OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL: You Don’t Know Much About Witches, Do You?

Oz the Great

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – Directed by Sam Raimi – Starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, and Tony Cox.

Every so often, I feel the need to remind people that what I like writing are reactions and not reviews. I have no interest in trying to get you to go see or not see a movie and I feel no obligation to recount plot unless that’s the thing I want to talk about. When I was in high school, I had a friend who worked at a movie theater and he got us in to see almost every movie that was released that year that we had any interest in seeing. I loved going to the movies, but I also loved the car ride home talking – and arguing – about what we had just seen.

I point this out because if you go to the IMDB page for OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, you will find nearly 500 reviews from users and another 500 from movie critics. I’m sure a good many of them will talk about all of the plot details and give you advice on whether or not you should see this film.

This is a long-winded way of telling you that watching OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL makes me want to talk about a bunch of things, but almost none of them are about the movie, which is big, dumb, colorful, obnoxious, and most reminds me of what eating and vomiting a box of crayons must look like.

To say that I hate OZ is to miss the point. I do not hate this movie as much as I am bored by this incessant need to dig up somebody else’s creation and put your own new spin on it. As someone who writes fiction, it might seem odd for me to express an appreciation for limiting the creative process but I sincerely and stridently hope characters like Batman, Mickey Mouse, and Spider-Man never leave the control of their corporate overlords – unless control of those characters reverts back to their original creators.

The idea of Superman heading into the public domain makes me nauseous. What the world needs now is not 850,000 new spins on Superman’s origin.

God knows we’ve got more than enough Sherlock Holmes stories to last 1,000 lifetimes, yet it seems every week there’s another Sherlock story released into the world. I get that there’s an appeal to the character – I’ve used him myself as a supporting character – but I’d much rather live in a world where the heirs of Arthur Conan Doyle had both control of, and can financially profit from, the continued use of the character. I don’t think it does us much good for anyone and everyone to keep churning out additional versions of Holmes and Watson, which is essentially a writer saying, “I can’t come up with anything better than this, so I’ll just siphon off someone else’s brilliance.”

The public domain is supposed to spur creativity but I worry that it limits it by making it easy for people to largely leech off someone else’s idea while only adding a bit of themselves into it.

Which is what leads to movies like OZ.

Now, to be clear, I am not arguing that there should be some rule preventing all of these reimaginations; if we have to sit through ten OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFULs to get one The Wiz, it’s worth it, but it makes me depressed to see such talented people giving us the 100th different spin on OZ. Or Robin Hood. Or Sherlock. Or Dracula. Or King Arthur. Or Alice.

Writing another writer’s characters is a great way to start – as Neil Gaiman has pointed out, most writers start out by aping what they love as they search for their own voice – but the key is, at some point, you need your own voice and your own characters.

Sometimes, I wonder if the writers who most stridently make the case for the public domain aren’t really just afraid of someone peeking behind the curtain and realizing they’re far more Charlatan than Wizard.