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Blueprint : The Yellow Brick Road

VoxelArcade Blueprint #015

Before the days of VCRs and DVD players, Christmas was a time to be cherished – because you could guarantee that The Wizard Of Oz would be on TV at least once before the festive season was out. I clearly remember the excitement I felt each year as the credits rolled and the black and white opening act began. For me, nothing captured the spirit of Christmas like The Wizard Of Oz.

A timeless classic, the 1939 film was in many respects a somewhat unfaithful representation of L. Frank Baum’s source material, with a number of major liberties being taken – most notably the fact that in the film, the experience is portrayed as a dream as opposed to reality. Turning the story into a musical was a move of its time, but also a sugar coating to what was essentially a rather dark fairytale, one very much in the tradition of the Brothers Grim.

This=Xmas

This = Xmas

It took several decades before the land of Oz was successfully revisited on-screen, with the 1971 animated cartoon Journey Back to Oz being based on Baum’s second book: The Marvelous Land Of Oz. Voiced, somewhat poetically, by the late Judy Garland’s daughter, Liza Minelli, Journey Back To Oz had just enough credible roots to feel like a genuine sequel – even if the 70’s cartoon vibe added its own particular brand of cheese. Introducing several new characters – including the hapless Pumpkinhead and the twisted Mombi, cousin of the wicked witches – the animated film took almost a decade to produce due to funding problems. I guess some things just aren’t quite worth the wait.

It took a further fourteen years for another sequel to appear, this time based largely on not just the second, but also the third book of the series: Ozma Of Oz. Produced by Disney, the 1985 film Return To Oz was both a critical and commercial failure, yet has since gone on to achieve cult status amongst fans of the series. Setting a faithfully dark tone – particularly during the disturbing opening sequence set in a mental institution – the film rejected the jolly musical numbers and bright, gaudy palette of the past in favour of a washed-out and gritty sense of realism. Arguably my favourite title of the whole series, Return To Oz became a magnet to me as I entered my teens, just as the original had been in my childhood.

A screaming girl and a severed head? Very Oz.

A screaming girl and a severed head? Very Oz.

When you become a parent, there are certain things that you feel obliged to pass-on to your children. When you’re a geek like me, many of those things are films, so it was with great pleasure that I introduced my children to not only the above, but also took them to watch the most recent addition to the Oz screen-family: Oz The Great & Powerful.

Yet another stylistic and narrative re-invention, Oz The Great & Powerful is an origin story, focusing on the not-so-great Wizard’s humble beginnings scraping a living through hoodwinking the good folk of America. With more than a number of nods to the 1939 original – including a superb telling of the origins of the Wicked Witch of the West – this is a fitting tribute to the franchise and a strong film in its own right. With excellent casting in the form of James Franco as Oz and suitably dark and disturbing visions from Evil Dead maestro, Sam Raimi, Oz The Great & Powerful is every Oz fan’s dream come true – even if we have had to wait twenty-eight years.

This bit made my youngest son cry at the cinema #baddad

This bit made my youngest son cry at the cinema #baddad

Which brings me neatly to the point of this wistful little ramble:

As I watched Oz The Great & Powerful a second time after its home release, I reflected on the differences between each of the four main releases in the franchise. Each one was stylistically unique and yet still faithful to the source material. Each one told its own particular tale in its own particular way, whilst ensuring that the main narrative rolled along. Wouldn’t it be great if a series of games could do the same? Granted, the Oz saga has had time on its hands, but wouldn’t it be something special if a series of games, with an overarching narrative and a rich backdrop, could be wildly different in terms of genre and style and yet still deliver a consistently engaging experience?

How about we begin with a third-person action-adventure to set the scene, followed by a point-and-click adventure, then an FPS, finishing with an RTS to wrap-up the story? Or any number of combinations of genres and platforms? Granted, we’d need fantastically strong source material to hang all of this upon and attempts have been made to use such reference points in the past – Lord Of The Rings, for example – but never has there been a clear vision to do this from the outset.

Sure, it might sound like too tall an order to deliver upon, but Oz always was about the impossible, so where’s that wizard?

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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.

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