Bibliophiles, Cinephiles Alike Will Appreciate ‘AmEx: American Oz’ Despite Its Pacing

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution/WGBH

It goes without saying that author L. Frank Baum’s timeless novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its 1939 cinematic adaptation are among the most iconic presentations in their respective arenas.  There is some variance between the original fairy tale and its big screen adaptation, but that aside, the two tales have remained beloved by generations of audiences since their releases.  Early this spring, PBS offered a deep look into how each came about in a new episode of its series American Experience titled American Oz.  Audiences did not have to wait long for the nearly two-hour-long program to come to DVD, either, as it was released just last month on DVD.  While this episode of American Experience is an interesting presentation – thanks in large part to its story – it is not a perfect work.  It does suffer from one notable problem, that being its pacing.  Luckily, as much as the pacing does to detract from the program’s presentation, it is not enough to make the episode a failure.  The transitions throughout work with the story to make for even more reason to watch.  Keeping all of this in mind, the episode might not be as magical as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or even The Wizard of Oz, but is still an interesting presentation in its own right.

PBS and PBS Distribution’s home presentation of American Experience: American Oz is an interesting new episode of American Experience.  It is so interesting in part because of its story. Instead of just examining Baum’s book and related topics, the story instead takes a look at author L. Frank Baum and how his own experiences played into the creation of his now timeless fairy tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its equally timeless cinematic adaptation (from MGM), The Wizard of Oz (and the novel’s sequels).  So really, this episode is one part biography of Baum and one part examination of how his life and career played into his rise to fame.  Additionally, it examines the role of the novel and movie in America’s own culture.  Audiences will be interested to learn of Baum’s determination to be successful and how his time living in South Dakota likely played into the very setting for the story’s opening.  Additionally, the discussion about Baum’s disenfranchisement with certain things in the country played into the original story of Oz’s Emerald City makes for its own interest.  Even more noteworthy is the duality in Baum himself.  On one hand, he was clearly ahead of his time in his support for women’s rights.  That social and political leaning is believed to have played into the story of Oz.  On another hand, according to the information provided in this profile, he was also seemingly somewhat racist.  The allegations are supported through a show of the characters that he presented in his books and even comments he made about Native Americans in some newspaper editorials that he wrote early in his professional life.  That apparent duality in Baum’s personality is eye-opening.  Between everything noted here and so much more presented over the episode’s one hour, 52-minute run time, audiences get a rich, in-depth examination of Baum, his work and their place in society today.  It is reason enough for audiences to watch this episode of American Experience.  For all that the story does to make this episode of AmEx engaging and entertaining, that appeal is countered to a point by the story’s pacing.

The pacing proves problematic because it feels like it moves so slowly throughout all of the information provided throughout the story.  On one hand, that could be because of the way in which the story is presented.  On the other though, narrators Kent Drummond and Susan Aronstein feels so bland throughout, too.  Their delivery just does not do much to call on audiences’ attention.  Considering how important Baum’s own life experiences and views were one would have thought that the pair would have given more life to their narration.  Instead, it was the interviewees who helped tell the story that did that.  Meanwhile, Drummond and Aronstein instead make audiences feel as though they are listening to a lecture in a college class in a bad way.  Bringing things full circle here, the result is that even despite the best efforts of the interviewees, the pacing is just too slow.  As a result, it is easy to grow bored.  Thankfully though, the story is still interesting enough thanks to the efforts of the noted interviewees that audiences will just be able to keep themselves engaged.

Keeping in mind the duality in American Oz’s pacing, the episode is still worth watching occasionally.  Considering this, there is still one more item to examine.  That item is the collective transitions within the story.  The transitions are solid and keep the story moving fluidly.  This is important to consider because of all of the twists and turns that Baum’s life apparently took.  From his various businesses – raising chickens, running newspapers, running a store, being an author – to his career choices – working in theater, writing – to dealing with other matters, a lot happened to Baum and Baum did a lot.  Even despite the pacing issues in that story of all that Baum did and had happen, the story’s transitions still manage to make clear each chapter of his life.  This and the efforts by the interviewees to keep the story’s pacing moving, work together to make for even more encouragement to keep viewers engaged and entertained.  Keeping all of this in mind, this episode of American Experience is maybe not as magical as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or its cinematic adaptation, but is still engaging and entertaining.

