Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Adapting Return to Oz - Long Movie, Short Story Part 1

Whenever it's June I always consider it a time to really focus on Disney's "Return to Oz" film, which was released on June 21 back in 1985.

And as you may be aware, there was a massive selection of books to choose from and to collect with the merchandise made to promote the film.

Whether you see it or not, it is a somewhat complex and detailed film ... so I thought it was time to devote a post that focused on the few books that do not do a good job of adapting the story.

The BEST official full-length adaptation of the movie from screen (back, of sorts) to writing on paper was the Novelization by Joan D Vinge, which allowed an in-depth look at some of the characters' backstory, such as Aunt Em being a Christian woman who believed in GOD and whose father was a Preacher, but now struggles with a broken unfinished home, invalid hopeless husband and troubled sleepless niece and second mortgage, as winter approaches ... how the Wheelers were a free people before Mombi and the Nome King's offer to keep them alive as servants or be turned to stone ... these were a great companion to the film.  It even has a retelling of the story with the Wizard that feels in line with this follow-up.

There was another novel adaption of the movie, but this was a "Young Puffin" version by Alistair Hedley and the writing is not very sophisticated or enjoyable.  The introduction says this book "has been especially written for Puffin with younger readers in mind."
It also includes photo stills (in rather poor quality) and new illustrations by Jo Worth, but they are sketchy and rather off.

The illustrations show the characters the same height as Dorothy, including Dr Worley/Nome King.  Ozma, however, has a different look each time (she's in 3 pictures) and doesn't appear pretty or beautiful or consistent at all, aside from the first picture.  But the Ruby Slippers are drawn pretty nicely.

The one good thing I like is that it also includes a Map of Oz, which was featured in other books by Puffin.

These are just some examples of the writing from this book:

* Uncle Henry suggests Aunt Em taking Dorothy to the Doctor for healing, while she is a bit hesitant

* the "Electrical Marvel" machine is mentioned but not actually used or seen, but replaced by a simple hypnosis by pocket watch on a chain-string - a blackout still allows Kansas Ozma to rescue Dorothy from the clinic and into the storm to Oz ...

* When Dorothy finds Billina talking, the hen replies "Ten out of ten for observation"

* Before recognising her old farmhouse, Dorothy calls it "an old derelict building.  It's surprising the Scarecrow allows a broken-down old ruin like that to stand.  Let's go and look."

* When they meet Princess Mombi, she says "I am quite fatigued with playing.  It is the emotion.  I am so sensitive and my heart is not strong.  Help me to rise."

* Upon arriving at the Nome King's mountain, the landing is similar to the Joan D Vinge Novel which followed an earlier script, where Tik-Tok and the Gump were dangling on the edge of a cliff and were saved by their friends - this retelling is shorter and without any drama.  Moments later, Billina "crept inside Jack's head and went to sleep, while no one was looking" - how can she do that without even Jack saying something, or any of the others noticing her absence?
Later when Jack is about to guess his turn, Dorothy is aware that Billina is inside his head, but it is not specified how or when she found out.

* During this time, Mombi plays a note on her mandolin which threatens to shatter the glass in her Throne Room, which "was an unspeakable agony to the smoky indistinct spirit trapped in the mirrored door."

* The friends make their way along the mountain, the Gump being reassembled to walk on his own.  Later, Dorothy does not introduce the hen to the Nome King for fear she'll forget "her temper in the Royal presence."
When brought to attention Tik-Tok clicks his "copper heels" (that's not even physically possible!)

* When falling through the mountain, Dorothy experiences "in her body the stubborn hopelessness of rock, that holds so grimly to what it contains, yet in the end must yield it up.  And she felt behind her eyes the beauty of secret colours on which no light has ever shone; flesh, blood, muscle and bone of her was admitted to the intimate society of the earth's interior."

* When the Nome King offers a game to find and rescue the Scarecrow, Dorothy responds "That's worth any risk" (whereas before on screen, she is uncertain);
Later when he offers Dorothy the chance to go back home instead of risking transformation, he says "There's no hope.  Forget about them.  They're not even human.  You've got to look after yourself in this world.  I'll let you have the ruby slippers  and you can wish yourself back home and never think about Oz again."  To which Dorothy responds "Poor Nome King ... You don't even understand about friends."  And she leaves, leaving the Nome King "looking sadly at the ruby slippers".

* "You're too late, Mombi ... You're always too late.  You're incompetent.  A nincompoop.  An out-and-out failure.  Go and drown yourself in a bucket of lard."

* Upon being restored, the Gump describes being an ornament as "educational ... But I have to admit, a trifle lacking in variety, a trifle limiting, a trifle cramping.  In a word: dull."

