Today’s script caught me a bit off guard.
I hadn’t even known it was an idea for a film, let alone a script until I saw it during a preview with the wife. To me, there should have been more of a build up, especially coming from Disney. Perhaps there was, and the wife and I aren’t getting out to enough movies.
DISCLAIMER: As it was mentioned on the forums, this is an early version of the final script. If you want to go see the movie, please do (remember your funding of Hollywood helps us all pitch new ideas), or at the very least check here for reviews of the actual film.
With that little bit out of the way, can this story convince us there’s no place like Oz?
Don’t forget you can download the script here.
1.) Marketability of the Idea
I, for one, was interested.
(To be fair though, I still like Return to Oz.)
It’s a prequel, which I find fascinating, especially as I always wondered how exactly the Wizard of Oz came to be just a man and no one ever figured it out. Wouldn’t someone have to have seen him set up shop?
This movie answers that question, in addition to giving us back story on some of the characters who pop up during Dorothy’s adventure.
I think that it’s being one of the top movies for a few weekends now helps cement the fact that people are interested in the Land of Oz.
2.) Plot Stability
I’m actually glad I chose to review this script right after taking a look at Argo over the weekend.
Where Argo threw all sorts of obstacles at its protagonist, Oz literally goes from one scene to the next, almost in a straight line.
The entire thing is EPISODIC.
When we write, it can’t feel like we’re stringing the protag along by his nose, there has to be motivation for why he’s going from scene to scene.
Don’t get me wrong, this script had what I’m sure were eye tantalizing visuals, but if the story isn’t linked to it, it’s all for naught. (I was actually reminded of an amateur script from WAYYY back. The Playground, which had a lot of cool scenes too, but I think Brad did a better job with his story, even if it was a bit episodic.)
Another problem was that Oz had a very easy time of things. When being chased by the savage army, Glinda lays down a mist, allowing him to escape before he’s really ever in danger.
Next he comes to a GIANT BARRIER that he can’t get through, but his companion, the talking flying monkey Kala, just uses a special orb which lets them right through.
Right after that, Oz is given the advice to “be careful in Ripple Land” and basically walks right through it.
No trouble. No struggles. Hell, not even a scraped knee.
This continues throughout the entire story, and just when the insurmountable odds seem greatly stacked against Oz and his army, every part of their plan is pulled off flawlessly. (For instance Glinda rages this huge snowstorm to mask their movements, which is allegedly draining her witch power. She passes out, but after a quick nap is back to 100%.)
We can’t allow things to happen like this. We need to drag our characters over the coals a few times, but make sure it ties into the story. (Don’t just drag them through some hot coals for the sake of putting their feet to the fire.)
Two cool things
I did enjoy the fact that the “good” witches Oz meets at the beginning are really the bad ones. Even if it was a bit of a predictable twist.
The ending was also cool where Oz decides to stay in, well Oz, but remain behind the scenes. Similar to Batman deciding to be the bad guy at the end of Dark Knight Rises, as that’s what the city needs. (Although cool, it didn’t feel believable.)
Minor characters were bad.
Odd names, and quick descriptions left me reading and not caring what type of Oz folk any of them were.
The relationship between Evanora and Theodora was muddled too, which felt off. At one point, Evanora tried to get Oz to kill her sister, thinking Theodora sent Oz to kill her, but then she tells Theodora in an attempt to turn Theodora against Oz.
Confusing right? It also felt disingenuous, like something added to define the two characters, but it actually just made them more obscure.
There was also more needing to be done with Theodora.
I’m not sure how the final movie handles it, but I was hoping for more of an inner struggle there. To make it more convincing, she and Oz should have an additional intimate moment or two that establishes how they really feel about each other.
This would also enhance the plot, as seeing Oz working with Glinda would give Theodora more of a push to go bad, but also should drive Oz to try and save her at the end, instead of, “Oh well, I guess she’s too far gone like Glinda says.”
Glinda was alright, as was Kala.
Lastly, I did like Oz overall.
His quick wit and grand standing fit the bill for how the Oz of Dorothy’s story comes across.
What I didn’t like was his character arc.
The entire time he’s selfish, selfish, selfish, but right at the end, oh 180 degree turn, I’ll stay and play the good guy. There wasn’t enough build up and showing that he could make the right decisions, and be selfless about it.
4.) Dialogue and Description
There were HUGE blocks of text. Walls of it.
This should have been broken up, as it was hard to focus, but also there were ideas that should have been separated out anyway.
EXT. KANSAS PRAIRIE – EARLY EVENING
A gray land under a gray sky — everything flat, drab,
dreary. A ramshackle farmhouse — a creaky weather vane — a
dirt road stretches to nowhere — but then we see, up ahead,
looming over the horizon: A LARGE LIGHTER-THAN-AIR BALLOON –below which we find:
EXT. THE BAUM & BARLEY BROS. CIRCUS
Not exactly the Greatest Show On Earth, but still a pretty
big deal around here. People have come from far and wide —
their modes of transport and their styles of dress telling uswe’re in the very early 1900s.
