I'm not opposed to made-for-TV movies that expound upon or re-imagine well-known stories. I actually quite liked 'Tin Man' which was a reworking of the 'Wizard of Oz' for the SyFy Channel. I didn't mind Lionsgate's 'Alice' either, although it wasn't as good as 'Tin Man.' Even the recently reviewed 'Neverland' had a few redeeming qualities. Now we have another rejiggering of the story of Oz, this time called 'The Witches of Oz,' which was shown on Starz and the SyFy Channel.
'The Witches of Oz' is everything that is loathsome about made-for-TV movies. It's overly long (164 minutes of excruciating terror to be exact), its production values are nil (just try to count how many extras are in this movie; buildings are eerily vacant), its special effects are atrocious, its acting grates on you like fingernails on a chalkboard, its story is, at its best, completely incoherent, and worst of all it takes a beloved story and turns it into an utter mess, all the while thinking that it's done the best job possible.
I hesitate to even revisit the plot, because it gives me such anxiety to look back on it, but here we go. Dorothy (Paulie Rojas) is the author of a series of children's books. She's written a rousing good set of books which chronicle the time of a fictional character named Dorothy in the Land of Oz. I assume this takes place in a present day universe where no one has heard of the original 'Oz' tale, or Dorothy would be crucified as a dirty plagiarist.
Dorothy has been offered a book deal so she must move from the wide open plains of Kansas to the densely populated center of New York in order write her last book and complete a movie deal. Dorothy is unaware that as a child she visited Oz and came into possession of some key that does something really important. Evil Oz people are after it so Dorothy finds herself dodging all manner of mean, magical witches in order to keep the key safe.
What's really disheartening about this whole movie is that there are some recognizable faces in the crowd that apparently wandered on set and were kept there against their will. Sean Astin plays a tiny goblin, or elf, or something, that cackles and tries to help Dorothy remember her past. Poor Sam Wise, what have you been reduced to? Oh, but don't worry, he isn't the only hobbit in this here story. Billy Boyd shows up as a charming, rich, handsome man of Dorothy's dreams. In Boyd's first scene he appears normal, but directly after that it would seem that the make-up budget took a bit of a dip. There's a scene where Dorothy and Boyd go to the zoo, and Boyd looks like he's aged 20 years, which caused my wife to say, "Ick, what happened to him?"
Because it’s a made-for-TV movie and probably took up two (or more) nights with multiple open timeslots the runtime ballooned to 164 minutes. I will never get those precious minutes back, but you don't have to suffer the same fate. If 'The Witches of Oz' looks even the least bit interesting to you, don't fall for it. It's corny, idiotic and a waste of perfectly good living. Why it was made, I haven't the foggiest idea. What it all meant when everything was said and done, I couldn't have cared less.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is an Image Entertainment release. It's been pressed onto a 25-GB Blu-ray Disc and is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. The back of the case indicates a Region A only coding.
'Witches' is an odd movie because it has some aspect ratio issues that are quite weird. It was shot for a 2.39:1 aspect ratio with "anamorphic" lenses for Red One cameras according to the movie's director Leigh Scott. This announcement of the film's look can be seen on a featurette included on the disc. The movie was then cropped from that aspect ratio to fit a 1.78:1 screen, cutting off the sides, because the lenses Scott used provided for no extra image on the top and bottom of the frame. This results in a framed image that always looks slightly off the entire time. Shots are wacky and unbalanced. People seem to be cut off on the side of the frame, or they end up pushing the very edge in a very unnatural composition. Try watching it for over two hours and tell me that it doesn't drive you crazy too.
Beyond that, 'Witches' doesn't look all that great anyway. Its low budget special effects are to blame, but there are some egregious missteps along the way. One being in the middle of the film when Dorothy has a flashback about her uncle and his wife sitting on the sofa in their house. When the flashback ends her uncle and his wife fade away like ghosts. Only it's obvious that they've simply placed one frame over the other and faded out the frame with the parents, and faded in the one with no one on the couch. But, the frames haven't even been bothered to be lined up. A line shoots down the middle of the screen which should be the edge of the frame causing a double image of the couch to appear. It's really ugly and far too noticeable to go unchecked. Just one of those things that they hoped no one would notice.
As for the picture itself, it's mostly soft and has that flat digital look to it. Shadows are constantly crushing out any sort of detail. Contrast is anemic. Colors are overly saturated. Skintones have either an orange hue or in Boyd's case a sickly blue tinge. In the end this is a far below average video presentation. Don't bother.
'Witches' is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track that's every bit as annoyingly forgettable as the video presentation. Dialogue is routinely soft and lost. Surround sound is nonexistent for the most part, because hardly any scenes actually feature any sort of extras to provide ambient noise. Special effects like tornados and magical spells do get some surround sound, but it always seems way too forced. Like the whole time we've had silent rear speakers, and then "BOOM!" this is surround sound folks! Music is prioritized too loud and it drowns out the rest of the proceedings. Like the video there's nothing to get excited about. It's pretty dismal.
Blech! 'Witches of Oz' leaves a bad aftertaste. It's just so bad that it's hard to describe. It's a miserable experience trying to slog through its layers of inane exposition and terrible characters to get to the end. My guess is that many people will stop halfway through. There's nothing to like about this movie or release. One to avoid.