Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The heaviest Oz DVD yet...

Okay, for anyone wondering, I have the 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition of The Wizard of Oz.

At 5 pounds (according to the shipping information), this is the heaviest DVD set I own. I'm probably not going to use the Digital Copy disc, and I know I'm not going to wear the watch, as, without removing it from its nice tin, I can see it'd be too small to fit my wrists.

I've only had it in my possession for a few hours, so I haven't had time to look at all the print materials and watch all the new special features. But it looks fantastic!

Despite what some reviews have said, the version of The Dreamer of Oz included is not unwatchable. I noticed some weird flickering effect on it, but it isn't too annoying.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz is finally given a proper DVD release with a clear transfer, as is the restored cut of The Magic Cloak of Oz, which I really want to see, and maybe do a podcast about.

I didn't find the 1932 "Land of Oz" by the Meglin Kiddies on the set, despite what John Fricke and the the DVD's official website announced. There's a possibility it's Blu-Ray only, and if that's true, I may be forced to buy my first Blu-Ray and a Blu-Ray ... drive! (As I don't own an HDTV, my computer would be the only way to see High-Definition. I know, these things don't cost thousands of dollars anymore, but my TV is still very serviceable!)
*EDIT: The official website has removed it from the lists, so it looks like it was a bit of an accident of it being listed there.*

I only took a few peeks at the MGM movie itself, and it looks sharp and clearer than ever. (Most likely, however, normal viewers won't notice the detail difference from this and the 2005 release.) Note: this was on the DVD. Despite the restoration work, DVD has a maximum resolution, and probably the restoration is best appreciated on Blu-Ray.

One change I noticed was that the longer silent films (all of which are on disc 4) now have chapter breaks, something I missed from the 2005 set. It's very appreciated.

The menus are updated versions of the menus on the 2005 sets, except that disc 2 is an exact duplicate of the same disc from those editions.

Right then... Now I'm off to do something else.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Magician of Oz...

I've already reviewed this on Amazon.com, but I have decided to do a longer review here. I want to note that this is not a reflection on the writer of the book, but of the writing. As tempting as it is to make personal remarks against someone who has labeled himself Ozma's Royal Liasion, I shall refrain.

Where to begin... Early on, the writer asked me to look at his blog and told me any assistance and advice would be appreciated. I declined on helping him out, as I was working with another writer on his Oz book and wanted to avoid unintentional copying of ideas.

However, for awhile, I did follow the RSS feed of his blog. His story sounded interesting, I must admit. The idea of the Wizard having a grandson who lives in the US is an interesting concept. Eventually, I decided to buy and read the book, review it here, and even told the writer I might consider an interview with him for a podcast.

Well, the book arrived, and I started reading.

I noticed that save a picture of tree branches twisting into the letters "O" and "Z," the book was not illustrated. (I initially thought the cover was also an original design, but have since discovered it is a Lulu.com template.) It is a grand tradition for an Oz book to have at least a few illustrations, though some good ones have gone without it. The fact that the writer had not sought out an illustrator was a bit of a disappointment.

So, we dive in and find the Diggs family eating potato soup and... ummm... They really like their soup, don't they? Then they go to the attic and find a trunk and find what seem to be instruments for magic tricks, and so they send the son, Jamie, to learn magic tricks.

It struck me as odd that Jamie knows that magicians are tricksters that are not to be trusted, but yet he wants to learn from them.

So, we spend about seven whole chapters where Jamie learns parlor tricks, the family moves, picks mushrooms, Jamie makes new friends, they eat more potato soup... It began to feel like I wasn't reading an Oz book at all. Then, bam! Jamie wakes up in Oz. Not a cyclone, not a storm at sea, not an earthquake, not a whirlpool.

(I remember reading a bit where a friend of Jamie's comments on his mother's potato soup and says the morel mushrooms were great. I thought, "No kid comments on mushrooms anymore... Unless they're a very different kind.")

So, he wanders around, runs into some characters, and ends up at Glinda's Palace. There he meets Glinda, Dorothy, and Ozma. And after these famous female heroines from Baum's books came in, my hope for a good Oz story really began to despair. All three were little playful giddy girls. (Yes, even Glinda.) If this is who's in charge of Oz, no wonder no one's conquered it: it would not be worth the trouble.

So, they head off to the Tin Woodman's Palace where Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are so Aunt Em can make them some... Yeah, you guessed it... Potato soup. Ugh...

