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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Wizard of Oz

Michelle Williams: I'm reinventing my 'Wizard of Oz' character

November 16, 2011 |  4:40 pm

Michelle Williams on Oz The Great and Powerful
In preparing to play Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Williams pored over research, watching the tragic icon’s  cinematic oeuvre and sifting through a stack of biographies.

Williams’ latest role as Glinda the Good Witch in Sam Raimi’s “Wizard of Oz,” however, required far less prep work, the actress said. For starters, she was much more familiar with the source material.

“I’ve already watched the ‘Wizard of Oz’ a lot, because it’s one of my daughter’s favorites,” Williams said during a recent trip to Los Angeles to discuss “My Week With Marilyn,” which opens here Wednesday. “But Sam didn’t want to be bound to Glinda of old, anyway. He wanted a fresh take on it.”

Raimi’s “Oz: The Great & Powerful” centers on a Kansas con man (James Franco) who seeks fame and fortune in Oz. That plan is quickly derailed when he arrives in the mysterious land and encounters three witches (Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis).

Williams said she was attracted to playing an earlier incarnation of Glinda, one who is still discovering the true extent of her powers.

“In the ‘Wizard of Oz’ film we all know and love, she’s omniscient and doesn’t have a lot of human qualities,” the 31-year-old explained. “She’s not fully realized in that way -- she’s not a dimensional person. That’s where she ends up, and my Glinda is where she’s starting out.”

Williams has been juggling her promotional responsibilities for “Marilyn” while shooting “Oz." At the AFI Fest premiere of the film in Hollywood this month, she walked the red carpet and then hopped back on a plane to “Oz’s” Michigan set for a 4 a.m. call time.

She said the sleep deprivation has been worth it, in part because of the positive effect the shooting experience had had on 6-year-old daughter Matilda, Williams' child with the late Heath Ledger.

“It’s been such an amazing move for us as a family. It’s a really happy place to go to work and a happy place for her to come visit,” Williams said. “Often -- the ‘Marilyn’ sets and the ‘Blue Valentine’ sets -- they aren’t really ideal places for children. She can still come visit, but she can’t really get comfortable and hang out for a while. This really integrates my life and my work in a great way."

For more with Williams, check out Sunday's Calendar section, where a profile of the actress will appear.


A Wizard of Oz reboot follows the prestige road

Toto Recall: Disney now in the Wizard of Oz game too

'Wizard of Oz' prequel will win over skeptics, star says

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Michelle Williams, left, and Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz.” Credit: Associated Press / Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

'Wizard of Oz' prequel will win over skeptics, star says

July 27, 2011 |  5:14 pm

Photo: Frank Morgan as the wizard in the original "Wizard of Oz." Credit: MGM A new take on "The Wizard of Oz" may strike some purists as sacrilege. But one of the stars of that take, Sam Raimi's "Oz: The Great & Powerful," said the re-imagining will avoid the natural pitfalls.

"It's one of the most treasured movies of all time, but Sam has the luxury of not trying to remake that movie," Zach Braff, who plays the wizard's helper, told 24 Frames. "He's going back to [L. Frank Baum's] books to tell a great story about how Oz became Oz."

Braff added that the preparation process for the film, which has just begun shooting, has been extensive, with actors and filmmakers "sitting around the table and allowing a lot of wonderful stuff to be found." (Braff has just written a play, "All New People," that opened this week with Justin Bartha at the Second Stage Theatre in New York. More on that shortly.)

The Disney-made "Oz: The Great & Powerful" stars James Franco as a Kansas circus huckster who ends up in the Land of Oz, where he believes he can become rich and famous. But he soon finds his plan imperiled when he runs into three witches (Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz). Braff plays the wizard's assistant in the real world and voices the animated character of the wizard's monkey in the imaginary one.

The film, which began production several days ago in Detroit and aims for a March 2013 release, doesn't hark back to the 1939 MGM musical -- that film is under copyright -- but rather to Baum's public-domain books. The latest draft of the script was written by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Joe Roth, who produced the 2010 Johnny Depp-Mia Wasikowska version of "Alice in Wonderland," is producing "Oz."

