Watching The Witches of Oz (2011) is an oddly frustrating experience… like eating a potentially great meal that’s been served before it was completely cooked. You crunch your way through the pasta, and chew your way through the meat, and slurp down the watery sauce, and there’s enough flavour there to keep you soldiering on, while also reminding you of how much better it would have tasted, if it had only been left in the oven a little longer. With a slightly bigger budget, and a couple more redrafts, and some firmer direction, this could easily have been a classic fantasy romp worthy of its predecessors… rather than a long, intermittently entertaining trudge. Apparently this 167-minute long “mini-series” was later trimmed down into a 101 minute feature with updated FX… and while that might have helped to tighten the rambling plot up a little, and excise some of the more arid sections, I doubt it did much to improve the supporting players’ pantomime-level acting, and non-sequitur-strewn dialogue. As I say though, the frustrating thing is that there are enough interesting ideas, decent performance beats and amusing jokes scattered throughout the show to keep you from hitting the “Stop” button… just not enough to make you want to share the fitful fun with people you actually like and respect. Tch!
I’ll be honest, the only reason I picked this DVD up off the charity shop shelf is because my eye was caught by the cover photos of Paulie Rojas, who plays the grown-up ‘Dorothy Gale’ here. It’s eventually revealed that this modern-day Dorothy is the plucky heroine we’re all familiar with, plucked from her old-timey farm by a twister and deposited in the magickal Land of Oz… then sent back to our world decades later, along with a disassembled key that unlocks a super-duper spell-book, containing the power to unravel entire worlds! The only snag is that she’s lost her memory, and believes that all of her adventures in Oz were merely a make-believe story her grandfather wrote to amuse local children… a tradition which she is now continuing through her own writing. In fact, her “grandfather” was her birth-father, and he wrote the supposedly fictional stories while watching her high-jinks through a magickal snowglobe… or something… (that whole sequence is a bit garbled, frankly). Anyhoo, the Wicked Witches (and their assorted, cheaply-costumed cronies) have followed Dorothy through the vortex-thingy, and are intent on making her remember where she hid/mislaid the key, so they can conquer the multiverse, and then cackle about it in an unconvincing way.
Throughout proceedings, Rojas remains absolutely mesmerising… to the extent that I just wanted them to stop mucking around with all the magickal creatures, and focus the camera on her face for an hour or so. She is spectacularly beautiful, with the warmth and wide-eyed innocence of a young Audrey Hepburn (who she’s also portrayed in a short film), and I’m astonished that she hasn’t been snapped up for more starring roles already. If they ever decided to remake Amélie in the English language (god forbid!), she would have to be top of the list for the title role. I’m going to sound hyperbolic now, but if cameras didn’t already exist, a face like hers would inspire someone to invent them! Of course, the hair helps too… gorgeous hair. According to her official site, Rojas is also multilingual (English, Spanish and French), a classically trained Ballerina, and a black-belt in Tae Kwon Do… so, pretty much a goddess in my book.
The female cast also includes Mia Sara (of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fame), as the primary persona of ‘Princess Langwidere’, a witch who occasionally disguises herself by swapping heads with her previous victims… and Eliza Swenson as ‘Billie Westbrook’, Dorothy’s big-city agent and brand-new bestie, who is actually the Earth-based avatar of the Wicked Witch of the West! Swenson’s name may not be familiar to you, but it crops up a helluva lot during the credits… aside from nabbing a plum role for herself, she also composed the score, co-wrote the story, co-edited and co-produced the whole shebang! It would be easy to be cynical about her casting here, but she acquits herself very well, with a solid and sympathetic performance… despite the fact that her big emotional send-off is rather undermined by a logical snafu (if water burns her, then why didn’t her tears damage her eyeballs and cheek before they hit her hand? WHY???). Away from acting-writing-editing -producing (and looking disturbingly like Rose McGowan), Swenson is also the pseudonymous lead-singer of a gothic-rock band called “The Divine Madness”… whose songs can often be heard on the soundtrack of bargain bin “mockbusters” like Transmorphers (which, yes, she also appears in). Whatever you think of the movies themselves, you have to respect that kind of megalomaniacal multi-tasking… and the gorgeous goth-glamazon wardrobe she rocks in this movie!