Witches of Oz
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Witches of Oz

Blu-ray

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There are stories that we are we first experience as children that remain part of us for the remainder of our lives. The effect is so profound that we pass it down to our children creating a family tradition. When a sufficient number of families share the same enthusiasm the story becomes infused in our societal consciousness as part of our enduring popular culture. For millions of families in our nation one story that leads the list of traditions is ‘The Wizard of Oz’. While most are familiar with the globally renowned 1939 film for MGM that iconic movie represents the merest tip of the Oz experience. There is a rich library of children books. Long before Harry Potter’s creator was even born L. Frank Baum wrote some twenty novels and novellas that formed the foundation of the legendary land of Oz. after his death other authors maintained the franchise keeping it alive throughout the generations. The adventures of Dorothy and her ragtag group of unlikely friends, have remained popular serving as the basis for Broadway plays and several motion pictures on the cusp of being released demonstrating the enduring nature of the fascination with the magical land of Oz. while the alumni of Hogwarts have a lot of fans the franchise is in its infancy compared to the magic conjured up in Oz. The SyFy channel has been revisiting childhood classics and selected Oz to lead the pack with ‘Tin Man’. However, the SyFy Channel has revisited Oz on other occasions. One example is reviewed here, ‘The Witches of Oz’. It was originally presented as a mini-series although it did have a 2012 release limited to AMC venues; that variation is usually referred to as ‘Dorothy and the Witches of Oz’. Basically, this is an example of the fictional methodology bridging the real world of the author and the fantasy universe of his design. There is a degree of difficulty inherent in crashing together reality with such a well known and beloved fantasy world. There are several notable missteps in this mini-series that prevented it from reaching its potential but with that stated there is a sufficient nugget here that makes for a passable popcorn flick with the family.

In this telling of the tale Dorothy Gale (Paulie Rojas) is a young woman who grew up in Kansas. As a child her most cherished memories were her Grandfather regaling her with stories of an enchanted land he invented called Oz. this influenced her choice of careers. Dorothy became a successful author crafting her books on the tales related by her grandfather. Her life is about to change when a publisher in New York City offers to publish her works. When she arrives in the "Big Apple’ Dorothy is given a revelation that shakes her world to its foundation, it turns out that Grandfather’s stories were not fictitious; they were memories of Dorothy’s childhood in Oz. her books were long repressed memories. Her childhood friends cross over from Ox to enlist Dorothy’s aid in combating the infamous Wicked Witch of the West’ (Eliza Swenson). The witch, known here as Billie Westbrook, is joined by the Gnome King (Al Snow) AKA Nome King, and a squadron of flying monkeys. Dorothy is rejoined with her cadre of friends to once again save Oz from these nefarious forces.

One thing this treatment has in its favor is a big one that goes a long way to glossing over the deficiencies. The every spooky Lance Henriksen plays Henry Gale with popular character actress, Mia Sara, taking on the role of the ruler of Oz, Princess Langwidere. Former Hobbits Sean Astin and Billy Boyd take a sojourn from Middle Earth to lend a hand to the proceedings here. The always wildly unique Christopher Lloyd appears as the Wizard of Oz. he is a versatile actor who can master any role from a confused NYC taxi driver to a captain of a Klingon Battle Cruiser. If the mini-series doesn’t grab you there is always the potential for spot the character actor. This talent cast makes the most out of the script. Stylistically the flick overly depends on the special effects although the use of practical flying monkeys was refreshing. The effects well of acceptable quality and entirely necessary in this context but the problem that arises is that the majority of the story relies on them. Even in the old MGM film effects added spice to the narrative; it did not overpower the work as it does here. Almost seventy five years ago they realized special effects worked great as a spice but was a poor substitute for a story. This production started off with an interesting premise, one that has achieved popularity with such television series as ‘Grimm’ and ‘Once Upon a Time’ blurring reality and childhood fantasy. The lead character of the adult Dorothy, Paulie Rojas, doesn’t convey the necessary emotional content required. A stiff performance is permissible with the pre-oil can Tin Woodsman, not in Dorothy. There is just enough whimsy remaining to help pull in the children. Still, do yourself a favor and watch the MGM classic with the entire family. Better yet, get hold of the L. Frank Baum books and enjoy them together. Now that there are no more Harry Potter books these is a great way to continue reading as a family alive. Then the Blu-ray of this film becomes a pleasant adjunct not the source of Oz involvement.

Posted 04/04/12

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