L. Frank Baum, who wrote 14 novels between 1900-1920, all set in the Land of Oz he so vividly created, never fully portrayed the wizard character’s background in any of his books. Producer Joe Roth found that fact fascinating. “I love origin stories and I liked the idea of how the wizard came to me,” says Roth. “So, going back to Baum’s books to research and imagine his beginnings seemed like a great idea.”
“L. Frank Baum wrote a series of adventures with multiple characters in Oz,” states director Sam Raimi’s longtime producing partner, Grant Curtis. “I think the beauty of what Mitchell Kapner [credited with the screen story] originally did, along with producer Joe Roth and executive producer Palak Patel, was that they took some of the adventures throughout these books and brought them together into one concise story that depicts how Oz became the great wizard.”
Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire’s imaginative screenplay follows Oscar Diggs, a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, who is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz. there, Oscar thinks he’s hit the jackpot – fame and fortune are his for the taking – that is until he meets three witches, Theodora, Evanora and Glinda, who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use, along with some ingenuity – and even a bit of wizardry – Oscar transforms himself not only into the great wizard but into a better man as well.
“It begins with a circus con artist who gets caught up in a tornado in a hot air balloon and lands in this magical Land of Oz,” screenwriter Mitchell Kapner elaborates about the original story. “Because his name is Oz, his arrival coincides with a prophecy that states a new and great leader is forthcoming. Because the Wicked Witch has taken over the land, the people look to this stranger as this great Wizard. They bow down to this mere mortal when they see his name on the side of his balloon.”
“What I love most about this character of Oz is that he is such a dastardly heel,” says co-writer David Lindsay-Abaire. “But, he also craves something greater, both from his life and for himself as a person. he wants to do great things and, in the beginning, it’s only about money and power and riches. by the end of the story, he finds out it’s actually about finding love and friendship. It’s a very human story.”
When Raimi read the script, he “fell in love with it.” He says, “I thought it was engaging and that it had a great, flawed main character. His adventure was fun and, eventually, his character’s transformation gave it an uplifting quality that I really enjoyed.”
The cast assembled for Oz the Great and Powerful was very pleased to have Raimi at the helm. “Like Baum in his books, Sam brought an incredible passion and imagination and wit and humanity to this project,” raves actress Rachel Weisz (Evanora). “And, this beautiful ability to tell a story that has an innocence and clarity that children can relate to. But also a little bit naughty and witty, so that grownups will find it funny. He’s got an incredible energy and is a really wonderful story teller.”
“Sam, as mot people that know his work would agree, has a great imagination,” echoes actor James Franco, who marks his fourth project with Raimi and who plays the title character. “I’ve worked with Sam more than any other director, and I’d say one of the main things that Sam really brings to the table is his fantastic talent with effects and pacing and telling an exciting movie story through cutting-edge imagery and technology.
“But he also cares just as much about the characters and the story,” he adds. “He’s the perfect person to bring this world alive with all the new technology that’s out there. And, knowing Sam, he’ll bring Oz the Great and Powerful to life in all its fantastical splendor, while making it a great character piece.”
Franco, who read all fourteen of Baum’s books during his grade school years, offers his taken on the film, saying, “In some ways, the story in our film is a metaphor and an analogy to what we all do as filmmakers. Oz is a magician. He puts on shows. In the Land of Oz, he creates illusions for different reasons. And that’s basically what a movie is; it’s creating an illusion. It’s creating an imaginary world for an audience.”
Summing up, actress Mila Kunis, who plays the witch Theodora, observes, “this film explains how all the characters became who they are and explains their origins so you understand them a little more. It brings a little more sincerity and truth to all the characters. And, while being funny and endearing, it very much stays true to the original concepts that L. Frank Baum created.”