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March 19, 2013

High-Tech Oz Prequel Courts Modern Viewers

by Penelope Poulou

Written by Frank Baum in 1900, the magical story of The Wizard of Oz has weathered time, and many film and stage incarnations.

Its most famous was MGM’s lavish 1939 production starring Judy Garland and her ruby slippers. Now, a prequel to the original is out to court 21st century audiences.  

Like the original, Oz the Great and Powerful opens in black and white.

Circus magician Oscar Diggs, played by James Franco, is taken to the Emerald City where he’s destined to claim the throne. First, he’s told, he has to kill the wicked witch. He meets three witches, who all deny they're wicked.

Franco says the original story inspired him. “I have been a fan of the world of Oz since I was probably eleven, maybe younger. So, I thought it was a really great opportunity to jump into the role of my childhood and imagination.”

Sam Raimi’s 3D  film offers a good story, rich visuals, solid acting and great special effects.

But it can't match 1939's The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy, played by Judy Garland in her ruby slippers, made history. Dorothy travels to the Emerald City to meet the wizard who will show her the way back home, only to find that Oz is a fake.
 
The journey is an allegory of self-discovery.
 
The Library of Congress named The Wizard of Oz the most watched motion picture in history, says Patrick Loughney, executive director of the National Audio Visual Conservation Center at the Library.  

“It’s a magical film because it captures that concentration of energy, genius and creativity that was apparent in Hollywood, in the movie industry at that time,” he says.

Loughney says the 1939 film carried a post-Depression message of endurance.  

“To me it's the message of hope in the movie that ultimately connects with everybody at that time, and even today.”

Other incarnations of The Wizard of Oz have reflected changes in popular culture.  In 1974, The Wiz featured Dorothy played by Diana Ross, with an all-black cast.

"I think it reflects a social change that already occurred in America since the 1950s and 1960s," Loughney says. "And so you have major movie studios beginning to accommodate artists coming out of the African American community."

Now, Sam Raimi’s technical marvel, Oz the Great and Powerful, may give new life to the wizard until the next incarnation of Frank Baum's beloved story.