‘Wizard of Oz’ prequel will win over skeptics, star says


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A new take on ‘The Wizard of Oz’ may strike some purists as sacrilege. But one of the stars of that take, Sam Raimi’s ‘Oz: The Great & Powerful,’ said the re-imagining will avoid the natural pitfalls.

‘It’s one of the most treasured movies of all time, but Sam has the luxury of not trying to remake that movie,’ Zach Braff, who plays the wizard’s helper, told 24 Frames. ‘He’s going back to [L. Frank Baum’s] books to tell a great story about how Oz became Oz.’


Braff added that the preparation process for the film, which has just begun shooting, has been extensive, with actors and filmmakers ‘sitting around the table and allowing a lot of wonderful stuff to be found.’ (Braff has just written a play, ‘All New People,’ that opened this week with Justin Bartha at the Second Stage Theatre in New York. More on that shortly.)

The Disney-made ‘Oz: The Great & Powerful’ stars James Franco as a Kansas circus huckster who ends up in the Land of Oz, where he believes he can become rich and famous. But he soon finds his plan imperiled when he runs into three witches (Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz). Braff plays the wizard’s assistant in the real world and voices the animated character of the wizard’s monkey in the imaginary one.

The film, which began production several days ago in Detroit and aims for a March 2013 release, doesn’t hark back to the 1939 MGM musical -- that film is under copyright -- but rather to Baum’s public-domain books. The latest draft of the script was written by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Joe Roth, who produced the 2010 Johnny Depp-Mia Wasikowska version of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ is producing ‘Oz.’

The film is the first of what will likely be several new upcoming versions of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ including an animated tale voiced by Lea Michele.

Braff said that despite the visual scope of the new film, Raimi and production designer Robert Stromberg (who also worked on ‘Alice’) are intent on avoiding sleight-of-hand CG tricks as much as possible.

‘Sam doesn’t want to make a movie that’s just in front of a green screen,’ Braff said. ‘Obviously, the visual world continues beyond the set, but these are football-field-sized, amazing sets. Effects are incorporated, but we’re very much on a real set.’



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-- Steven Zeitchik