TV miniseries review: The Witches of Oz (2011), directed by Leigh Scott
After brilliant miniseries like Alice and Tin Man and big stinkers like Witchville, you can never be too sure what you’re getting when Syfy are involved. As we both loved Tin Man, we were looking forward to another re-imagining of L Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. Sadly, this is more Witchville than Tin Man.
Dorothy Gale (Paulie Rojas) is a young children’s author, made famous writing books about Oz. She lives in Kansas with her uncle Henry (Lance Henriksen), and works with nerdy Allen (Ari Zagaris), who is the illustrator of the books. One day, she gets a letter from a big publishing house in New York City, and is flown out there to finish the book she’s working on (she’s having some difficulties trying to figure out the ending). Taking Toto (an amazingly cute dog, if grossly underused … and surprisingly big in size for Toto) and Allen with her, Dorothy quickly realises New York is not exactly Kansas …
With publisher Billie Westbrook (Eliza Swenson), Dorothy is shown around town, introduced to actors and someone who wants to adapt her books to film, and hits on cute guys she meets in bars (Billy Boyd, the hobbit from The Lord of the Rings who didn’t end up in Lost) and gets a lawyer (Barry J Ratcliffe) and everything. But there’s something about a key that she can’t quite remember.
Notable mentions: Sean Astin (the loyal hobbit Sam) as a little creature called Frack, Mia Sara as Princess Langwidere, Christopher Lloyd (Doc from Back to the Future) as the Wizard of Oz and Jeffrey Combs as Frank Baum, who I think might have been uncle Henry’s, err, uncle.
During the first five minutes, I realised The Witches of Oz wasn’t going to be Tin Man. The CGI was about as good as something made for TV in the mid-1990s, except it was rendered better, and the first 5-10 minutes is pure exposition – a voiceover telling the whole back story of a key and how it came to the real world and yadda yadda. I seriously considered switching it off and deleting the two parts off the DVR unseen.
When we, somewhat confusedly, got introduced to the adult Dorothy – who still looked like she was 15 – it picked up a little, because they eased off the CGI. Both the Squeeze and I started predicting who would be which character, and in the case of the Scarecrow, we were both proven right, and later the Lion as well. The Tin Man, however, we thought was going to be one character (and indeed, so does he), but then no, it’s someone completely different. That’s not how storytelling works! Apparently, the guy was introduced early on, but it was basically just a 30-second appearance with a few lines and then later on, we’re supposed to believe it’s the same guy who’s the Tin Man? Really?
As we got introduced to more and more actors, it was easier to watch as well. After all, two of the four main hobbitses from The Lord of the Rings were in it – and the cute ones at that – and when the Squeeze pointed out that one of the characters were “either Mia Sara or that woman whose name I can’t remember” (Jennifer Connolly, as it turned out), I gasped and exclaimed, “OMG, you’re right! It IS Mia Sara!” The problem is, I have no idea who she played. The cast list says “Princess Langwidere”, but who was she? There was so much head-swapping and make up going on that I honestly couldn’t tell one witch from the other. Was she even a witch? Was she the same one as the blonde English lady? It got a bit confusing.
And then, also, the wicked witches want to take over New York City. Yeah, no. It doesn’t work.
So the plot and storytelling is predictable and a bit all over the shop. If it was just that and bad CGI, then maybe it could be redeemed slightly … but unfortunately, no. The actor playing Dorothy, while being very pretty and all, wasn’t convincing and she felt terribly … I don’t know if “wooden” is the right word here, but she just wasn’t quite up to the task. It needed a strong female lead, and sadly, Paulie Rojas wasn’t it. She’s cute in a sort of preppy way, sure, but I wouldn’t call her leading lady material. Not yet, anyway. With a bit of training, she might be one day, but this was just too much to lay on her shoulders.
I really wanted to like The Witches of Oz, but in the end, I was disappointed. For something that at least in parts seem to have a decent budget, you would expect better acting, a better script and definitely better CGI. What we got was on par with what an amateur would conjur up in his or her bedroom and post on YouTube. And, actually, some amateurs’ CGI skills are way better than we’re presented with here. Sad, really.
But at least it was entertaining had cute guys in it.
1.6 out of 5 plot devices.