The film is the first of what will likely be several new upcoming versions of "The Wizard of Oz," including an animated tale voiced by Lea Michele.

Braff said that despite the visual scope of the new film, Raimi and production designer Robert Stromberg (who also worked on "Alice") are intent on avoiding sleight-of-hand CG tricks as much as possible.

"Sam doesn't want to make a movie that's just in front of a green screen," Braff said. "Obviously, the visual world continues beyond the set, but these are football-field-sized, amazing sets. Effects are incorporated, but we're very much on a real set."


A Wizard of Oz reboot follows the prestige road

Lea Michele as the new Judy Garland?

Toto Recall: Disney now in the Wizard of Oz game too

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Frank Morgan as the wizard in the original "Wizard of Oz." Credit: MGM

A 'Wizard of Oz' reboot follows the prestige road

May 4, 2011 | 11:54 am


There are some people you could never appease with a reboot of "The Wizard of Oz." The original comes with too much nostalgia; a remake comes with too many negative connotations.

But if you're going to try to placate the rest of us -- as both Disney and producer Joe Roth no doubt want to do with their Emerald City prequel, "Oz: The Great and Powerful," based on an L. Frank Baum book in the "Oz" series --  it helps if you bring on some serious directors and actors.

Robert Downey Jr. fit that bill before he dropped out of the wizard role; ditto for director Sam Mendes, he of "American Beauty" and "Revolutionary Road" fame, before he opted out and was replaced by Sam Raimi.

As the force behind a number of horror hits and the "Spider-Man" franchise, Raimi is a question mark on material of this sort. But on the actor side, the reassurance level is growing.

James Franco will play the wizard (he's the main character, the one who arrives in Oz from Kansas and evolves into the man behind the curtain). No matter Franco's Oscar-hosting talents, most of us who saw "127 Hours" know that the Oscar nominee can do both subtlety and playfulness, two qualities that come in handy when you're playing a snake-oil-salesman-turned-wizard; it makes you think he can bring some rigor, or at least some fun, to the part. Ditto for Mila Kunis, an actress who showed both of those things as the free-spirited Lily in "Black Swan" last year.

With the news that Rachel Weisz is in negotiations to play the witch Evanorah -- she's the Wicked Witch of the East, older sister to Kunis' Theodorah, Wicked Witch of the West -- the prequel has further upped its stature.

The movie now offers an Oscar twofer (Weisz of course won a golden man in 2005 for her portrayal of a conflicted activist in "The Constant Gardener"). Rumors about Michelle Williams  joining the cast don't hurt either.

It's still a wide-open question whether the film will be any good, whether it will elegantly dance with the mythology or simply trample on it. But it's at least encouraging to know those involved can tread lightly.


Toto Recall: Disney now in the 'Wizard of Oz' game too

Robert Downey, Jr., as the Wizard of Oz?

Hollywood is churning out classic fairy-tales with a twist

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener." Credit: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

Lea Michele as the new Judy Garland, and other surreal dispatches from the modern 'Oz' renaissance

June 11, 2010 |  9:00 pm


If you're feeling optimistic, you might say that it's a testament to the cultural power of "The Wizard of Oz" more than to the power of easy branding that the L. Frank Baum creation continues to be endlessly reinvented, as we've been documenting in this space over the last several months.

Friday brought yet another piece of news. As Disney forges ahead on  the Wizard-centric movie "The Great and Powerful Oz" and Warner Bros. juggles two separate "Oz" projects, an independent animation company called Summertime Entertainment (independent in this case being a euphemism for small and unknown) has just gone into production on an animated musical titled "Dorothy of Oz."

The production announced Friday that it has brought on "Glee" star Lea Michele to voice the character of Dorothy. Michele, with a background in musical theater as well as television, will also sing a number of songs. Oh, and the movie is being shot in 3-D (of course).

We talked Friday afternoon to producer Bonne Radford, who said that the animation was the right medium for the story that she and the other filmmakers want to tell. "It will take the 'Wizard of Oz' to places it has never been able to go before," she said.