Meanwhile, the Fighting Trees (who have become Tolkien-esque talking Huorns somehow?) plot revenge on the Tin Woodman... It made no sense why they'd wait so long for revenge, and it describes the Tin Woodman cutting down entire trees, when I only remember him chopping branches off.

I found the writing to be pretty poor. Apparently, the writer could not get a good editor in. It went more than a misspelled word here and there (I remember once reading about the "Noma King" in a copy of Ozma of Oz), sentences were structured incorrectly and improper verb tenses used.

I found a number of contradictions to Baum's Oz: Dorothy calling people "peasantry," when Oz, being free of money, has no rich and no poor. (The "peasants" are in fact farmers, and it seems Dorothy would not call them peasants, as she lived as a farm girl for her early years.) The Tin Woodman denies being royal, when Baum firmly establishes that he's a very vain fellow, and even calls himself "Emperor of the Winkies," when the Winkie Country is a kingdom at best.

And it seems Ozma wanted to bring Jamie to Oz so Dorothy would have a play mate. What happened to Trot, Betsy Bobbin, Button-Bright, Ojo, Scraps, the Scarecrow, the Woozy, or Toto and Eureka? And it even says some citizens of Oz are tired of Dorothy trying to befriend them, when Baum clearly stated that everyone loves Dorothy.

Based on some reviews posted on Amazon.com, it seems that children love this, but adults, especially those well-versed in Baum and Oz, don't. If the writer has failed to appeal to audiences of all ages, he is definitely not a successor to Baum, Thompson, and even more contemporary authors like Eric Shanower and Edward Einhorn.

I find us wanting kids to just read rather than caring that they are reading quality works. When I was growing up, aside from Baum, I loved the works of Mark Twain, C.S. Lewis, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, L.M. Montgomery, J.M. Barrie, Lewis Carroll, Beverly Cleary, Lynne Reid Banks, and I loved books like "The Yearling" and "Treasure Island." Every book that proved a challenge to read was an adventurous delight. Nowadays... (Did I just say that?) Nowadays, kids read what's popular and their parents don't care because their kids are reading. While I find it commendable that we are not quite so in danger of having a generation of illiterates on our hands, I wish we'd worry more about the quality of the books we give our children. To treat "Magician of Oz" as a masterpiece of literature when it clearly is not just because it brings a smile to child's face is a shame. (Aside from the classics I read, I did read some rather forgettable books that I did enjoy.)

After posting some of my initial reactions to the book online, some countering opinions were expressed. Apparently, a silent revision was done after I had bought my copy. The writer said he would send me a new copy, but never contacted me for my mailing address. But you know what? Forget it. I don't want to read this book ever again, and don't want to give it away so someone else would read it. There's only so much potato soup I can stand.

I want to apologize if my harsh expressing of my opinions have offended anyone. I find it irritating that this book has been getting some positive press when I found it to not be a good book.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The EnormOZ DVD Collection

So, in about a week, I'll have my copy of The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition. (What are they going to do for the next DVD's title?) This will mark the first time that the MGM movie has been released to Blu-Ray as well.

Despite the amazing restoration job they released back in 2005, they've assured us it will look even better this time around.

Some film fans wonder how an old movie can be restored for high-definition when it wasn't filmed that way. While you can't truly make a movie high-definition without filming with that technology, the advantage of a larger image size allows for a clearer picture, allowing you to see details that you couldn't see before. Film cameras were actually very good at picking up these details. (Maybe this will finally help show that it's a bird in the background!)

All of the special features from the 2005 editions have been carried over, so if you're needing to replace that edition, this is an upgrade because some new material has been added.

Probably what a lot of fans are looking forward to is the long-awaited home video release of The Dreamer of Oz, the biopic of L. Frank Baum starring John Ritter and Annette O'Toole. While it's not a completely accurate biography, it does manage to entertain. (My hope for the disc has been answered with the previous edition's documentary of Baum appearing on the same disc.)

Two new documentaries related to the MGM movie have been cooked up for this edition, one covering the Munchkin actors receiving their star on the walk of fame, and another about director Victor Fleming, the director whose name appears in the movie.

What's getting me to get this especially is the inclusion of "The Patchwork Girl of Oz" silent film on the fourth disc. There's only been a few cheap releases of this one made, some dropping the title screen, others marring it with watermarks and changing the title screen to include new credits. Given the high transfer quality of the silent films on the 2005 set, I'm looking forward to this one!

