Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The Steam Engines of Oz: The Movie


The Steam Engines of Oz began as a comic book series from Arcana Studios in 2013. Bolstered by a Kickstarter, it ran for three issues (plus a Free Comic Book Day issue), then got a second volume of another three issues, subtitled The Geared Leviathan.

The first volume told of an Oz in the future where the Tin Man rules the Emerald City under an iron grip. Victoria—a mechanic for the machines in the Emerald City—helps free some prisoners and they sneak out to the Munchkin Country to discover how the rest of Oz is coping with the Tin Man's rule and what can be done about it. Perhaps a Wizard can give them the answers they seek.

For what it was, the comics were very visually lush. I can't say I was crazy about the story, but it at least had its own logic and was complete.

So, here we are in 2018 and the first volume is now adapted into an animated movie available on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital services. And how is it?

Well, for plot adaptation, I guess it's great because it's an extremely faithful adaptation of the comic. Dialogue and plot beats are lifted directly from it. It's not quite a 1:1 translation, but it's close.

The voice cast does a good job. It's led by Julianne Hough as Locasta, Ron Perlman as Magnus (the Cowardly Lion's son) and William Shatner as the Wizard. There aren't further notable names in the cast, but no one does a bad job.

The animation, though, is where it gets ugly. Check out the trailer.


As you can see, the visuals are a far cry from the comic's look. The characters are clearly based on the look from the comics, but simplified to be easier to animate. Scenery looks sparse. The opening scene with Victoria where she fixes a pipe goes from a fantastic looking machine in the comic to a pipe along the wall.

The look of the human/humanoid figures is fine, but when we get to the lions, it's weird. They have human bodies and lion faces with hardly any hair. It's more likely these were combined from pre-existing elements rather than designed from the ground up. A lot of the visual appeal of the comic is lost here.

Some of the action is not so great, holding too long on shots of characters fighting, including a bit where the Tin Man jumps into the air and stays there for several seconds before Magnus jumps up and hits him. So what should be dynamic isn't. Common low-budget CG animation "stiffness" pops up.

Then there's a couple shots with a pretty big animation error. To add shadows, a lot of CG animation goes for ambient shadows around their feet that isn't particularly noticeable and doesn't need to be altered very much. However, in these two shots, we have the opposite of a shadow...

When the characters walk across here, their shadows become a glow. And while this is a small studio's effort, surely someone should have picked that out before it got into the final edit and onto the Blu-Ray and DVD copies, and probably the digital version as well.

Finally, as for references to MGM, the movie quotes two lines directly from that film, "I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" and "A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others," which it even displays as text and credits to L. Frank Baum. Hardly! Both of these lines were original to the film!

The DVD and Blu-Ray contain English subtitles and the video and quality are great. There are absolutely no bonus features.

My recommendation is that if you're an Oz fan who tends to pick up every version of Oz for film, TV and internet regardless of quality is to go ahead and pick up the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. It's going for about $13 online right now. I don't think it'll go up in price as it gets more scarce, but that's pretty cheap. You might hold out for cheaper, though. If you prefer to just go digital, search your preferred digital video vendor as it's not a Movies Anywhere title. If you want to try it for yourself, give it some time, and maybe it'll pop up on Netflix, Hulu or some such service.

If you're just interested in the story, my big suggestion would be to get the original comic instead. The complete first volume is only $6 whether you buy the collected edition or the individual issues on Comixology. In print, there's a hardcover collecting both volumes and trade paperbacks of each volume.

1 comment:

Sam Milazzo said...

Am I the only one who found it tiresome that they quoted the MGM Wizard's speech the MGM Tinman in this "cartoon"?

I'm also very doubtful of the large poppies and relatively well-maintained road of yellow bricks leading up to the Emerald City on the cover ... And (how) could they actually get away with using THAT specific look of Emerald City without interference from (or getting into trouble with) WB?