Townsfolk and farmers stroll the midway… barkers shout
their come-ons… a Bearded Lady preens… the crowd oohs and aahs at the Daring Young Men On The Flying Trapeze… then we see, in the Menagerie: elephants and monkeys and a lion and a tiger and a bear (oh my)… then we come to:
EXT./INT. OZ’S EXHIBITION TENT
Where the audience gazes listlessly at the two men up on
stage. The fast-talking huckster in the velveteen frock-coat
is none other than OSCAR ZOROASTER PHADRIG ISAAC NORMAN
HENKLE EMMANUEL AMBROISE DIGGS — a.k.a. ‘OZ’ for short —
and he’s standing with his back to the second guy, who looks
to be some local businessman.
Blur it together on the page, and chances are it’ll blur together in a reader’s head.
More, page 4:
Then suddenly he SNEEZES — such a tremendous ah-choo that he lets go of the cage and doubles over in two — and the cage somehow, magically, stays right where it is — just hovering in mid-air — a pretty neat trick, actually — then Oz straightens up and, with a flourish, he snaps the cloth off the cage to reveal: a SNOWY WHITE DOVE. Oz opens the cage door, the dove flies out, Oz takes another bow — and this time, one well-dressed, very ATTRACTIVE WOMAN actually does applaud. Her HUSBAND, a stern-looking character with a waxed mustache and a bowler hat, silences her with a scowl.
There was some really cool visuals going on here, but again, breaking it up helps us SEE IT as we read.
One last example from page 8:
THE BIG TOP — where he scuttles under the bleachers, sprints across Center Ring — only to find the exit blocked by Mr. Hamilton and his posse. Oz turns on a dime, swiftly scales the AERIALISTS’ LADDER — and Hamilton’s right up after him, hot on Oz’s heels, then OZ GRABS THE TRAPEZE — AND SWINGS OUT… centrifugal force soon swings him back — Hamilton nearly grabs him — then when Oz pendulums back the other way again HE LETS GO OF THE TRAPEZE — free-falls down into the TRAMPOLINE NET, then CATAPULTS right off it and SOMERSAULTS OVER THE HEADS OF HAMILTON’S MEN and zooms out the exit —
More cool things lost in a wall of words.
The description did have a few cool nuggets.
— caressing the machine — sweet-talking to it — he fiddles with it — tries to fix it — finally starts hammering on it with his fist.
It’s easy to see a character go through that quick range of emotions.
A spectacular soaring skyline — Sleeping Beauty’s Castle on steroids —
Anytime something is on steroids in the description, readers will take notice, lol.
Overall it wasn’t bad, but wasn’t anything fancy.
Oz had a lot of assonance going on, which again lent to the character initially being set up by Dorothy’s story.
Damned technology! Fine, then —
go ahead! — betray me you
Jezebellian jumble of junk! I’ve
been in more perilous predicaments
He’s also quick witted, as I mentioned before, with lines like this from page 7:
I can explain.
(off Hamilton’s glare)
You’re right, I can’t, which means,
sir, you’re in luck!
(Hamilton stops, confused)
‘Cause right now, today, absolutely
free of charge, you get to watch
He gets into a lot of trouble early on, and it gives his character a chance to shine via dialogue and actions, it’s just sad more situations aren’t presented later in the script.
As for the bland dialogue. There’s a lot of back and for that’s just kind of….blah.
Anything I ever wanted… and she
can do that, your sister?
She can make your every dream come
Y’know that doesn’t sound half bad.
No it doesn’t, does it?
Most is with the witches, and seems like they’re just repeating the same info over and over.
Other than the blocks of description and a few “we see’s” nothing was off with the format.
The coolest thing I think this script did was tie in things from the original story. Little references were made here and there that made me smile, but also think, “Ah-ha! That’s how that happened.”
Things like Oz meeting the winkies initially (the guard who answers the door of the Emerald City for Dorothy), a cowardly lion being created from a rabbit, or Oz riding a horse of a different color into battle.
Add that to the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West and the Wizard of Oz, and it makes for some pretty cool elements.
The fine line we have to walk as writers though is not to make the references too cheesy.
For instance at one point Oz says, “I hope a house falls on her head.” That makes sense because it does actually happen later, BUT at the time it’s a completely random thing to say. Same with why Theodora chooses green skin color, and the china doll walking the fence and falling. (Dorothy does the same thing, which is the result of her going to Oz.)
What, if anything, should we avoid emulating?
What we need to avoid I’ve already talked about.
Episodic story structure.
Characters can’t go from one point to another in a straight line. Even if the sights they’re (and we’re) seeing are cool, the story needs to take shape and play out.
Take away the story and all you have is a lot of fancy looking visuals, and no one needs another Episode One.
Rating: Read it if you’re a fan of the Land of Oz
PS – One final gripe.
I didn’t like how his name was Oz, and that’s also the name of the land he’s in. If anything, one should have been named after the other, and since he’s the “Wizard of” he should have donned the name at the end. Was too unbelievable a coincidence.