Also, there's the restored version of "The Magic Cloak of Oz." This is also new, as this version has only been in private collections before. Now with it on home video, normal Oz fans can see it in their own home.

Just about the only silent film that they could add is Baum's "The Last Egyptian," but it is not on this, likely as it's not a family film, does not have "Oz" in the title, and it's also the one film from the Oz Manufacturing Company that exists in some form that is in the absolute worst shape.

Although it's not been in the press releases, John Fricke, who has been heavily involved with creating the set, has mentioned that the 1932 "Land of Oz" film from the Meglin Kiddies will also be included. As this will likely be the film in the worst shape on the set (the second half of the soundtrack is missing), that may be why it hasn't been announced.

*EDIT: The DVD's official website has listed this feature!*

For Blu-Ray customers, you also get the six-hour documentary "MGM: When The Lion Roars," likely taking on it's own disc. And there is also a DVD-ROM with a digital copy of the movie to transfer to your computer or an authorized mobile device.

Following the style of the 2005 set, some non-DVD memorabilia is included. None of the material from the 2005 set is carried over here, so people who have those folders of printed matter still have something collectible. Instead, we have a reproduction of the film's advertising campaign book, the film's budget, and a miniature coffee table book by John Fricke. Also included is a watch that is sure to be a collector's item.

So what are you waiting for? It's a limited edition! Go order your copy now!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

(Blog #365) Oz movies

Yep, if you just read one of my blogs here a day, you'd take a whole year to catch up!

I was talking to an Oz fan today, and brought up an interesting tidbit:

There has yet to be a theatrically released Oz movie that was a financial success on its initial release.

First off is Baum's Fairylogue and Radio-Plays. While not exactly a theatrically released film, it was not able to cover its costs.

It is not known how well-received the 1910 silent Oz movies were. The fact that only one of them survived might be a clue that there were not many copies made. However, this cannot be counted as concrete evidence to a commercial failure, as many early films no longer exist. (The very first existing motion picture is only a couple of seconds long. I slowed it down and showed it in its entirety in Wonders 5.)

The Oz Film Manufacturing Company is infamous for its short life due to being unable to sell their films.

The 1925 silent Wizard of Oz led to Chadwick Pictures actually closing, giving you an idea of how well that went.

The 1932 Land of Oz Meglin Kiddies film, I am also unsure of how it did. (It doesn't seem to have been a memorable success.)

I won't count the 1933 Wizard of Oz cartoon as it didn't even get released.

This brings us to the movie everyone knows: the 1939 Wizard of Oz from MGM starring Judy Garland. While it did not recoup its budget on its first release, it did on a re-release. The thing is, it was a prestige picture: money was no object, so recouping the budget was not a concern.

Next up is the kiddie flick The Wonderful Land of Oz. However, these were not known for being money-makers.

Then, Journey Back to Oz in 1974. Its weak release and distribution eventually led people to think it was a TV movie.

I am not sure how Oz (or 20th Century Oz or Oz - A Rock 'n' Roll Road Movie did, but as it didn't have a big release, I'm guessing it wasn't good.

Which brings us to the fiasco of the 1978 movie version of The Wiz. It went very overbudget, and despite some very loyal fans, could not recoup its budget.

Then came the 1985 flop of Return to Oz by Disney. (It deserved to do better.)

And now, 2010 looks to bring two new Oz movies: The Wizard of Oz, a CG feature directed by John Boorman, and Dorothy of Oz, a CG film based on Roger S. Baum's book. Will these films end the trend of Oz flops? We'll see!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Heavier Crossword

Okay, here's a crossword with 50 words from the Oz books. I mainly used words from the first six books, but there's a couple from Tik-Tok of Oz and The Tin Woodman of Oz.

Same as last time, click the picture and print it!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My mother didn't teach me to share...

...With six siblings, it came naturally.

The Royal Blog of Oz is no longer exclusively my blog. My friend Sam Milazzo recently joined Blogger, so I decided to add him as an author to this blog, so he can also offer his Ozzy thoughts and opinions on various topics. You'll notice a few changes about the blog's design.

Also, as if I don't do enough, I've started working on an Oz story. The main character is Button-Bright, though I opened the story with Jellia Jamb. The story will reveal how Button-Bright appeared on the road to Oz in The Road to Oz. So far, I'm calling the story "The Borderlands of Oz," because I intend to have Button-Bright wind up outside of Oz to have a few adventures.

