Russell Baillie: Not off to see the Wizard

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The 1939 Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland as Dorothy. Photo / AP
The 1939 Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland as Dorothy. Photo / AP

As you will see in this week's issue of TimeOut, it's been a week for comebacks. It's like some pop culture wormhole has opened and brought forth many things we thought we would never see again. There are new albums from the reclusive David Bowie and the long-deceased Jimi Hendrix, though every few years the Hendrix estate puts out another album of "unreleased" material and it makes the news.

Blasting through from the 90s, there's a new Tomb Raider featuring original videogame babe Lara Croft, only younger.

And as you might have seen in our cover story last week, there is another new Wizard of Oz movie, Oz: The Great and Powerful.

It's not the first Oz film revival. Michael Jackson had a go in 1978 with The Wiz and there was the unofficial 1985 sequel, Return to Oz, which went largely unloved.

The new Sam Raimi film is a sort-of prequel, telling how the Emerald City got its resident Wiz years before Dorothy and Toto blew into town.

I also had a chat to Zach Braff who voiced the movie's flying monkey. I didn't have the heart to ask him: "Surely your agent could have held out for a Tinman?"

At the time of our chat neither of us had seen the movie. I still haven't - and I'm not sure I want to. That's possibly because of a deeply personal attachment to the 1939 original Wizard of Oz which I first saw on the big screen when I was 5 or so years old. No, I am not quite that old. A cinema print was still doing the rounds in the 70s and my mum took me to see it in one of Wellington's ancient picture houses.

There, I joined the many generations of kids freaked out long into adulthood by those flying apes and the Wicked Witch of the West. I am sure Mum took me because it was a musical from the good old days, not knowing it would be a enduring lesson in the nightmarish power of cinema that I've forgotten to thank her for properly, so thanks Mum. It left quite an impression.

But any trepidation about the new Oz might be unfounded. After all, this is a Disney Oz and they've had to change a few things so it doesn't breach copyrights particular to aspects of the 1939 MGM film now owned by Warners.

Yes it still goes from black and white to colour, there is still a Yellow Brick Road and an Emerald City and more witches than you can poke a broomstick at. But no one skips down the famous golden lane, singing or otherwise. As The New York Times reported earlier this year, the lawyer-induced cautions include not having any of the witches in the same shade of green as Margaret Hamilton's terrifying cackler from 1939. There's no ruby slippers either- well, there's no Dorothy to wear 'em - and they were silver in L. Frank Baum's original book anyway.

Yes there are Munchkins, though they're more racially diverse than the old days and their hair has been made weird in a whole new way.

So it's Oz, Jim, but not as we knew it. And talking of pop culture wormholes and confluences, a major question remains about the new movie: Which classic rock album will provide an uncanny alternative soundtrack as Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon apparently did to the 1939 film?

Maybe something by that Bowie guy? After all that Let's Dance video of his was set in Oz and prominently featured red shoes ...

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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