Judge Clark Douglas usually tries to finish his reviews before he releases them.
The magical world of Oz and all of its inhabitants are real and they are coming to New York City!
To be honest, The Witches of Oz almost doesn't merit a proper review, because it isn't really a proper feature. I'm not saying that as an insult to the talents of the people involved. It's just that The Witches of Oz is essentially a rough first cut of an unfinished movie, and it's a little difficult to properly assess a film which is only half-finished.
Let me explain. The Witches of Oz was directed and co-written by a gentleman named Leigh Scott, who has developed a reputation as the creator of infamously shoddy low-budget productions. Among his credits are such estimable titles as Transmorphers, Dracula's Curse, Pirates of Treasure Island and, um, a particularly ill-advised dramatization of The 9/11 Commission Report. However, Scott insists that The Witches of Oz was a genuine passion project from all involved, an earnest attempt to create something people would actually enjoy and admire. It's evident that a good deal of love was put into the project, despite the fact that the end result is pretty crummy even by impossibly low SyFy Channel standards.
At the moment, The Witches of Oz has been transformed into a superior "director's cut" of the movie entitled Dorothy and the Witches of Oz. In the new version, over an hour has been lopped off of the ridiculous 164-minute running time, almost all of the special effects have been redone, new footage was included and the sound mix was improved. However, we'll have to wait a while to see all of those improvements, because this initial Blu-ray presentation offers the super-long, super-sloppy television version of the film that originally aired on SyFy.
The plot is astonishingly convoluted (the film spends an hour and a half simply unraveling the details of its preposterously overcooked premise), but the basic idea is pretty simple: Dorothy Gale (Paulie Rojas, The Last Resort) is the author of numerous beloved children's books about the wonderful world of Oz. Ah, but it turns out that her stories are actually based on repressed memories, and that she actually experienced all of those fantastical adventures as a child. Now, due to a series of troubling circumstances, the most evil citizens of Oz are about to invade our world. Can Dorothy save humanity from the attacks of the Wicked Witch (Eliza Swenson, Chrome Angels) and her cohorts?
It's a pretty run-of-the-mill concept that could easily be told in modestly entertaining fashion in ninety minutes, but Scott and co. have saddled The Witches of Oz with oodles of needless backstory, Lord of the Rings-inspired mythology, a host of dull time-filling conversations and awkward moments of comic relief that are likely to inspire weary sighs. There's nothing here that suggests a great movie is hiding inside this mess, but it might have at least been watchable if it weren't so sloppy on a technical level.
The special effects are beyond horrendous. The average viewer could create more compelling effects on their home PC without much effort. The sound mix is weak, as the overbearing original score (written by actress Eliza Swenson) often drowns out the dialogue and there's very little sense of immersive atmosphere. The film was shot in 2.39:1, but has been ruthlessly cropped to 1.78:1 for this television presentation (and it shows, in scene after scene after scene). The performances are weak across the board, even from seasoned pros like Sean Astin (Rudy), Billy Boyd (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), Lance Henrikson (Millennium), and Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future). Seriously, how many horrifically bad projects have Lloyd and Henrikson been a part of over the course of the past decade?
The Witches of Oz (Blu-ray) looks okay, I suppose, though the aforementioned cropped transfer makes it pretty difficult to watch. Detail is middling, as the filmmakers seem insistent on smearing everything in softness to provide viewers with that "magical" aura (it also helps to hide the film's technical shortcomings and cheap-looking props). Black levels are fine, though there's some prominent crush on occasion. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is unnecessary, as there's no reason for a lossless presentation of such a sloppy mix. Dialogue is frequently overwhelmed by underscore, sound design is messy, certain scenes sound as if they were recorded in a tin can—it's not pretty. Supplements are limited to a trailer and a 3-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.
The Witches of Oz is a disaster. Here's hoping the shorter theatrical version at least manages to make this ill-conceived project a bit more palatable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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