Why Is Hollywood Getting Fantasy So Wrong?

The Arts

oz-the-great-and-powerful-poster-1

It had an ominous start – the premiere of ‘Oz The Great And Powerful’ was supposed to feature a hot air balloon floating above the cinema in Leicester Square, but after the disaster in Egypt it had been cancelled at the last moment.

Pay no attention to the man behind the camera, I found myself thinking as I sat through the film. Sam Raimi was sitting in front of me s I tried not to fidget and kick his back. I remembered I had directed him when he was in his early twenties (that story’s in ‘Film Freak). Once he had been a truly innovative filmmaker – how had he ended up making such a turgid, bland Disney fantasy as this?

‘Oz’ is a prequel showing how the wizard arrived, but instead of presenting anything original it reruns the first version, but at a much slower, talkier, treaclier  pace, and with a more convoluted plot. Out go the songs, the energy, the surprises, and in come three witches, one good, two bad, except for when one of the bad ones is good – you can tell the bad one because she has an English accent.

Instead of the tin man, the scarecrow and the lion we get the doll and the monkey. We also get endless reminders of how much better the original was in every way. So flying monkeys are back, only now they’re CGI, the wizard’s hall and his appearance in the smoke are present again, but now not frightening, and even the monochrome prologue appears, complete with another tornado.

We also get the fairy in a soap bubble, the Munchkins, the yellow brick road, the Emerald City, the witch on a smoking broom, the poppy field, the crystal ball, some coloured animals and every other reference you can name from the original, all set in an M&M-coloured landscape seemingly left over from Tim Burton’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’. Instead of memorable songs and costumes we have a score by Danny Elfman that’s only noticeable when it stops, and trashy premiere gowns for the witches. There’s confusion about who this is aimed at because James Franco plays a serial womaniser, and the pacing is too slow for fidgety little girls.

I hasten to add that this is a writer’s viewpoint, and may not be reflected by the general public. Maybe kids will adore it, if only for the poke-you-in-the-eye-with-a-stick 3D, but there’s nothing going on here for adults. Coming after the staggeringly dreadful ‘Hansel and Gretel – Witch Hunters’, and various stinkers involving Snow White and Red Riding Hood, it truly feels as if the Hollywood fantasy well has run dry. At least ‘John Carter of Mars’ had a nicely constructed plotline, even if it lacked originality.

What’s gone so wrong? Failure to follow a few simple rules. A clean, linear plot, original dialogue, some exciting action, cheery songs, a simple message. Even complex or lengthy fantasies like ‘The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T’ and ‘The Great Race’ seem like miracles of concision by comparison. Throwing a roaring CGI baboon in your eyes to make you jump is infinitely less scaring than Dorothy stepping from the yellow brick road into the woods. And all the post-modern jokes about ‘yellow brick potholes’ won’t make up for that.

6 comments on “Why Is Hollywood Getting Fantasy So Wrong?”

  1. Peter A says:

    Many thanks you’ve just saved me the price of admission and having my childhood memories of a wonderful film/story shattered.

  2. Simon Sperring says:

    ‘CGI Flying Monkeys’. The lacking of understanding (and taste) is terrifying.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    I was warned away by the horrible, synthetic, green-bluish colour shown in the TV ad. M&M colours is right. (Not MGM colours) If I recall correctly isn’t the late winter when film studios set their dogs loose? Would explain a lot.
    To address your lead question: I’d say Hollywood has taken its whole game plan from the designers of the Edsel automobile that had four flat tires on release day and never got rolling. (This post comment is becoming a bit cutesy, but onward…)
    There is an answer to it all: buy books, buy more, read, read, read more.

  4. Pheeny says:

    It’s the triumph of form over substance; they seem to think that flashy CGI will by itself compensate for lack of atmosphere, decent dialogue or a halfway coherent plot (it won’t) and that children cannot cope with anything complex (despite the fact that they can handle the intricacies of a computer game like Skyrim without blinking an eye.)
    Above all they are bed wettingly terrified of taking on anything remotely original

  5. Pheeny says:

    Also, the success of some children’s movies that genuinely appeal to an adult audience has inveigled them into thinking that they can just bolt an “adult” theme onto a children’s tale, willy nilly, and automatically double their audience

    I’ll shut up now

  6. Helen Martin says:

    If they wanted to do an Oz film why not go back to the rest of L. Frank Baum’s oeuvre and film The Tin Woodman of Oz, Dorothy of Oz or any of the rest of the books. I have a copy of one of them with an elastic to hold it together because although the covers are good, the paper they were printed on wasn’t. The illustrations are very Beardsly, full of swirls and flowing hair.

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