New films test if Land of Oz still paved with gold

Thu Mar 7, 2013 11:56am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - The entertainment industry has long viewed The Land of Oz as a road paved with gold, and two major new movie projects will test the public's appetite for yet more spin-offs from L. Frank Baum's novel published 113 years ago.

Not every project based on the American author's adventures in Oz has been a hit - even with Michael Jackson as Scarecrow, the 1978 adaptation "The Wiz" suffered poor reviews.

But the award-winning, record-breaking musical "Wicked", now in its 10th year, may have emboldened studios to revisit one of the world's most popular and lucrative fantasy properties.

"I don't think we're in danger of tiring of Oz," said Rhidian Davis, program manager at the British Film Institute, which is hosting a big retrospective of Oz-related cinema running at its Southbank home in London from March 1-14.

"One of the reasons for this success is the way in which children come to power, children topple adult figures in their world - Dorothy dispatches the Wicked Witch with a bucket of water," he said of the lasting Oz phenomenon.

"It's terrifically empowering in a way for children to think you can change things."

The first test comes on Friday with the theatrical release of Disney's 3D adventure "Oz the Great and Powerful", which reportedly cost $300-325 million to make and market and has been described by the New York Times as a "breathtaking gamble".

A lavish prequel to the original story, the movie stars James Franco in unfamiliar blockbuster territory as the wizard, after more familiar stars Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp dropped out of the project, according to Hollywood trade press.   Continued...

Actress Idina Menzel performs a number from "Wicked" at The American Theater Wing's 58th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York, June 6, 2004. REUTERS/Jeff Christensen