* During the climactic finale, the Friends watch the Nome King swallow Mombi in her cage "down his great stone gullet, that was ribbed with layers of rock laid down through all the ages of the world" ... When he swallows Billina's egg and Dorothy wonders how that defeated him, he explains how "The egg is life, growth, change.  That egg is now in my heart.  And in the fires of my heart, the egg will develop, quicken into life.  The chicken will awake.  I feel it stir.  It begins to peck, peck, peck at the shell.  Strong is the shell, but the chicken is stronger.  It will shatter my heart.  You have won."  then there is a thunderclap "like the first bang that formed the world", a flash etc and blackness/silence.

* When Ozma is free, she reveals how her father King Pastoria was bewitched by Mombi and he promised to give her the first living thing that would greet him home, which he expected to be his dog ... but it was Ozma, so he exchanged her for a potion of eternal life, but even so he threw away the potion and killed himself.

* Back in Kansas, Aunt Em is relieved that Dr Worley and Nurse Wilson were killed by the lightning caught by the "infernal" machines ... not to mention that he "wasn't a real doctor at all!  He was an evil man"

So here we have an inferior retelling of the movie, with words poorly formatted and written in a boring manner with questionable changes, where what is supposed to sound poetic instead comes across as dreary and talking down to children instead of sounding informative, inspirational or even encourages an improvement in vocabulary and proper speaking in text.

I plan on reviewing other "lackluster" adaptations of Disney's film from film to book in the remaining month.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Wizard of Oz's 80th Anniversary: What Do We Want & What Can We Expect?

The Wizard of Oz (the MGM movie, that is) will be eighty years old in 2019. Warner Bros. commemorated its 70th and 75th anniversaries with home video and theatrical re-releases as well as a variety of merchandise, promotional events, and collectible offerings. Given that the 75th anniversary of the film was mostly celebrated in 2013, almost a full year before its actual anniversary, it's time to start thinking about what might be in store for the 80th anniversary. What do we want to see that we haven't seen before? What don't we want to see? And what can we expect to see come 2018 and 2019? All good questions.

Let's start with what we can expect to see from the Brothers Warner. It's pretty much a lock at this point that the next home video re-release will include 4K ("Ultra HD") Blu-ray. The format has certainly become more popular in the years since the 75th anniversary release, and we know for a fact that such a print of the film (in 8K resolution, actually) already exists. The question, though, is whether or not the 80th anniversary release will include Blu-ray 3D as well. I'm quite the advocate for the format and for 3D in general, but the reality is that I'm in the minority there. 3D TVs are no longer being made, and it's becoming less and less of a certainty that every major home video release will include Blu-ray 3D, even if it was previously available in that format. The latest home video release of Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast, for example, does not include Blu-ray 3D, even though the one prior (the "Diamond" edition) did.

I think it's also worth mentioning that the MGM film's 80th anniversary will nearly coincide (if all goes to plan) with the release of the long-awaited Wicked movie, which is currently slated for December 20, 2019. Since Wicked will likely be in public consciousness even more so than usual, I wouldn't be surprised to see the witches, especially the Wicked Witch, front and center in whatever merchandise and promotional material comes along with The Wizard of Oz's 80th anniversary. (The packaging of the 2005 Three-Disc Collector's Edition DVD, for example, was clearly inspired by Wicked, which makes sense given the popularity of the musical at that time.)

Okay, so we've established that I (and at least a handful of other Oz fans that I know of) would like for the film to continue to be available in 3D. But what else do we (I) want?

On the home video front, I'd like to see the next release focus on quality over quantity, especially in terms of physical extras. The 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition included far too many unsubstantial "collectible" items, presumably to justify a high price point. Sure, the photo book is nice, but what purpose does it have when a better, more comprehensive companion book is available separately? The pins are nice, too, but their inclusion in a home video box set makes little sense. The Ruby Slipper "sparkler globe" and Wicked Witch of the East flash drive are even more out of place here and are so cheaply made that they're by no means worthy of the adjective "collectible."

The physical extras included with the 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, in my opinion, were generally of higher quality than those included with the 75th, but still I question the reason for including something like a wristwatch in a home video release. It's true that a shiny, bulky box set looks nicer and more "collectible" on the shelf, but I'd like for what's inside to feel less like things you'd put in a Christmas stocking.

In terms of bonus features, I'd definitely like to see everything from the previous releases carried over to this one. I feel like Disney has been shortchanging consumers by re-releasing many of its titles with less bonus features than previous home video releases, and I'd hate for Warner Bros. to do the same here. I'm glad to see that the Angela Lansbury-hosted documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic has recently been made available on its own after being excluded from the 75th anniversary release, but yes, I think it should absolutely be included in the next release.

