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Why Remaking The Wizard of Oz Is a Really Bad Idea

Fresh on the heels of Alice in Wonderland‘s box office success, rumors are flying about not one, but two feature film remakes of The Wizard of Oz.  Now, there’s more than one way to retell a story, and there are a few ways to redo Wizard that would probably work.  The odds of Hollywood actually finding those particular ways is unlikely.

More and more often these days, I find myself shouting at movie trailers and announcements: “WHY would you remake that?” Clash of the TitansThe Karate Kid? My Fair Lady?

I’d like to take some time and explain when a remake generally isn’t a good idea, and when it generally is, and whether or not this means that The Wizard of Oz is something we should revisit. 

For clarity’s sake, I’ll say that I don’t consider a transition from book to film to be a remake.  Only film to film.  Here are some rules, that I just made up:

Thou Shallt Remake for Any of These Reasons:

1. We can rebuild it. We have the technology.

In other words, the first one had special effects that, at the time, wowed audiences, but are now laughably primitive.  Peter Jackson‘s King Kong applies here, as does, though I hate to admit it, the upcoming Clash of the Titans.  The best way to do this is by remaining otherwise faithful to the original story.

I don’t feel that The Wizard of Oz has reached this point yet.  It’s still got some of the most stunning visual design in cinema history.  Even leaving aside the obvious (use of color), how many popular depictions of witches have you seen with a hooked, warty nose and green skin?  And where its special effects are truly strained, the apple trees, for example, the faulty illusion is still really charming.  Oz was made in the long era where if your effect wasn’t perfect you had to make up for it with acting and character, instead of simply throwing more CGI at the thing.

2. Ralph Bashki made the first one.

Remember Ralph Bashki’s Lord of the Rings Part IBoromir looked like this:

For more on the movie, check out the Tolkien Sarcasm Page, which I cannot believe still exists.  I mean… I found that site back when I read LotR for the first time.

But I digress.  Another way to word this rule: The last time they tried it it was bad.  So bad, we’d like to forget it ever happened and just start over.  Obviously this does not apply to The Wizard of Oz.  For further reading, see The Hulk and Joel Shumacher‘s Batman movies.  But, like, don’t actually go see them.

3. Let’s do it again, but this time…

It is a good idea to make a remake if you feel like there is a new and interesting take on the characters or story that was not explored by the original.  This also applies to movies that use the same idea but employ a change of tone.  For examples: Tim Burton‘s Planet of the Apes, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton’s Batman, and Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

This rule also applies if our cultural idea of the subject of the movie has changed over time, which in the past half century has caused three generations of Batman film reboots as our cultural idea of Batman changed from Adam West‘s, to Frank Miller‘s, to Bruce Tim‘s.

This is the way in which a person might go about remaking The Wizard of Oz, even though we already have a number of dark, or steampunk, or “twisted” (kinda NSFW) interpretations of it, not to mention the success of Wicked.  It also might be interesting to see a movie adaptation that was closer to the source material.  However, even if you’re using rule 3, you will still run afoul of:

4. Thou Shalt Not Remake Cinema History

If a movie has become a cultural phenomenon, if there are bits of it enshrined in the Smithsonian, if it was a landmark film in American cinema history, you might not want to remake it.  Anyone remaking The Wizard of Oz is going to have to deal with casting someone else for the role that made Judy Garland famous, and having to decide whether or not to do it as a musical, and if you do a musical, how to get songs that even hold a candle to the originals.

Inevitably, unless you choose a REALLY divergent tone from the first (I’d say… a highly sexualized Wizard of Oz would probably fit the bill), people are going to compare your movie to the original.  If the original was something, for example, that ran regularly at Christmas throughout the early 50’s, you might want to think twice.

For those who are going ahead with their Wizard of Oz remakes anyway, we can say only this: godspeed, and good luck handling politically correct Munchkins in this day and age.

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Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.