Here's something you won't read in the story that I thought up...
"I've discovered how to stay young forever," said Queen Zixi, rising from her throne. "I need blood... Ozian blood."
Yeah... I've found I write Oz very well if I don't try to get too fantastic with it. For example, I was describing what's in Button-Bright's knapsack, and revealed a never-emptying bottle of water, explaining, "Indeed, with the possibility of magic water anywhere, one had to be careful of the water they used to drink and bathe in. There was no charm to keep someone from needing a bath, except a bar of soap Jellia Jamb had tucked in."

ALSO... I will probably be recording another podcast on Saturday. This time around, it will feature two more readers of my blog, one of which has been on the podcast before, and one who hasn't.

Oz Crosswords #1

Someone suggested I try putting crosswords on my blog. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a way to play online, so you'll have to print this out to play. Just click the picture and hit "print." I didn't make this one very difficult, though.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A few more updates!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Writer's World is back online! (Now quick! Run and grab your posts!)

Another little thing I'd like to announce (and will be adding to my FAQ), is a misconception about my blog...

The Royal Blog of Oz is not, and has never been, a news site. There are various sites to keep up on Ozzy news, including this great site. A number of people write me to tell me about things that I haven't mentioned on my blog. I'm not trying to maintain a news site, so I'm not posting blogs about every bit of news I hear. Of course I've done some, but don't expect me to blog about everything!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An announcement!

If you remember my posting about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Writer's World, you may have noticed that the Ozmatron is also down.

But never fear! I've got an announcement from the host himself! In his own words, "Sam Moshe the Royal Curator of the Ozmatron is working feverishly with his army of enchanted cutlery to get the thing back online!"

Moshe is the guy who worked with Jericho Mathew Bloom and myself to bring both of these sites up. However, there is also a note that the Ozmatron will likely undergo a bit of an address change, being hosted directly at Nonestica.net. (Due to circumstances, the Nonestica book is currently on hiatus.)

I'll keep you all posted!

Edit: The Ozmatron is back up at it's new address!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Speedy in Oz!

There was only one L. Frank Baum, and in 1921, likely no one knew this better than Ruth Plumly Thompson, his appointed successor. She'd written a couple children's books and had written short children's pieces for newspapers. She was also a fan of Baum's series, and was doubtless overwhelmed when she was approached to continue the series.

So, what was she to do? She took her own spin on Oz, and tried to respect Baum's original as much as she could without stifling her own creativity.

A good friend of mine sent me two of Thompson's books, The Curious Cruise of Captain Santa and Speedy in Oz. Really, the only issues I have with Thompson's books (continuity-wise), is that she killed Mombi (albeit "offscreen"), did away with the first Nome King (though that's been written around), gave the Scarecrow an origin that I don't agree with, and re-wrote the life of the Good Witch of the North (also been written around, and "Who's Who in Oz" seems to suggest that Jack Snow was going to do likewise).

Now, Speedy in Oz, I didn't have a real problem with, probably because most of the book deals with little of Baum's creations, except that it's set in the world he created.

One thing to remember is that if Baum wrote solely to entertain, Thompson did it even more for that purpose. While I prefer Baum's writing, Thompson is entertaining and fun, and manages to tell a story that will keep the reader interested.

The story opens with Umbrella Island, an island kept afloat in the sky by a giant magic umbrella, hitting Loxo the Giant in the head. He is so angry that he demands that in return, he be given a child of his choice to lace to his boots for him, and picks out a "boy" close to the king, who is named Sizzeroo. The people manage to convince Loxo to give them three months to prepare the "boy" for his future life, but it was actually Princess Gureeda who was selected. (The same style of clothing is worn by all inhabitants, which John R. Neill draws as resembling pajamas, though Thompson compares them to stereotypical Chinese garb; Gureeda also wears a single braid in her hair, like men on Umbrella Island usually do.)

Over in the Great Outside World, Speedy, a former visitor to Oz, is helping his Uncle Billy in his work at an excavation dig, when they get to a complete dinosaur skeleton. Speedy convinces his uncle to put it together, but shortly afterwards, a gyser erupts, carrying Speedy and the skeleton high into the air. At the same time, the dinosaur's bones are fused together, and it comes to life. Able to speak English, Speedy names it Terrybubble (when he mispronounces "terrible"), and Terrybubble manages to keep Speedy in his chest, and they land on Umbrella Island.

