn't a great example of Big Finish's offerings, either.

An MP3 version can be bought with and without a CD copy from Big Finish, or you can order a CD from Amazon.

No comments: