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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 08.10.09] movie review news book horror fantasy

Year: 2009
Writers: Aaron Denenberg / Ralph Griffith / Stuart Kerr
IMDB: link
Amazon: link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 7 out of 10

If the record breaking ratings for SyFy's Tin Man mini-series proved anything to us last summer it was that there is still a stronghold of people in the world who are more than willing to take a trip to the wonderful land of Oz - even if upon arrival they realize they are in for a blasphemous re-imagining and not the adventure they remember from childhood.

No, I didn't like Jill Blotevogel and Steven Long Mitchell's Tin Man all that much. Mostly, I think it was because it wasn't a new adventure, but rather a tepid post-modern rehash of the same old story with mid-level production values. "Dark Oz" on the other hand, is an entirely new twist on the property as well as a a whole new adventure that, if made right, could have something to offer a whole range of cinema going demographics.

So why then, if people are obviously so willing to consume anything new that comes stamped with the "Oz" brand, has it been so hard for writer/producer Aaron Denenberg to get his Dark Oz movie out of development hell and onto the big screen? This question is one he addresses in his own introduction to his book, were he unashamedly explains that the only reason he's published it at all is to sell a lot of copies and prove to studios that people want to see a Dark Oz movie. Basically, he says it's a classic catch-22 case. He's never made a 100 million dollar movie, so no studio will let him make a 100 million dollar movie.

Of course, if he played ball and listened to the advice of some of the producers he's met along the way, Denenberg admits maybe he would have more luck. But then again, one piece of advice was "maybe one of the flying monkeys should fart," while another exec put forth the brilliant suggestion that perhaps Dorthy doesn't go to Oz at all, but instead is a private investigator on the case of an axe murdering Tin man in the real world. Seriously? Perhaps we should appreciate the fact that Denenberg at least wants to protect the integrity of the property.

If there's one thing you should know about Dark Oz it's that this ain't your grandma's Oz. All silly dancing is out the window and there's nary a Toto to be found. It's set in the modern day where Dorthy is all grown up and works in the movie business as a stunt chick flying planes. She's also joined the Blackberry revolution. Can the world handle a modern day Dorothy? I think so. The Oz timeline is hardly set in stone. The books were published over 100 years ago and the movie was made in the 30s, so how do you even decide which era is the "authentic" one. Best to scratch it all and set it now. In the end, the debate is mute anyway because the action all takes place in Oz.

I won't give away how she gets back, but needless to say Dorothy finds herself back in Oz. But, between fighting off axe wielding nomes in an endless field of gold corn to finding out her friend the Tin Man has turned evil and a Nome King is halfway to controlling the entire shebang, things are not exactly as she remembers. Dorothy eventually meets up with Jack Pumpkinhead (who btw can survive axe blows to the kisser) and joins a rag-tag revolutionary group hell bent on destroying the nome king and reclaiming Oz to return it to its natural order.

I'm no Oz expert, so I don't know if the dense tapestry of backstory Denenberg weaves is new to the Oz oeuvre or if it's taken from L. Frank Baum's series of children's books, but it's definitely cool to think of a movie that takes Oz beyond the Emerald City and the Yellow Brick Road. Besides offering a lot of backstory about Oz hundreds of years before Dorothy ever visited, Dark Oz introduces us to all kinds of weird new creatures and races. From the technologically advanced Quadlings, who worship the number four, to armless Hammerheads to Hungry (and angry) Tigers, Dark Oz offers a vast array of new and strange races and creatures for us to gawk at.

However, if this were a standard book review of Dark Oz, I would probably have to say that the great story that is hampered by too many long deviations into dense backstory exposition. Denenberg obviously needs to set up a lot here, but it can be grueling at times when you're dying to just get into Tin Man's castle and take on his metal man armies.

So how "dark" is "Dark Oz?" The actually plot points of "Dark Oz" aren't all that dark, in fact it's a pretty standard fantasy adventure yarn which sees a small band of do-gooders fighting against a tyrannical regime. There are some dangerous missions, some decent fights and a few close calls, but the "darkness" comes from the fact that all the characters we once loved as heroes are all evil now. It's a nifty twist, but it seems to me that the success of Dark Oz is ultimately going to rest on the vision of it's director.

Gene Generation director Pearry Reginald Teo has told us he is antipicating working on Dark Oz after he finishes his
current unannounced project (stay tuned). In an interview quietearth did with him a year back he has stated that he wants to give Oz a gritty and tactile steampunk upgrade which I think is exactly what the film needs to live up to its "dark" title. But whoever takes the reigns in the end is going to have to work overtime to make Dark Oz stand out in a sea of fantasy films and tv. It can't just count on the Oz brand to get people in seats. It needs to be a stunning and original visual experience but somehow still feel classic and lived in at the same time - qualities I felt the new live action Alice In Wonderland needed to have, but which Tim Burton has totally failed to bring that project.

The promise of a vast and epic Dark Oz trilogy is seriously tantalizing though and I sincerely hope someone comes along to fund it. The property is popular enough to guarantee interest form essentially every film going demographic. The general movie going public will relish the idea of seeing something new, fan boys will love the fact that it turns the Oz world on it's head and offers a dark vision, and chicks will dig it's female lead. It'll probably end up being a hard PG-13 as well so families will even eat it up. It seems like a no-brainer to me, so if anyone with a flush bank account is out there looking for a tax credit you should invest in this film.

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Skinstripper (13 years ago) Reply

Let's hope SyFy doesn't get their hands on this one, or for that matter, Rob Tapert or Sam Raimi.


ikyi (13 years ago) Reply

god, tin man was an abomination.
it was so bad.


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

This book is poorly written. Has the author ever heard of punctuation?

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