“Your grandfather’s stories are in the public domain – we can basically do what we want with them.”
And with that one line from today’s movie, we are able to sum up exactly what the SciFi (or SyFy) Network went through starting in the mid to late 2000s, whereby they came up with a bunch of fantasy retellings of several of your favourite childhood tales. Of course, this being SyFy, their final products varied wildly, from the good (Tin Man) to the not-so-good(Alice). However, the overall success of them meant that others jumped on the bandwagon – and you cannot have a bandwagon without The Asylum getting their sticky fingers into the mix. And now, not only do we get them – but we also get another revisiting to the work of L. Frank Baum – this time, a slightly more modern take on The Land of Oz; The Witches of Oz.
Directed by long time Asylum Films A1 director, Leigh Scott (Transmorphers, Flu Bird Horror, The Pirates of Treasure Cove), The Witches of Oz tells the tale of Dorothy Gale (not THE Dorothy, rather her granddaughter) a children’s writer, who has crafted the Oz stories based on childhood imaginings. After getting a lucrative publishing contract, she gets pulled to New York City and soon discovers that not only are the stories of Oz real, but the denizens are even more dangerous than she could have imagined as Ozma, at least one bad witch and a buttload of flying monkeys and Nomes are out to restore their own power to Oz by way of The Changing Word, stored in a magic book taken from them after their first defeat. Thankfully, Dorothy (after learning who she really is) proves to be a far more formidable opponent than she was, even in the first film.
A cast of near pantomime level over-actors, ranging from paycheque roles for Billy Boyd, Sean Astin, Christopher Lloyd (and a barely recognisable Jeffery Combs) and the always awesome Lance Henrikssen to relative unknowns Ari Zagaris, Paulie Rojas and Barry Ratcliffe (amongst many others – and wrestling fans, everyone’s favourite jobber, Al Snow, makes an appearance as well) all seem to be having a fine ol’ time – and it really helps make the story work, especially when we get to the massive battle in Times Square.
As charming as the film is, it is not without its faults. As stated above, pretty much the entire cast is prone to the odd spot of overacting – not to levels that render the thing unwatchable, but there were definitely a few rolled eyes throughout and a few of the roles were underwritten to the point of not even needing to be there (Frick and Frack, I am talking to you). However, the most glaring disappointment with the version that I have is that, according to my research, nearly one hour has been edited out, which may well have done a lot to flesh out the story and a few of the more underwritten characters. That said, overall, the look of the project was pretty darn good, with a lot of quite well done computer effects (which look better than a lot of much higher budget things I could mention), however it was shot with Red One cameras which shows in pretty much every visual aspect.
Taking feel in equal measure from pre-existing Oz film and Lord Of The Rings (primarily the opening and several battle scenes in the second half) mixed with the standard Asylum sheer-lack-of-budget-made-up-for-by-balls-and-moxie, we end up with a final product that is equal parts ludicrous and oddly charming. Is it something that you’ll come back to again and again? Probably not – but you can do a lot worse with three hours than watch this.
Oh, and just to tie it all together – The Witches Of Oz will be shown on SyFy UK.