This project, it should be said, seems several degrees removed from the original tales of  munchkins, wizards and wicked witches. "Dorothy of Oz" is based on a children's chapter book written by L. Frank Baum's great-grandson, Roger, not the sprawling world created by his great-grandfather. There are many characters who didn't appear in the original series and who strike us, from a certain distance, as tangential and dilutive, characters such as someone named Marshall Mallow, or the Jester. (We will admit to digging the fact that Bryan Adams will write songs for the movie; "Heaven" was kind of like "Over the Rainbow," come to think of it.)

Radford called Michele a perfect choice for the role. "She's our Judy Garland," she said, in what might generously be termed a moment of grandiosity.

Asked about the impetus for the film, the producer said that part of her motivation was the childhood memory of seeing the film on the big screen at a repertory house, a viewing that moved her to join the film business. You'd be right to cringe a little at that: Deciding to make a movie primarily or even partly because it gave you the warm-and-fuzzies as a 10-year-old is exactly where so much of the film business goes wrong. Sentimentality makes us human, but it doesn't make for great filmmaking choices.

But Radford's comments also reveal an interesting truth of the "Oz" phenomenon, and one that helps explain why companies small and large are rushing to make new "Oz" movies.

Because it's something that is cherished both deeply and widely, "The Wizard of Oz" is not only a cultural phenomenon but a psychological one.  "Oz" is everyone's story, a piece of our individual cultural memories that the rest of the world happens to share. That doesn't mean the entire world wants to see countless new spins on "Oz." But it does mean that those with moviemaking clout have reason to make a new version of the film, and also explains why they're able to persuade others to go along. As Dorothy discovered a century ago, the Emerald City is difficult to resist, even if it can be disappointing to visit.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from '"Dorothy of Oz." Credit: Summertime Entertainment

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Adam Shankman won't sing on new musical, but will he make his way to the Emerald City?

April 28, 2010 |  6:04 pm

EXCLUSIVE:  Disney's  Wizard of Oz prequel "The Great Powerful" is turning into a hot directing gig in Hollywood -- so hot that "Hairspray" director and Oscars producer Adam Shankman has taken the bold step of removing himself from another Disney project as he aims to land the job.

Shank Shankman had attached himself to direct "Bob the Musical" -- a musical about a man who, after being struck on the head, hears melodious versions of others' thoughts -- at the end of 2008, right as Disney was bringing out his children's fairy tale  "Bedtime Stories." But Shankman has now stepped aside from "Bob" in an effort to show Disney where his heart lies.

Shankman will still have to sell Disney executives Rich Ross and Sean Bailey, as well as producer Joe Roth, on his take on the story of the Wizard before he came to Oz, a broad adventure story that will be shot in 3-D. And he will need to outmaneuver his main rival, Sam Mendes, for the gig. The winner could almost become the answer to a high-concept parlor game:  Is it better to imagine the Wizard of Oz by way of "American Beauty" or by way of "Hairspray"?

Shankman's move throws into question the future of "Bob," which already wasn't considered an especially high priority with the current Disney regime. It does speaks to how much of a priority "Powerful" is at Disney, with directors angling to land one of the few big gigs currently available.

It also offers a clue as to the professional intentions of Shankman, a choreographer earlier in his career who has remade himself as a versatile director and producer, particularly on musicals. In February, Shankman told my colleague Amy Kaufman that he feels he has graduated beyond some of his earlier work. "I’m being picky," he said. "I want to do something more adult than kids and animals, something with a more sophisticated sense of humor." The wizard awaits -- for one man, anyway.

--Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: Adam Shankman. Credit: Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

Disney's 'Wizard of Oz' prequel would be in 3-D

April 21, 2010 |  3:23 pm

More info is emerging on "The Great Powerful," the Wizard of Oz prequel that's being developed at Disney.

Sam Mendes, who sits atop the short list of director candidates, is set to fly in from London in the next few weeks to meet with studio chief Rich Ross and other Disney executives. As we wrote yesterday, Mendes has time on his hands now that James Bond 23 is on the skids (and is undoubtedly looking for a big commercial film anyway, as directors coming off underperformers are wont to do). 

