27 November 2012

Oz, the Small and Meek

At Slate, Aisha Harris raised some serious questions about Sam Raimi’s upcoming movie Oz, the Great and Powerful, based on the most recent online trailer:
“You are here at last, and the prophecy shall be fulfilled,” says one witch. “I’ve waited for you to come and set things right,” says another. Is Oz slipping into an old-fashioned story about women needing a great male savior? Why are all these women with their own supernatural powers waiting around for an ordinary guy to come along and save them all?

L. Frank Baum’s original Oz books were published during the peak of the suffragette movement, and they were quite progressive in their depictions of a young female hero. Dorothy Gale, who ultimately reveals the man behind the curtain as the fraud that he is, was inspired by pioneer women and has been championed by some as the “first feminist role model.”
All that’s true. Not only was Dorothy the main protagonist of the Oz series, but the most powerful rulers in Oz were Ozma and Glinda.

I think Harris overstated her case, however, when she went on to say: “The 1939 film The Wizard of Oz stayed impressively true to this vision, giving us Judy Garland as an independent, curious young woman who aids a group of hapless men on their quest to see the wizard.” No, Judy Garland plays a breathy, largely reactive adolescent who decides she should never leave her own backyard to find her heart’s desire. The movie turned Dorothy’s happenstance visit to Oz from an adventure to a lesson about the dangers of running away, and thus into a punishment. In contrast, we next see Baum’s Dorothy on a voyage to Australia. Now that’s independent and curious.

But back to the Wizard. The whole point of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is that “Oz, the great and terrible” (the book’s words) is a humbug. And that’s clearly part of Raimi’s story as well. When a movie sets up a character as “Great and Powerful” in the title, we know that has to be ironic or a challenge. Otherwise, there’d be no place for the story to go, nothing to reveal.

Back in July, the director laid out the main character arc:
As for the plot itself, everything is centered around [James] Franco’s Wizard, who is kind of a dick. “It’s the story of a selfish man, who’s a little bit of a lothario, a little bit of a cad.” Oz is “a land of second chances” for the Wizard, who’s also redeemed by the love of Glinda, the Good Witch. “It’s how he became ensconced in the Emerald City,” said Raimi. “By the time this picture ends, the audience has one interpretation of how it all came to be [...] how he became the protector of that great city.”
The phrase “love of Glinda” gives me pause because the Good Sorceress has no—needs no—love interest in the books. But will this movie’s Glinda offer Oz romantic love, or does he merely assume so? Does he set out to show himself protecting Oz just to impress Glinda and become a bigger, better man along the way? We’ll see next year.

5 comments:

ericshanower said...

I'm looking forward to how this movie shows the Wizard giving baby Ozma to Mombi.

J. L. Bell said...

Let's be careful what we wish for. It could show Ozma as the love child of Glinda and the Wizard.

Mari Ness said...

Is Mombi even in this at all? I'm counting only three witches in the trailers -- the Wicked Witch of the East, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda.



J. L. Bell said...

I don't think it's a coincidence that we're seeing only the witches shown in the 1939 movie. No Good Witch of the North, no Mombi, no Blinkie, no Gloma.

ericshanower said...

Publicity for the film has said it's based on Baum's Oz books, so why wouldn't I expect to see the single most notorious back-story action of the Wizard from Baum's books?

I mean, isn't Hollywood into giving the audience what it wants?