"Return to Oz"
Review by: Doug Nau
Directed by: Walter Murch
Produced by: Paul Maslansky
Gary Kurtz (Executive)
Written by: Walter Murch
Based on the novels "The Marvelous Land of Oz" and "Ozma of Oz" by: L. Frank Baum
Starring: Fairuza Balk
Score Composed by: David Shire
Based on the second and third book in the Oz series by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk)has recently come home to Kansas from the Land of Oz is now almost back to perfect health since the incident of the tornado, only she cannot get that wonderful place out of her head. She frequently talks about it and cannot get any sleep at night. Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) worries about her health/well-being. Thinking that she is suffering delusional depression and acute insomnia, She decides to take her to see psychiatrist in another town and treat her with electric-shock treatment and take those nasty dreams away from her head, she is rescued by a mysterious girl who leads Dorothy, back in Oz. When she tries to find her old friends in the Emerald City, she learns that they've all been transformed to stone by the Nome King (Nicol Williamson) It's up to her, Billina (Denise Bryer), and their new friends, the clockwork Tik-Tok (aka the royal army of Oz), Jack Pumpkinhead (Brian Henson), and Gump (Lyle Conway)to defeat Mombi (Jean Marsh) and the Nome King and restore Oz. (McDougall)
Although for some reason this movie is considered a sequel to the 1939 MGM musical film, but after watching the film I found this to be a completely new interpretation of the Oz stories and what happens to her mentally after she returns home. While, Ive never read the Oz books, but from what I've heard from Oz fans from watching an acclaimed fan-made documentary title "Return to OZ: The Joy That Got Away" you can watch on youtube (really fascinating insight from Oz fans on this film) that this film is the most faithful to its original source material then all other previous film adaption. However the film make quite a few references and lots of homages to the 1939 film whether intentional or not, an example of some is a prologue in Kansas where the supporting actors foreshadowing characters in Oz, and the Ruby slippers. Well, unfortunately this decision to try to transcend people of the 1939 film into this film only to have contradict the directors new take on on the Oz stories and confusing people into thinking this is a sequel to the 1939 film, because this film has virtually no resemblance to the 1939 film to be considered a predecessor. On top of that its too dark and intense to be a kid movie.
The thing that made the film intense is not the surreal visuals but its realism in both subject matter and tone has changed from the 1939 whimsical charm to a dramatically serious and somber tone and more of a fantasy adventure. The opening scene with Dorothy lying in bed sleepless is just utter melancholy. The films utilizes innovated special effects one of them is for The Nome King and Nomes they used claymation stop motion to blend him into the mountain as if he's part of the rock structure. The creatures and character of Oz are brought to life with animatronics puppetry designed by Lyle Conway who also voiced the Gump character. The result is nothing short of spectacular how the Oz character look like realistic fantasy creatures and not just people dressed up costume. The sets are quite stunning to look at especially Mombi's place is one of the most beautiful set I've ever seen and The Nome Kings Mountain is fantastic and the make up department gets points for making Nichol appearance resemble the rock walls.
The cast were all fantastic with Fairuza Balk being the standout performance, who plays the role with such depth and believability, in fact I actually prefer Balk's portrayal of Dorothy then Judy Garland. Don't get me wrong as much as I love her iconic performance she come off like a grown adult dress and acting like a little girl. Another great supporting performance included Nichol Williamson who plays duel roles as Dr. Worley and plays an over the top villain The Nome King and does such a tremendous job with the character you wish they would of shown more of his character. The Score composed by David Shire has composed one of the most beautiful and melancholy fantasy score I've ever heard. It stunningly reflects the films somber and intense parts with some occasional moments of whimsical music play after when Dorothy defeats the Nome King title "The 'Return to Oz' Rag March" on the soundtrack. My favorite tracks included "Dorothy Remembers/Home/The Ride to Dr. Worley's", "Ozma/The Deserted City/The Wheelers/Tik Tok", "Mombi's Hall of Heads", "Jack Pumpkinhead", "The Flight of the Gump", "Dorothy and the Nome King/The Ornament Room", "The Defeat of the Nome King/ Restoration", and the "Finale & End Credits (Theme From "Return to Oz").
So overall the is one of the most unusual films in cinema history, but its one that is very well done and tells a whole different Oz and this Oz I'm starting to like more and more each time I watch the film. I feel that it is unfair to compare the two films because this new Oz film has little resemblance to 1939 MGM film, and the references to that film only contradicted the films new interpretation of Oz and only confused people into believe this is actually a sequel to the 1939 film. I personally don't find this to be anything but a new Oz that emphasizes the Fantasy adventure with no singing and dancing but tells a story that blends the surreal with as much realism to convey the emotional impact of the film. The visual while very old school 80's fantasy film, it still holds well and looks impressive when watching the film. It is not a movie meant for children but teenagers will find this adaption interesting and the adult should find this entertaining if you like fantasies with a dark side. It is worth watching to see it for yourself and you may be surprised with this dark but marvelous new Oz.
McDougall, Nichola. "Plot Summary For Return to Oz". IMDB. IMDb.com, Inc., n.d. Web. 20 July 2012.