When one the King's advisers sees Speedy, he suggests that Speedy be given to Loxo instead of Gureeda, but Speedy finds a friend in Waddy, the Wizard of Umbrella Island, and soon, everything comes to a head, with Ozma, the Wizard, and the Scarecrow on the sidelines as the climax is reached.

I noted that, unlike Baum, Thompson did not have the characters visit strange countries that did not bear on the plot. (There is a misadventure with some warring islands, but the result of this becomes a bit of a key element in the rest of the plot.)

I really liked Speedy in Oz and hope to get some more Thompson Oz books soon! (Only five more days.... And it's mine!)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Twisted Oz And Why It Doesn't Work

So, recently word has risen again about the Oz movie that Todd McFarlane and Josh Olson (or Olsen?) are attached to. While an interview with McFarlane left some Oz fans feeling sour, some more realistic news from Josh may have helped soothe the bad feelings a bit. Whichever way, this blogger has opted not to follow this movie until the trailer is released, if it ever is.

There's been talks of darker takes on Oz as movies over the years, and dark, twisted forms of Oz have appeared in comic books, action figures (which is why McFarlane isn't exactly a fond name among Oz fans), and novels. Oz has largely been reduced to a niche market outside of the MGM movie, it seems, and most of these efforts have met with only moderate success at best.

The most successful dark take on Oz has been Wicked, which wasn't exactly dark as it was an adult re-imagining of the Oz mythos. When it was adapted for the highly successful Broadway musical, it went through a major tonal shift that made it more family-oriented.

Frankly, I find it hard to believe anyone (outside of weird people like Todd McFarlane) would want to see a twisted take on Oz. Many of us fans loyal to the books only got a taste of seeing Baum's world faithfully depicted onscreen in Disney's Return to Oz, the last Oz movie to hit the big screen. Yes, there have been no new theatrically-released Oz movies for almost 25 years, though word is that's going to change next year.

The reason why many of us Oz fans don't want a dark, twisted take on Oz presented in theaters is because that is what most people will notice. Because it's easier to digest, most people will watch a movie or TV before they'd read a book. We don't need our fandom dragged through the mud. We don't want people to think we love Oz because of blood, gore, violence, sex, or swearing. That is not what Oz is.

(Sorry for not going in depth here. Wrote this quickly before work.)

EDIT: After reading this, my friend Sam Milazzo wanted to share this:

Oz was not written as a dark place, nor was it ever really hinted at being dark, not even hidden beneath the sunny surface . . . Nor should be attempted or even thought of. It is this simple story of laughter, hard work, perseverance against odds and standing up against the tyrannical, that makes it completely unsuitable to be darkened. There are many other fantasy stories out there that are intentionally dark, and so Oz by comparison needs to be light in tone and story to be loved, because its original written word shows nothing other than that.

Most of all, there are several adaptations of the story out there, which connect with the Musical audience, the (aforementioned) sometimes Dark audience, the cartoon audience, the Cultural audience, the adult audience (Wicked), and even the modern audience (Tin Man) . . . but there is not a film out there for the book Audience, for not even Disney's Return to Oz has managed to capture that entirely.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Adventures in Oz

Jared interviews Doug Wall about his upcoming RPG book Adventures in Oz. As usual, you can follow this link to the podcast site, or play the episode in this player:

(Note: this was recorded on August 6, but it was not completed until now.)

Additional reading on certain topics mentioned:

Monte Cook
GURPS-based Oz RPG
Pinnacle Entertainment Group, publishers of Savage Worlds
Encyclopedia Ozica, 5th edition, an Oz reference for Savage Worlds
Heroes of Oz

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Clip-Clip Here, Clip-Clip There...

"Clip-clip here, clip-clip there,
When you mute or pause...
That's how I edit an episode
Of the Royal Podcast of Oz!"

Yes, I'm trying to get the next podcast done for tomorrow, so this will be short. I've been thinking what I need to do is work up a list of possible guests for the podcast and a list of topics, and do the highly scientific process of connecting one to the other...

SO... My listeners, my readers... What topics should be covered? (Be careful about suggesting guests, I'd prefer to round them up myself.) Leave a comment, or if you find that too difficult, e-mail me. (If you're viewing this on my blog, click the "Contact Information" link in the sidebar.)

And about guests, I do have some people in mind I'd like to have on, it just depends on when they'd be available, if they'd be interested. Who are they? They might be reading this... (Possibly shifts gaze in your direction.) They just might...