American Experience: American Oz is a presentation that cinephiles and bibliophiles alike will find relatively interesting.  That is due in large part to its story.  The story featured in this episode of AmEx examines the life and work of legendary author Frank Baum.  The story examines ho Baum’s life and work influenced his novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its cinematic adaptation, The Wizard of Oz, and the place of those two works in America’s culture and history.  It is a rich, in-depth examination of all things noted.  While the story itself gives audiences plenty of reason to watch this episode of AmEx, the story’s pacing proves problematic.  That is due in large part to the narration.  The narration comes across as a lecture in a college classroom.  It is just that flat.  Thankfully, the commentary from the interviewees featured throughout the story just do make up enough for the problems posed by the narration.  The transitions work with the interviewees’ commentary to add even more appeal to the program.  That is because they keep the story moving fluidly, even despite the problems posed by the narration and pacing.  Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of the episode’s presentation.  All things considered, they make the episode engaging and entertaining even though it is imperfect.

American Experience: American Oz is available now. More information on this and other episodes of American Experience is available online at:




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Disney Oz Adaptation’s Bonus Features Give Movie New Life On Home Release

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  Who doesn’t know that old adage?  Not to spoil the movie too much for that have yet to see it, but it is this adage that serves as the basis for Disney’s new live action/CGI based Oz The Great and Powerful.  This latest big screen adaptation of author L. Frank Baum’s Oz books was met largely with mixed reviews when it premiered in early 2013.  The fact that it was released to DVD and Blu-ray only a couple months after didn’t bode well for this movie.  Luckily for the movie, the bonus features included in its home release have managed to save it and make it worthy of a second watch.

The hybrid live action/CGI origin story of the wizard and the witch does an impressive job in its attempts to pay homage to The Wizard of Oz.  The sets used for the Emerald City are just as impressive as those used in the earlier story.  That the film makers would try to stay as true as possible to Baum’s fantasy world is worthy of at least some praise.  Making their efforts even more worthy of praise is what is revealed in the behind-the-scenes feature, “Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas To Oz.”  Viewers learn in this feature that CGI was only one method of movie magic used in this movie.  It is revealed that actual puppets were used in conjunction with CGI elements in order to bring both the China Girl and Finley to life.  It isn’t very often in this era of largely computer driven special effects blockbusters see such a style of special effects used.  So even in this aspect, it is nice to see that those behind the cameras would go so far in paying tribute to classic film making.

The use of puppets was quite an impressive revelation about this story’s creation.  In connection, the use of CGI to put the faces of Joey King and Zach Braff onto the China Girl and Finley was just as worthy of praise.  It would have been easy to just use CGI based creations and had the pair voice them.  But instead, their faces were put onto the pair. There is something special about this.  Even Sweeter was that both king and Braff voiced their characters.  It shows again the drive to make the story as believable as possible.  It was very nice to see the charged with making this happen took their jobs so seriously.  It proves yet again the importance of bonus features in the home release of any movie.

Viewers that check out the feature focusing on the special effects and general production values of Oz The Great and Powerful will hopefully gain new respect for the film.  If it doesn’t achieve its intended goal, then perhaps the companion feature, “Walt Disney and the Road To Oz” will help in that effort.  It is a much shorter feature in comparison to the previously mentioned bonus feature.  But it goes quite well in companion to the behind-the-scenes feature.  Viewers learn in this companion piece that Walt Disney had actually wanted for years before his death, to bring to life his own take on Baum’s works in a movie titled, The Rainbow Road to Oz.  Yet for a variety of reasons, he never did see those efforts bear any fruit before his passing in 1966.  It wouldn’t be until 1985 that the company bearing his name would see the release of an Oz-centric story in Return to Oz.  This movie was nowhere near as family friendly as the hit 1939 blockbuster that was The Wizard of Oz.  Keeping all of this in mind in watching Oz The Great and Powerful, one can’t help but have at least some extra respect for everything that went into bringing this latest adaptation to life.  And with any luck, viewers will understand in watching these (and the movie’s other bonus features) that this latest film adapted from Baum’s books is worthy of at least one watch.  For those that saw it in theaters, they will hopefully see that it is worth a second watch.