MendThe director will offer his take to studio executives, and while Mendes' movies have generally skewed darker, this take on Oz, about the Wizard before he became thus, is a complex character. And Tim Burton also skewed dark before he hooked up with Disney and "Great Powerful" producer Joe Roth on "Alice in Wonderland," and that didn't seem to ding the film one bit. (Mendes also apparently has an academic background in Lewis Carroll and other things children's-fantasy.)

Robert Downey Jr., as we mentioned yesterday, is one of the actors being considered, but a number of dominoes would yet have to fall for that to happen, including, perhaps most trickily, some navigation of his already-packed schedule.

The project is aiming to shoot in 3-D, with the idea that plenty of Oz set-pieces could benefit from the z-axis treatment, just as they did in "Alice." As for timing, Mitchell Kapner's script is considered to be in pretty good shape, and Disney is said to really like the idea, so if everything snaps into place we could see the Wizard back on the big screen by as early as 2012. In the race to get a new Oz project going, Disney could wind up king of the forest.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Follow me on Twitter.

Photo: Sam Mendes. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / Los Angeles Times

Robert Downey Jr. as the Wizard of Oz?

April 20, 2010 |  8:11 pm

Several weeks ago we wrote that Joe Roth was meeting with newly anointed Disney production president Sean Bailey on a "Wizard of Oz" prequel about the wizard before he came to Oz.

Now we're hearing that those meetings went well, so well that the project is on a fast track of sorts. According to word in the development community, Robert Downey Jr. is talking to producers about starring as the wizard (hard not to lick your lips at that one). 

Down Meanwhile, two directors are said to be considered top candidates to get behind the camera: "American Beauty" director Sam Mendes (who may have some  time on his hands now that "Bond 23" is in trouble) and "Hairspray" and "Bedtime Stories" director Adam Shankman, who most recently pulled the strings from behind the curtain at the Oscars.

(Downey's and Mendes' potential involvement, incidentally, were also mentioned earlier today in a tweet from Production Weekly.)

As we'd initially written, "The Whole Nine Yards" writer Mitchell Kapner wrote the script for the project, based on parts of a number of L. Frank Baum books. (It was called "Brick" back when it was first presented to Disney, but is now being talked about around town as "The Great Powerful.") The wizard, who in the Baum books was a charlatan in Kansas before arriving in Oz, is a more dark and complex character in the Roth/Kapner version than the desperate and doddering wizard of the MGM musical (played by Frank Morgan) would suggest, which in turn makes it seem like it would be perfect for Downey (and few others).

 The two directors being considered, meanwhile, would seem to mark two directions for the picture, given the more subdued and even bleaker tones that have infused Mendes' work and the lighter, more whimsical one that has marked Shankman's.

Disney is said to like the premise enough (and with Roth's "Alice in Wonderland" doing so fantastically well, why not?) that if it all comes together, they could shoot the movie as early as next spring, when Downey has a spot in his production schedule. From down-and-out to playing Tony Stark and, possibly, the Wizard of Oz -- it's like he's on his own yellow brick road.

--Steven Zeitchik

Follow me on Twitter.

Photo: Robert Downey, Jr. at the 2010 Oscars. Credit: Peter Kramer/AP

Toto Recall: Disney now in the Wizard of Oz game too

March 10, 2010 |  6:46 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros. has two "Wizard of Oz" remakes in development. Universal has the Oz-inspired "Wicked." And now Disney has an Oz movie too -- from the producer of "Alice in Wonderland," no less.

Joe Roth, the studio-executive-turned-producer, is developing a movie called "Brick" that delves into how the Wizard of Oz came to sit behind the curtain (like Dorothy, he's apparently from Kansas). Mitchell Kapner, the writer on the mob comedy "The Whole Nine Yards," has written a draft of a screenplay, basing it on pieces from several other L. Frank Baum "Oz" books as well as his original ideas.

