Premise: Before Dorothy, the great Oz himself had to get to Oz. This is his story.
About: Directed by Spiderman director Sam Raimi and starring his villain in that film, James Franco, as Oz, this film debuted its trailer a few weeks back. This draft made it on the 2010 Black List, although I think it was fairly low. Screenwriter Kapner was an interesting choice for the material. His most previous credit was 2009’s “Into The Blue 2,” although he’s probably best known for his 2000 screenplay, “The Whole Nine Yards.”
Writer: Mitchell Kapner (based on the books of L. Frank Baum)
Details: 4/08/10 draft
You know, moving to LA last week, I kinda felt like Dorothy. I rode a tornado of sorts (my car) from a state right next to Kansas. I crash-landed on a witch (Oklahoma City). I had to follow a yellow brick road the rest of the way to a magical land. I met some strange characters along the way (Oklahoma City Hotel Guy – which you’d know if you were following me on Twitter – for the record, I usually update my Twitter followers on when I’m going to post. So on the days I’m late, that’s a good resource to know when the post is coming). And now I’m finally here. Trying to find the man behind the curtain.
Which is probably where we should start today’s review. You see, everybody knows the story of Dorothy. But how many people know the story of the man Dorothy goes looking for? How did *he* get here? And once he got here, how come he never went back? And how did he go from a guy who looked like James Franco to a guy who looked like Sam Kinison?
It might be fun to find out. Or just plain stupid. Just because you can look back at a well-known fictional character’s life doesn’t mean you should. A big part of the reason some characters are so memorable is because the writer showed us just the right amount of them. No more, no less. So I have to be honest. I’m curious why it’s so important that we learn Oz’s origin story.
Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmanuel Abroise Diggs (or “Oz” for short) is an illusionist, which in the early 1900s held some entertainment weight. Without countless Youtube videos to waste their time on, people needed something to pass the time. And these illusionist dudes did just that.
But not unlike today’s entertainment industry, unless you were one of the top dogs in your profession, you needed something else to pay the bills. For Oz, it’s booze. So after his show (from which no one seemed to enjoy) he busts out his very own homemade moonshine and sells it to the audience, who we realize only ever came here for the booze in the first place (in a really cheesy choice, the acronym for the liquor is “H.O.M.E.”).
Afterwards, Oz unwisely hooks up with one of his audience members, the irresistible Mrs. Hamilton, only to be found by Mr. Hamilton! Oz is chased through the circus, leaps onto a hot air balloon, thinks he’s safe, until he spots the biggest storm in Kansas history. I think we know where this is going. Yup. The next thing Oz knows, he’s awaken in Oz.
And boy, you thought Oz was wild before. That doesn’t even come close to what’s going on in this dysfunctional countryside this time around. Besides the munchkins, there’s the Hammerheads, the Dainty China army, Whimsies, Gnomes, Growleywogs and Mist Maidens.
But the biggest presence here in pre-Dorothy Oz? Deceit! Everyone’s lying! So it’s hard to figure out who to trust. At first Oz befriends a witch named Theodora, who seems like a cool chick. Theodora tells him they’ve been waiting for his arrival, that he’s here to save Oz. Which means he has to follow her to Emerald City to meet her sister, Evanora, so they can plan out how they’re going to kill the Wicked Witch Of The South!
But when they get there, Evanora is convinced that Theodora sent Oz to kill her! So she wants Oz to kill Theodora! If that isn’t confusing enough, one of the flying monkeys, Kala, wisps Oz off to the “Wicked” Witch Of The South, Glinda, who you may remember as Bubble Witch from the original Wizard Of Oz. She tells Oz the “real” story, which is that Theodora and Evanora are the wicked witches, and Glinda is a good witch!
Not really knowing who to trust, Oz goes with his instincts and gets behind Glinda. But if it were only that simple. Theodora and Evanora are putting together an army to squash them. Glinda, as well as the people of Oz, turn to Oz for direction. He is, in their minds, their savior. So Oz will have to piece together an army of creatures that were never meant to fight, to take over Oz and save it, once and for all, from the evil witches.
When you think about it, Wizard of Oz is one of the most f*cked up stories ever. It’s weird. It’s odd. It’s actually kinda creepy. Those flying monkeys? Wuddup with that?? However, in that classic first film, everything just seemed to magically come together. It’s rare that you make that many unique choices and they all fit. The only other movie I can think of that did it (off the top of my head) is Star Wars. So to try and replicate that weirdness and hope lightning strikes twice…that’s asking for trouble.
And we see that trouble all over the place here. I mean, there’s a lot of weird shit happening, but none of it gels together in the same way that original did.
I think the biggest problem is Oz himself. He’s just not very interesting. And it all started with his introduction. I couldn’t tell *who* Oz was supposed to be. Was he the terrible illusionist blind to his lack of ability, or was he genuinely good at what he did? It was never clear. One second he’s doing a cool trick and the next a lame one.
If your main character is wishy-washy, your script is dead. I’m sorry but it’s dead. If we don’t know the main character’s exact problem, then he’s just confusing the whole way through. And we won’t care about him.
What I’m trying to say is that in a script like this, you need to identify Oz’s fatal flaw, since this is a story ABOUT HIM and therefore you’re writing a character piece. Maybe his flaw is that he doesn’t believe in his own abilities. Or maybe you go in the opposite direction and it’s that he overestimates his abilities. From there, you throw tests at the hero that challenge that flaw. If he doesn’t believe in his abilities, for example, then you write a scene where he must prove his worthiness for the Queen. Everybody’s looking at him. He must perform. But he buckles under the pressure because DEEP DOWN he doesn’t believe in himself yet. Then, in the end, when it finally matters, he’s able to push past those insecurities and prove his worth. That’s how you create a character arc.
Here, it was just…I don’t know. Oz would do a magic trick every once in awhile, and some people would believe he was a wizard and some wouldn’t. It was just never clear.
The idea of a war in Oz with all these weird creatures is a tantalizing one, especially for a director, who gets millions of dollars to show audiences something they’ve never seen before. So I could see the climax being fun. The problem is, none of the characters – and I mean not a single one – was unique or interesting or compelling in any way. Which was strange since this is such a unique interesting compelling world. With that being the case, the final battle comes up empty. We don’t really care who wins. It’s just eye candy, without the candy since it’s still in the script stage.
Oz was never able to wrangle in all of its strange parts. I’m sticking with the original.
What I Learned: The power of a good character arc is the most influential emotional component you can add to your screenplay. Audiences like to see characters learn and change for the better. It makes them feel good inside. The original Oz film based its entire story on that. You had a scarecrow who didn’t think he was smart enough, a lion who wasn’t brave enough, and a tin man incapable of feeling love. The changes (“arcs”) those characters went through is what was so memorable about that film. With that aspect never defined here for any character – especially Oz – there was zero emotional attachment to the story.