Oz The Great and Powerful is available now on a variety of platforms.  It is available both in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Disney Store and Disney DVD store at and

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Tin Man Just As Good As Before In Its Re-Issue

Courtesy:  Mill Creek Entertainment/Syfy

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment/Syfy

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment is preparing to launch the latest release in the legendary Oz franchise onto BD/DVD combo pack on June 11th.  Just in time for the home video release of this latest installment of L. Frank Baum’s, Mill Creek Entertainment has also re-issued Syfy’s Tin Man on Blu-ray and DVD.  This re-imagining of the 1939 fantasy classic was originally released to double-disc Blu-ray and DVD on July 20th, 2010.  This latest Blu-ray re-issue has taken that double-disc presentation and compressed it down to a single disc.  What’s interesting is that while the original double-disc presentation has been reduced to just one disc, little—if anything—has been lost in translation.

For those who perhaps have never seen it, Tin Man takes the classic 1939 big screen adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s classic fantasy story and turns it completely on its ear.  Though, in doing so, it actually manages somehow to maintain more than a fleeting connection to the 1939 original.  If anything, fans of the original will be thrilled to know that it actually maintains the connections quite well in its re-imagining.  The Scarecrow has become a character known as Glitch.  Imagine if you will an updated half-human take on the Scarecrow that looks like a cross between Tim Burton and Martin Short.  What’s more, while he has a brain, he does in fact have a little bit of a glitch in his brain, thus the name.  That glitch makes for a fun running gag throughout the story.  The Tin Man is no longer tin, but human.  Even the Tin Man name itself has been relegated to little more than a derogatory term used for the Wicked Witch’s (In this case, the Sorceress’) enforcers.  It’s explained in more depth within the context of the mini-series.  And don’t expect to see someone dressed up in a lion costume like Bert Lahr.  Even Toto has been somewhat re-imagined.  There’s even more that’s been changed, including the Yellow Brick Road, the Emerald City and so much more.  But viewers will have to check out this eye opening mini-series for themselves to see how much has been re-imagined.  This includes the very story, including the origin story of Dorothy/D.G (Zooey Deschanel).  It is one more element of the whole that is somehow actually believable enough to make the whole story believable and thus fully worth more than just one watch.

While so many elements of Baum’s classic tale have been re-imagined in Tin Man, it’s not such a bad thing.  As a matter of fact, being that this story debuted in 2007, one can’t help but wonder if it played at least a slightly influential role in the creation of Oz The Great and Powerful.  That’s because in comparing the two stories, there are at least some fleeting similarities between the pair in terms of origin stories.  This is about the extent of the similarities.  For that matter, with the mini-series’ success in its original run on Syfy (then Sci-Fi Channel), one can’t help but wonder if it was the success of Tin Man that led to the rise of fantasy based shows on NBC (Grimm), ABC (Once Upon a Time), and Fox (Sleepy Hollow).  It could be argued that it did in fact have an influence on their rise especially since little else was on TV or in theaters before these shows started becoming such hits.

Understanding and appreciating the influence (perceived or real) of Tin Man on other more recent movies and TV shows plays an important role in the enjoyment of this mini-series.  The story will keep viewers engaged throughout all three segments of the program.  It’s not all that will keep viewers engaged throughout the program.  Its special effects will, too.  Unlike so many of the really bad below-B grade movies that Syfy generally churns out, the special effects used throughout this mini-series are actually far less over the top than the aforementioned flicks.  It’s obvious that there is some CG work that was done with the special effects.  But it isn’t as sickly obvious as it is movies such as say, Sharktopus or other equally bad flicks.  In fact, the special effects used in Tin Man are just enough to serve as just enough extra spice to make this story that much more worth watching for anyone that is a fan of The Wizard of Oz.       