While the pair of Warner Bros. projects take a direct cue from "Alice" -- like the Burton picture, they're also stories about a girl protagonist on a series of identity-forging adventures -- this one takes the "Wicked" approach, imagining and elaborating on the story from a non-traditional point of view. As conceived in Kapner's script, the wizard is a charlatan who's part of a traveling circus but goes on a similar odyssey as Dorothy when he mysteriously lands in Oz. The project has heat: Roth met with Disney production president Sean Bailey on Tuesday to discuss directors and details.

After Alice earned $210 million at the global box office last weekend, it's understandable if Disney is eager to get another "Alice"-type movie in the pipeline: a family-film spectacle based on a beloved title.  And Roth is the guy who's just delivered for the studio. Some critics may bray, but if it's done well, the movie could be kind of brilliant, a deepening of the mythology that started with "The Wiz" and continued with "Wicked."

--Steven Zeitchik and Claudia Eller

Photo: Scene from "The Wizard of Oz." Credit: Turner Entertainment

A new 'Wizard of Oz' could make its way down the Hollywood road

March 9, 2010 |  5:00 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Fresh off Disney's massive success with Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," Warner Bros. wants to remake another childhood classic. Like, really classic.

The studio is examining two existing "Wizard of Oz" projects, with an eye toward giving one of them a modern gloss and moving it toward the screen.

One project, called "Oz," currently lives at Warner's New Line label. It's being produced by Temple Hill, which is behind a little franchise called "Twilight," and has a script written by Darren Lemke, a writer on the upcoming "Shrek Forever After."

A second "Wizard of Oz" project, set up at Warners proper, skews a little darker -- it's written by "A History of Violence" screenwriter Josh Olson and focuses on a granddaughter of Dorothy who returns to Oz to fight evil. "Clash of the Titans" producer Basil Iwanyk and his Thunder Road Pictures are behind that one. ("Spawn" creator Todd MacFarlane is potentially involved in a producerial capacity, to give you some idea of the tone.)

While the idea of a new "Wizard of Oz" movie is said to be in the development, let's-bat-this-around stage, it's been advanced seriously enough on the lot that representatives for some of the top directors around Hollywood have been briefed.

The Judy Garland-starring "The Wizard of Oz" from 1939 -- we could give you the refresher on witches, tin men, Dorothy and everyone else, but really, do we need to? -- has been given alternative treatments before. There was the 1978 black-themed film adaptation of the stage play "The Wiz." And of course about six years ago came the Broadway adaptation of Gregory Maguire's "Wicked," an alternative story of girls, witches and  Emerald City politics. The property proved a huge stage hit, prompting a film version that's in development at Universal and "Wanted" producer Marc Platt.

Audiences are likely to respond to the idea of a new silver screen "Wizard of Oz" with gusto ("at least the first one was good," said one colleague we told) or with horror, precisely because the original is such a classic.

WizBut for Warners, there's plenty of appeal in trying to take the story of Dorothy & Co. back to the big screen. For one, there's the bonkers $210 million global opening for "Alice," which shows that if you're trying to create a mega-blockbuster, one smart way to do it is to take a title people know and update it for the effects era. And there's a neat symmetry, since the Technicolor version of the classic film did for color in the movies what a lot of people say that "Avatar," "Alice" -- and now, perhaps, "Wizard" -- could do for 3-D in the movies.

With its Harry Potter series drawing to an end, Warners also likes the idea of a franchise, and "Wizard of Oz" and the many books L. Frank Baum wrote featuring many of the same characters (all of which are in the public domain) fit the bill nicely. And let's not forget the property's strong, young female protagonist, hugely in vogue now in the post -Twilight" and -"Alice" eras.

There could still be questions about the project's title (the book's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" is in the public domain but the movie's "The Wizard of Oz" is not; it's owned by MGM, whose library is partly owned by Warner Bros.). And then there's the matter of whether filmmakers would make the movie with musical elements, as the original, of course, did. Those questions aside, it could be the moneymaking formula.

Follow the yellow brick road. It's strewn with CGI, tent poles and 3-D. And, of course, a little green.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photos: Scenes from "The Wizard of Oz." Credit: Warner Bros./Turner Entertainment


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