Written and directed by Leigh Scott
This review is of the 108-minute theatrical cut of Dorothy and the Witches of Oz that was given a brief run in theaters several weeks back. Originally produced as a two-part TV miniseries, this director’s cut I received a screener of is the movie-length version trimmed down and given upgraded special effects. The full-length 164-minute miniseries version was released to DVD in the US this week.
I have not seen the miniseries cut that has already been released in other parts of the world for months now. Most of the reviews I read on a UK website seemed to be most critical of the pacing. I seriously doubt anybody watching the nearly hour shorter theatrical cut will ever complain about the story moving too slowly. There are so many characters and plot points that need to be worked in it hurriedly rushes from scene to scene early on in a manner that doesn’t always leave much room for character development or explanation. It all comes together in the second half quite splendidly, but getting there can be a bit dizzying.
I also cannot comment on how improved the special effects are for this theatrical version. I can say, with only a few exceptions, that I have no complaints about the special effects. Not on par with your $100 million blockbusters, but still light years better than those seen in similar productions of such modest budget. The best special effects are practical in nature – the flying monkeys. More like flying gorillas. The Wicked Witch’s flying monkey minions now look more like Planet of the Apes refugees, and I say that in the best way possible. I only wish we got more of them.
Writer-director Leigh Scott puts a different spin on Frank L. Baum’s classic Oz tales by reimagining Kansas farm girl Dorothy Gale (Paulie Rojas) as all grown up and off to New York City to strike a deal with a major publishing firm for the rights to her children’s books about the magical land of Oz. She claims the origins of her Oz stories stem from dreams she has had mixed with similar stories written by her grandfather, Frank (wink, wink). As she will come to discover, those dreams were actually suppressed memories and there was more to her grandfather’s writings than just his overactive imagination.
Dorothy and the Witches of Oz shares a concept with the popular ABC series “Once Upon a Time” in that both are based around fantasy characters that have forgotten their fantastical origins living in the real world. Except, that is, for the Wicked Witch and her minions, duped by the Wizard of Oz into venturing into our dimension in search a mystical weapon that in her hands could unleash the entire fantasy world into ours. They remember and have sinister plans that could forever alter both worlds.
Characters and elements from the further installments in Baum’s Oz series less recognizable to those only familiar with the movie The Wizard of Oz factor into this tale. The most notable is “Princess Langwidere” from Ozma of Oz, used here as sort of a bumbling Terminatrix working on behalf of the Wicked Witch. The character of Langwidere is something of a master of disguise, albeit her disguises are the menagerie of human heads she collects which she can switch into, one being that of Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend Mia Sara. Not enough decapitations in family films, I always say.
Scott has collected his own impressive array of familiar heads for his cast, especially for fans of fantasy films. In addition to Mia Sara – no stranger to fantasy, having also starred in Ridley Scott’s Legend – fans of Lord of the Rings will see two of their favorite Hobbits reunited, sort of. Billy “Pippin” Boyd plays a potential love interest for Dorothy. Sean “Sam” Astin is one half of the pint-sized mischief makers Frick & Frack, paired with Vacancy co-star Ethan Embry. Genre legends Lance Henriksen and Jeffrey Combs both make brief appearances as members of Dorothy’s family. Even ex-pro wrestler turned rising b-movie actor Al Snow brandishes a sword as the Nome King to grapple with the steampunk-inspired Tin Man.
Most importantly there’s the always reliable Christopher Lloyd; his trademark manic energy and oddball mannerisms make him perfectly cast for the all-important role of the whimsically eccentric Wizard of Oz. If you thought Christopher Lloyd was at maximum Lloyd-ness in Piranha 3D, here his Lloyd-ness is at 88 mph.
With most of the cast given ample opportunity at some point to ham it up, camp it up, and vamp it up, by virtue of being the most straight-laced character, Paulie Rojas’ Dorothy gets easily upstaged for much of the movie. Dorothy is supposed to be simple and virtuous, but Rojas renders her too much of both, making her quite the bland heroine until well into the third act when Dorothy finally displays more than just a blank slate personality. Even Billy Boyd, whose entire character and romantic story arc with Dorothy is such a non-factor he could probably have been completely excised from the movie version without it making much of an impact, outshines her in his few and often pointless appearances.
So while the yellow brick road might have a few potholes along the way, once it gets to the second half and the pieces of the puzzle reveal themselves and fall into place, Dorothy and the Witches of Oz hits its stride, turns into a visually ambitious special effects extravaganza as the Wicked Witch launches a full-scale assault on the Big Apple by unleashing all-manner of Oz-inspired creatures and becomes a good deal and even, dare I say, kind of heartfelt. As a friend of mine who watched the movie with me, a lifelong fan of Baum’s books, put it, “That was a so much better than that lousy Syfy miniseries (Tin Man).”
Again, I cannot testify to how the complete miniseries version of Dorothy and the Witches of Oz holds up (you can order it from the EvilShop below), but I quite enjoyed the movie version and hopefully everyone else will get a chance to see it in this form sooner rather than later. I hear there’s a chance it will get a separate DVD release later this year. Hopefully. Click your heels three times, and maybe it will happen.
I assume it’s the same way with both versions; be sure to stick around through the entire end credits for one last scene that might have been the funniest moment.
3 out of 5