Monday, March 13, 2017

The Best & Worst of Oz Villains on Screen

I've been thinking a lot recently about The Wizard of Oz and what makes the film so iconic and so memorable, and one of the (rather obvious) conclusions I've come to is that for a lot of people, the Wicked Witch is as responsible - and in some cases, even more responsible - for their love and appreciation of the film as Dorothy is. This got me thinking, what makes a good Oz villain? What makes a bad one? And so, I've come up with of who I find to be definitively the best and the worst villains of the many film & TV adaptations of Oz...  

The Best



1. The Wicked Witch, The Wizard of Oz (1939) - Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch isn't just the best on-screen Oz villain, she's one of the greatest and most iconic villains of film period. While I was never terrified by her as a child as many other children are, there's no denying this witch's wickedness. This incarnation of the Witch of the West is quite different than Baum's, but I think the liberties that were taken with the character make for a much stronger and more memorable villain. Hamilton's performance as the Wicked Witch and her Kansas equivalent Ms. Gulch is both campy and sinister, making what could have easily been a somewhat one-dimensional antagonist one that is just as interesting as the story's protagonist. And, of course, if it weren't for this Wicked Witch, I think it's safe to say that we would never have gotten Wicked, which, aside from the MGM film, is probably the most popular and most successful adaptation of Baum's work to date.


2. The Nome King, Return to Oz (1985) - Like the Wicked Witch in the MGM film, Return to Oz's Nome King isn't exactly like his literary counterpart, and as was the case with the Wicked Witch, I think I actually prefer this iteration of the character over Baum's. The most interesting aspect of Nicol William's Nome King is that as the viewer, we're never really sure whether or not he's actually "the bad guy." Sure, he's holding the Scarecrow captive and turned everyone into stone, but the reasons he gives for what he's done makes him and the overall story more complex... which is basically what all good villains should do.


3. Azkadelia, Tin Man (2007) - I don't think I've seen Katleen Robertson in anything outside of her role in Tin Man, but I think her performance is one of the things that truly elevated the production to being something greater and more cinematic than typical Syfy Channel fare. Where the protagonist might leave something to be desired in terms of charisma and dimensionality, Azkadelia compensates by being one of the best developed and most compelling antagonists of any Oz adaptation I've seen. There's a definite deviation from the source material happening with this Witch of the West-inspired character and with the series as a whole, but it's executed so well that I really don't mind it.


4. Princess Mombi, Return to Oz (1985) - You can pretty much thank Princess Mombi for all the times you've heard someone talk about how scary Return to Oz is. The character is mostly based on Baum's character Princess Langwidere, one of the antagonists of Ozma of Oz, but is also derived from the character Mombi, who first appeared as the main antagonist of The Marvelous Land of Oz. The visual effects involved in the memorably haunting scenes in which Princess Mombi changes heads aren't exactly convincing by contemporary standards, but one can see how children of the 1980s would find this character downright terrifying. Of the several actresses who portray the character in the film, Jean Marsh has the most screen time and is the most memorable. She isn't as complex or as interesting as the film's other, previously mentioned "big bad," nor does she hold a candle to the Wicked Witch of the West, but I think I would be remiss not to include Princess Mombi on this list.


The Worst



1. Evilene, The Wiz (1978) - If there's anything Mabel King's Evilene has over Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch, it's that Mabel King's did scare me as a child and still sort of does now. There are a lot of things to dislike about this film, but chief among those for me is this character. I'm not really sure what the intent or inspiration was for this take on the Witch of the West, but it's just bad all around. I guess maybe Joel Schumacher really took the "only bad witches are ugly" line from the MGM film to heart? Eeesh. Basically, anyone who thinks Return to Oz is the scariest Oz movie ever made should revisit The Wiz. (Did I really just recommend re-watching The Wiz? Oy.)


2. The Nome King, The Witches of Oz (2011) - If you saw The Witches of Oz but don't remember the Nome King being in it, it's probably because a) he has about five minutes of screen time in the nearly three-hour film and b) there's nothing about the character's actions or appearance that reflect the character as we know him from the books and previous film adaptations like Return to Oz. I was lucky enough to attend a premiere screening of the film when it was released theatrically (as Dorothy and the Witches of Oz), and I got to meet and talk to Al Snow, the actor who plays the character. He's very nice and charismatic on a personal level, and believe it or not, he's actually read all the Oz books himself and knows quite a bit about them. It's a real shame then that he wasn't given a better role to play and that the character wasn't better realized. The Nome King appears out of nowhere in the third act of the film and does little more than fight the Tin Man. If it weren't for "No one beats the Nome King," the character's only line in the film, we would have no idea who this guy is supposed to be.


3. West, Emerald City (2016) - Remember how I said that I liked how the writers of the MGM film put their own spin on Baum's Witch of the West? Yeah, well, that doesn't always work out so well, and Emerald City's take on the character (and most other characters, but I digress) is proof of that. Because the Witch of the West has always been one of my favorite characters and was probably my favorite part of the MGM film from an early age, I feel especially let down by this incarnation of the character. She has so little in common with previous incarnations of the character that I'm left wondering why even bother calling her West? But I guess the same could be said for pretty much every aspect of Emerald City. (Did you know, for instance, that the actual "Beast Forever" was supposed to be the Nome King? Yeah, me neither.)


4. Theodora, Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - In complete contrast to the rather feminist and progressive characterization of the Witch of the West in Wicked, Oz the Great and Powerful imagines the character as a woman scorned, motivated primarily by jealousy and rejection. I see the film itself as a sort of mixed bag overall, but I feel like it totally misses the mark here, which is a little ironic given that the Witch of the West was so prevalent in the film's merchandise and marketing campaign. Unfortunately, the character fails on virtually every level, from the script and casting to the final make-up and costume design. I don't think it's fair to put too much blame on Mila Kunis, who I am generally a fan of and who I think has proven her acting chops elsewhere, but I do think that she was miscast (and likely misdirected) here, which is a shame because this is a role that she was very excited about and really gave her all to.

But what say you, readers? Is there a particular villain you feel really deserved a spot on either of these lists? Is there one that didn't? Chime in in the comments below with your own opinions!

1 comment:

Ross Carmona said...

I totally agree most of these on your list, but when it comes to Evilene from The Wiz, there was one good thing about her and that was her "don't bring me any bad news" song. I loved that song, but the rest of the film is just a garbled mess. I also was super let down by West in Emerald City, why even bother having her? Why is the show even Oz? Idk but maybe future adaptations will be better.