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.)

1 comment:

Sam Milazzo said...

I'm really glad you made this post!

I remember some of these images, but the rest I had never seen before!

I remember reading something about the WWW's castle "growing" whenever she's angry or having some type of emotion. I'm not too thrilled about Dorothy wearing the shoes without socks, but the other choices I don't mind. I especially like Lion's colours.

It may not have been fully animated, but I actually feel like someday this could be released in its incomplete form somehow . . .

I so wish this one had been made and could be seen more!