All of the work that went into making Tin Man resulted in a feature that stands out among the masses of movies, series, and mini-series churned out by Syfy.  And in the annals of works that have adapted and re-adapted L. Frank Baum’s classic fantasy tale, it stands out just as much.  Having taken into account the work that went into bringing this re-imagining to life, there is one more factor to be examined.  That factor is the packaging of the newly re-issued Blu-ray and DVD.  Viewers will be pleased to discover that with this latest re-issue of Tin Man, each segment of the mini-series is separated out into three separate segments.  This will allow audiences to watch each segment by itself or back to back without stopping.  Just as impressive concerning the overall presentation of the new re-issue is the packaging.  Those that purchase the Blu-ray will be happy to discover that instead of the standard envelope packaging used in most Mill Creek releases, the BD is actually placed in its own spot inside the case.  Mill Creek does this sometimes with its releases.  But it more commonly uses single disc envelopes for packaging.  So it’s nice to see this form of packaging once more from Mill Creek.  And it is that packaging in conjunction with everything else that went into the Tin Man mini-series that makes it a presentation that any fantasy and science fiction fan will appreciate.  It is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.

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Oz Is Good, Not Great

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Oz The Great and Powerful is one more example of why Hollywood has got to break away from its seemingly unending trend of churning out sequels, prequels, and remakes.  It is a good movie in its own right, thanks to the set design, special effects, and costume/makeup department.  But in terms of its story, it suffers to the point that it largely becomes memorable only for those factors.  The combination of special effects, set design, and costume design are more than worthy of applause in their attempts to bring older audiences back to the world of Oz after nearly seventy-four years since that world first appeared to the masses.  They are just as laudable for introducing younger audiences to the world of Oz for the first time.  For the positives, there are two noticeable negatives to the overall presentation.  Those negatives are the intertwining of lead actor James Franco’s acting and the overall story.  In weighing these factors together, Oz The Great and Powerful becomes more a movie that will be remembered less as one of Disney’s standout greats, and more as just another in the ongoing mass of prequels, sequels, and remakes constantly being churned out by Hollywood.

The combination of set design, costumes, and special effects goes a long way toward the success of Oz The Great and Powerful.  The set designers did an impressive job of balancing actual physical sets and CG backgrounds.  One can really tell that a lot of thought and work went into bringing back the world of Oz.  As hard as the set designers tried though, it lacks a certain something that the sets from the previous movie had.  Perhaps the problem with the sets in this movie was that those who crafted them tried too hard to pay tribute to the original work.  The result is that it didn’t feel as….pure.  They felt “spit-shined” for lack of better wording.  Though, the special effects make up for that.  That is especially the case late in the movie when it is revealed how the Wizard’s famous floating head originally came to be.  That effect alone is worth the wait.  It’s really the best special effects moment in the entire two-hour plus story.

The sets and special effects play their own role in the overall outcome of this story, as has been noted.  They are only part of the movie’s positive side.  Just as impressive as the sets and special effects are the costumes and makeup.  While Disney wasn’t behind The Wizard of Oz, those behind the creation of this work are to be commended for creating costumes that throw back to the original movie, right down to the guards’ uniforms.  And while some might have their own thoughts on the witch’s costume, one must take into account that this is a prequel.  Therefore, the costume had to fit the person and personality.  Of course, speaking of the witch, this is where things get bad for Oz The Great and Powerful.

So much went right for Oz The Great and Powerful in looking at the sets, costumes, and special effects.  What went wrong with the movie was the script and the acting of one James Franco.  The whole story of Oz The Great and Powerful is an origin story of sorts.  It tells not only of how the Wizard came to be the famed figure that he was, but also of how the Wicked Witch came to be wicked.  Not to give away too much, but the two stories play together as they are centered on a figure who is a completely immature young man and three sisters who throw themselves at him just like the women back in Kansas.  Oz plays all three of the sisters just as he played the women back in Kansas.  One of those sisters ends up becoming the now infamous Wicked Witch of the West.  Even as the movie nears its finale, it is difficult to believe Oz has any sincerity as he faces off with the Wicked Witch.  One wants to root for Oz, but it’s next to impossible as at every chance he has to grow, he instead maintains his cocky nature right up to the end.  Yes, he’s a young character, being that this is a prequel.  But it would have been nice to see some personal growth and humility as the Wizard at least showed in The Wizard of Oz.  But that doesn’t happen.  Because of that, there’s no real moral lesson learned here.  There is not even an actual romance story so to speak.  In the end, what everything boils down to with Oz The Great and Powerful is that this movie will be more memorable less for its story or acting than for its production values.  Keeping this in mind, it will largely be one of Disney’s less memorable movies in its decades long list of much better movies.  Because of that, it is a movie that is worth at least one watch, but really not much more.