Thursday, October 18, 2012
How Oz was saved from Tim Burton
Wait, you thought I knew how?
Actually, I have no idea.
It is beyond my imagining that Tim Burton is not the director of Oz: The Great and Powerful. How were we spared this awful fate?
Again, I have no idea.
The fact that there is a sequel -- or prequel, or whatever -- to The Wizard of Oz is an awful enough fate for some people. But let's not forget that this isn't the first time there's been such an attempt to capitalize on the Oz brand. Return to Oz already curdled that particular innocence way back in 1985, taking today's opportunistic remake trend off the hook for the crassness of which it is so regularly and so justly accused.
When it was clear that even sacred cows like The Wizard of Oz would not make it through untarnished, it seemed almost certain that Tim Burton would be the one to tarnish it. Didn't it? I mean, has there been a director in the last two decades more suited to this material, and more specifically, more suited to ruining it?
In fact, as I see on wikipedia, Burton actually was in talks to make this film at one point, and in that iteration of Oz: The Great and Powerful, Johnny Depp was indeed set to star. In that perfectly deadpan and non-gossipy way that it has, wikipedia gives no explanation for the following sequence of events, only listing them as facts:
"Robert Downey Jr. was Raimi's first choice for the part of Oz. When Downey declined, Johnny Depp was linked to the role of Oz with Tim Burton attached to direct. By the end of February 2011, James Franco was in final negotiations to star in this film."
Which is, of course, what ended up happening.
I love the implication in these three sentences that Depp and Burton were a package deal. If you wanted Depp to play Oz, you had to get Burton to direct. Apparently, Raimi could not direct Depp, and Burton could not direct Franco. Thankfully, one of the two of them -- Depp or Burton -- caused the idea to collapse before it could gain any traction. Either that, or someone at Disney looked past the bundles of cash Burton made them with Alice in Wonderland and decided that they just couldn't bear to see the soul sucked out of Frank L. Baum's marvelous world by the erstwhile Mr. Helena Bonham Carter.
Having Raimi as director gives me significantly more hope. He's one of a number of directors -- among them Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro -- who should really be given the opportunity to save some of Burton's many mistakes before he makes them.
Why am I talking about this now, when Burton has a movie in theaters (Frankenweenie) that may actually be both original and good?
Well, I saw the Oz trailer a couple weeks ago and have been thinking about it since then. Also, Dark Shadows wiped out most of my merciful impulses toward the man, such that even any good will generated by Frankenweenie is too little, too late.
The trailer certainly looks good in some ways. But the truth is, whoever's directing it, Oz: The Great and Powerful will probably be a lot closer in quality to Return to Oz than to The Wizard thereof.