I'm actually pretty happy with the various featurettes and documentaries that Warner Bros. has put together over the years, but I wouldn't mind seeing a new one that delves a bit deeper into Oz outside of the 1939 film (spanning the books, other adaptations, the Oz community, etc.). I think a Judy Garland-centric documentary of some sort could be interesting and would appeal to a lot of people, too.

Essentially all previous releases of the film have included "Outtakes and Deleted Scenes," but I think these are worth taking another stab at for the next release. The "Over the Rainbow" reprise and the "Ding, Dong! The Witch Is Dead" reprise have been paired with stills and behind-the-scenes photos, but the images are of very poor quality, and they even suffer from some bizarre digital distortion that's difficult to describe but results in portions of the image being duplicated in random places. (See here and here.) I'm fairly sure that I've seen those images elsewhere without that problem, so I don't think it would be too difficult to correct.

The famously deleted musical sequence "The Jitterbug" was incorporated into the direct-to-video animated film Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz, which has brought out curiosity among fans about the possibility of recreating some of the many deleted scenes from the original film with animation or, at the very least, storyboards/animatics. It's definitely not something that we need to have, but it would be fun to see what these scenes could have looked like. Maybe each one could have a brief introduction (by someone like John Fricke or TCM's Ben Mankiewicz) to provide a little context?

Ted Esbaugh's Wizard of Oz cartoon has been included in every home video release of the 1939 film since at least 2005, but since the 75th anniversary release, it has been restored in high-definition and released in a collection of similar animated short films by a company called Thunderbean Animation, dubbed Technicolor Dreams and Black and White Nightmares. I personally do not own this collection, but from what I've seen and heard of it from people who do, it's a pretty substantial upgrade in terms of quality. (You can check out Jared's review of that here, which includes some screenshots for comparison.) I don't think it's necessary to do, but I think it would be nice to see the restored version of that cartoon on the 80th anniversary release. It's just a matter of whether or not Warner Bros. is willing to spend a little extra money to make that happen.

I'll admit that I personally don't watch the DVD discs since I can watch the movie either on Blu-ray or digitally, but it would be nice if Warner Bros. put in a little extra effort and created new DVD menus, which have not changed since the 2005 release. They don't have to be anything too special, but they should at least reflect the packaging and overall branding for the 80th anniversary.

On the subject of branding, a complaint that I and many other Oz fans have had in recent years is the lack of quality in the artwork used for the film's merchandise, packaging, and promotional material. This isn't exactly a new problem with Warner Bros. in my opinion, but I do think it's gotten worse as of late, and I really would like to see improvement in this area come the 80th anniversary. I'd be happy as a clam at high tide if I never had to see these stiff, garish, and overused digital recreations of the cast again. Eeesh. (Ever heard about The Uncanny Valley? Yeah, this 2017 calendar is exemplary of that.)

The film is still aired on television several times each year as it has been for decades, but how nice would it be for this to be approached more as a "television event" than it has been in recent years? Warner Bros. could strike a deal with a major network like NBC or CBS to air the film, perhaps accompanied by some sort of special, exclusive content along the lines of what TCM often does, serving up some legitimate trivia and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Regardless, I think we can all agree that the film deserves more respect than the ridiculous ad campaign that TBS delivered when it aired the film last year...

At the end of the day, I think what we all want is for Warner Bros. to treat the film, and its fans, with respect (which isn't to say that they've necessarily failed to do so in the past). Most of us will continue to shell out the money for new collectibles and home video releases, but that loyalty shouldn't be taken for granted. Quality over quantity, always. (I'm looking at you, too, Hallmark...)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Oz News

It's been awhile since I blogged here about something besides the podcast... But I have some updates.

First is a sad one as late last month, we learned that Robin Olderman had passed away. I heard later that she had her family nearby and knew it was coming. I'm sure she also knew the good wishes of her friends in the Oz community were with her.

Robin was a lifelong Oz fan and longtime member of the International Wizard of Oz Club, who told me when I interviewed her for the podcast that when she first saw the MGM Wizard of Oz, she said aloud "That's not right!" in the theater when Glinda introduced herself as the Good Witch of the North. She wrote many pieces for The Baum Bugle and served as editor for Oziana for several years, even writing a few pieces for it.

But Robin made a lot of friends, particularly at Oz events and conventions. During my years at Winkie Con/Oz Con International, she attended every year. I've heard how she would "adopt" some friends and become very close with them. Her friendship with Oz artist Rob Roy MacVeigh was legendary enough that the two were immortalized as a caveman and his wife by Dick Martin in his Ozmapolitan of Oz.

