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Oz The Great And Powerful - Sam Raimi interview

Oz: The Great & Powerful

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SAM Raimi talks about conquering his initial intimidation and making Oz The Great & Powerful and why he enjoyed working in and learning about 3D.

He also talks about which sources provided the biggest inspiration for the look of the film as well as what had to be left out. He was speaking at a UK press conference.

Q. It’s been a while since anyone has returned to this world. Were you at all intimidated by the chance to revisit the land of Oz on screen?
Sam Raimi: Yes, I was intimidated. I was actually very frightened to approach the project because there’s so much love for the original Wizard of Oz picture, obviously, and people don’t want their warm feelings towards this great classic sullied. They don’t want someone stepping on their fondest memories of this classic. That’s why I stayed away from the script at first. Later, when I was looking for a writer for another project, the script came across my desk and I thought, ‘well, I’ll read it, just because I’m looking for a good writer’. And I fell in love the story.

The story is one of a selfish man who, deep within him has heart buried, and he doesn’t appreciate the friendship of his dutiful friend, or the love of his life who is right there – and he gets transported to the magical land of Oz and there, through the land of second chances and the love of that same friend, although he’s now a monkey, and the love of a good woman he could have, he wants to become worthy of her and his good heart emerges. And he becomes a little more selfless and that was such a sweet story; it’s very moving to me. The moment I had that feeling I thought, all will be forgiven. If I can bring this feeling to the fans of the Oz books or the movie, only a wicked old witch wouldn’t want that picture to be made.

Q. Was there anything you would have liked to have put in the film that didn’t make the cut?
Sam Raimi: Yes, there were so many ideas that didn’t make the cut and, for me, it was about the characters’ back stories. We had to bring the picture in at a particular length – there was so much I shot with Rachel [Weisz] that I loved and so much about her additional manipulations and levels of manipulations that just because of time I couldn’t keep in. Michelle [Williams] had a lot of great back story that we filmed that had to do with her relationship with her father… the king, before he was murdered. And we had great magic show with James [Franco] that we had to reduce.

But basically I guess the job of most directors and storytellers is to just give the audience what they need… a seed and let them grow the story in their mind, and then come in here with a little bit of water and let them grow some more and add some sunshine and that’s what I tried to do – just find those pieces that they needed and try to be very strict with it. And even at that, it’s probably a longer version than it should be.

Q. This is your first time working in 3D. How did you enjoy and will you do it again?
Sam Raimi: I started out not knowing anything about 3D and I actually had some bad experiences watching some movies that weren’t done properly in 3D, so I had to go to school and say to all the brilliant technicians and artists I don’t know anything. So, I talked to cinematographers, stereographers and visual effects companies and practiced and did some test shots with different camera systems and basically went to school. And I learned how 3D is put together, how good 3D is made and then where the strain on our eyes takes place. I learned about convergences and not going from one convergence shot to an extremely different convergence shot and not doing it often because it creates a strain. And I learned how to make subtle changes to make convergences flow like music, so we can gradually adjust to these different convergences for our eyes. And I learned how to define space dimensionally – foreground, mid-ground, background, deep background – and create a whole dimensional space to give depth hues to the audience so they really received it.

We took great care in really trying to give the audience an experience that they’ve never had before in 3D. But I only did it because the land is a very important part of L Frank Baum’s work and I wanted to describe it as richly and deeply as possible and I thought that the extra jewel of the third dimension was a great thing to invite the audience into that so they could feel it and touch it. But would it be right for another picture? I don’t know, and I don’t know if I’d ever use it again… but it’s an exciting world to explore.

But I learned so much… dimension has its own language. You can create a feeling of growing aggression or power for a character if you move them dimensionally forward. As they grow more aggressive in their performance, you can dial the convergence very subtly with just their element so that they appear to be moving closer to the audience and invading their space, so to speak. There’s a whole vocabulary that I got to learn about what effect dimension has.

Q. How much of an influence was the 1939 version?
Sam Raimi: Yes, I think we all loved the 1939 version. This movie is almost trying to be a love poem to that film. I think it affected all of us in different ways. For me, it was the scariest picture ever made, the sweetest picture ever made and the greatest musical ever made. So, it affected us. I think it’s one of the three influences in the look of the picture. The main influences were [William Wallace] Denslow’s drawings from the original Baum books are one of the influences. [Robert] Stromberg, our production designer, delved deeply into the Disney films of the 1930s and their whimsical backgrounds to influence his work on this. And the Wizard of Oz film was the third visual influence on the looks of many things. So it was a big influence.

Read our review of Oz The Great & Powerful