Oz: The Great and Powerful ”tells the imaginary story of how the Wizard may have made it to the land of Oz,” director Sam Raimi explained to EW when he visited our VIP Lounge at Comic-Con 2012.
As such, the story begins in Kansas, where Oz (James Franco) makes ends meet by performing magic tricks in a circus and running cons on innocent Midwesterners. Production designer Robert Stromberg said he was going for ”an old-timey, black-and-white look” in the film’s first scenes. He also teased, ”The people he meets in this world, during his magic act, you?ll start to see them popping up in Oz.” Paging Dorothy Gale!
But scams can only keep a man occupied for so long. He feels restless. ”Kansas is full of good men,” he says. ”I don’t want to be a good man. I want to be a great one.”
And what does a great man need? A hot air balloon, of course. Cue the wild ride!
As fans of The Wizard of Oz know, there’s only one way to travel to Oz — first-class tornado.
Is it too late to warn Oz to hold on to his hat?
Oh good, there it is!
”He gets caught in a downdraft and gets sent through these spiky peaks and ends up crash-landing in this river and getting dumped out into this lush world,” said production designer Robert Stromberg in an interview with EW.
But as the wind shifts, and the world transforms to vivid, saturated colors, Oz quickly realizes he’s (say it with us now!) not in Kansas anymore.
Creating a film with this much rich detail ”is like conducting one of the world’s finest symphony orchestras,” said Raimi. ”You surround yourself with the finest talents, artists, technicians, and craftsman that you can.” Witness, the rich vista when Oz at last moves toward solid ground — and the first of the many new people and creatures he will meet.
”There are plenty of things to scare them along the way,” said Stromberg.
Continued Stromberg, ”The flora and fauna of [this new land] can occasionally be pretty dangerous.” (In case you couldn’t tell by their teeth.)
Mila Kunis plays the naïve (and stylish) Theodora, the first witch Oz meets.
Kunis told Comic-Con fans that Theodora is the most innocent of the witches Oz will meet: ”She’s just incredibly sweet…and just so believes that he is the wizard.” But can a con man and an innocent team up without someone getting hurt?
The image of the Emerald City off in the distance in the original 1939 film is quite possibly the most recognizable matte painting of all time, but many don’t realize how basic it really was. ”It was actually extremely primitive, pretty much just upside-down test tubes. But your mind fills in the rest,” said Stromberg. ”We got a little more complicated and fully designed a whole city for this film.”
Stromberg has plenty of experience creating rich visual worlds mostly out of 1s and 0s, having earned Oscars for his digital work on Alice in Wonderland and Avatar. For Oz, he wanted something equally fantastical. ”We didn’t want to make it look like we went to Ireland and just built a yellow road on a hillside,” says Stromberg. ”There’s a way to be surreal, or slightly off-kilter, and hopefully get away with it. It gives it a ‘Is this a dream?’ atmosphere.”
One of the set-pieces you may not recognize is this teacup village. Stromberg explained, ”On the way to the Emerald City they come across this town made of china, which has been destroyed and we don’t know why.”
Here, Oz meets his future companion China Girl (Joey King). ”He goes down and finds this girl made of porcelain with a broken leg and it’s the beginning of their friendship,” said Stromberg.
The wreckage of the teacup village is just the first indication of the explosive atmosphere in this new world.
Oz makes another acquaintance in Glinda (Michelle Williams). ”She’s the only one who continually sees the best in Oz, even when his selfish nature makes that very difficult,” Williams said at the Comic-Con panel.
Glinda doesn’t take quite the same laissez-faire approach in Oz: The Great and Powerful as she did in The Wizard of Oz, but she will make use of her favorite mode of transportation: The bubble. ”In 3-D, the bubble ride to Glinda’s kingdom will look especially impressive,” says Stromberg. ”And it’s a good opportunity to get a glimpse of Oz from a bird’s eye view.”
Judging from the prickly wardrobe of the beguiling Evanora (Rachel Weisz), the third witch Oz meets, her motives may be less pure.
Almost immediately after the introduction of Evanora, things turn dark.
Longtime Raimi favorite Bruce Campbell didn’t make an appearance in the Comic-Con teaser, but these snap-jawed creature did. (See Stromberg’s earlier statement about ”dangerous fauna.”)
With soldiers in mid-charge, it’s clear the consequences of Oz’s sudden intrusion are momentous.
Between war in this world and a potential love quadrangle with the witches, Oz has many important choices to make. Will a partnership with Glinda be one of them?
Unleash the flying monkeys! ”The evil henchmen are these wicked baboon-looking monkeys, which are Evanora’s air force,” said Stromberg.
Raimi, Kunis, and Williams steadfastly refused to reveal which actress dons the green body makeup glimpsed in the teaser’s final shot, but judging from the lines scratched into that table top, she means business.
(Reporting by Keith Staskiewicz, Dave Karger, and Anthony Breznican)