At OzCon 2015, she happened to attend a video screening room I had provided a DVD of short Oz subjects to be shown. Part of them was my color tinting of the 1910 Wonderful Wizard of Oz film, and she later told me she enjoyed my treatment of the film. During our live commentary of Return to Oz with a handful of the cast and crew, Robin whispered her own commentary to me. It was this that led me to ask her to appear on the podcast, which I'm glad I did as it preserved her voice for other fans to hear. My title "Robin Olderman Spills The Beans" came directly from the candid nature of her conversation. She'll be missed.

We also have some home video news. If you recall, we noted that 2013's home video editions of MGM's The Wizard of Oz dropped the classic documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, hosted by Angela Lansbury. It had been replaced with a new documentary, and seemingly, producer Jack Haley Jr. even sued about it as the new documentary seemed to derive content from the old one, plus with it dropped, no royalties were being paid any further, and with it no longer being a bonus feature, there were not many other avenues for it to be released.

Well, Warner Brothers seems to have rectified this with a solo release of the documentary on DVD in the Warner Archive collection, the manufacture on demand branch of Warner Home Video for titles with limited market appeal. It complements the special features very well, even with some repetition. Anyone with a DVD or Blu-Ray of MGM's The Wizard of Oz from 1999, 2005 or 2009 (with the exception of some DVD editions) already has it, though I'm sure that there are collectors who will pick up this release regardless.

Discotek—a home video producer specializing in anime and other Japan-originated properties—will finally be releasing the complete Wonderful Wizard of Oz anime series from PanMedia, using Cinar's English version to home video on August 29. No preorders are live. I am curious of the disc count of the DVD edition, as there are 52 episodes. However, they will also release it on SDBD: Standard Definition Blu-Ray, a Blu-Ray disc that uses DVD quality video (usually because no higher quality version can be made), but can take advantage of the large capacity of a Blu-Ray to hold a lot more content, which could easily fit all 52 episodes on a single dual-layer disc with a good amount of space left for some modest bonuses, which haven't been announced either.

The series has a lot of fans, so I know many people will be glad to hear that the English version is available on physical home video at last.

Diskotek has also released the first episode of the series in Japanese with English subtitles to YouTube, reportedly to "gauge interest." Whether this affects the home video edition or if they're considering somehow also releasing a Japanese language version with English subtitles, I'd suggest fans give it a watch or two, drop a like on YouTube, and share it with their friends.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz celebrates L. Frank Baum's birthday!

The Royal Podcast of Oz presents two installments for L. Frank Baum's birthday this year.

Jay tells us of the life of L. Frank Baum, with some commentary from Sam. Afterward, they discuss their sources. Then the Royal Podcast of Oz finishes presenting tales from Little Wizard Stories of Oz with "Ozma and the Little Wizard" to celebrate L. Frank Baum's birthday. When Ozma discovers some troublesome imps in Oz, the Wizard puts his magic to work to stop them.

Make sure to listen all the way to the end!

The cast includes Mike Conway, Doug Wall, Kim McFarland, Severino Milazzo and Sam Milazzo.

You can listen and download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the players and links below. The Royal Podcast of Oz is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play Music and other podcast services that mirror these.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Download this episode (right click and save)

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Off to Oz!

As I'm sure many of our readers already know, I'm really passionate about writing and filmmaking, and I'm currently studying film in college. One of my favorite things about being here is being able to collaborate with my brother Andrew Thomas, a super talented animator and illustrator.

Late last year, I edited and created the visual effects for his short film Chasing Christmas, which was an official selection of the 2017 Columbus International Film & Video Festival. (You can check that out by clicking here.)

I'm now excited to share our latest collaborative effort, Off to Oz, directed and animated by my brother and written and edited by yours truly. The animated short film is, of course, inspired by Oz and is actually based on one of my favorite moments in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Jonathan Walter, who composed the music for Chasing Christmas as well as for my short film adaptation of The Night Before Christmas, provided the original music for the film. 

We're very proud of and happy with how it turned out, and I hope everyone enjoys watching it as much we enjoyed making it!

Monday, May 01, 2017

The Movies of Oz - The Oz Kids: The Return of Mombi

Jay and Sam discuss the finale of the Oz Kids series: Mombi the witch regains her power and sets to take over Oz! How can the Oz Kids defeat her without their parents? What is the Oz Kids chronology? All this, plus a capsule review of The Wizard of Oz on Ice.

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site or use the player and links below. The Royal Podcast of Oz is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play Music and other podcast services that mirror these. 

Download this episode (right click and save)