I am sure that somewhere in the world there were people who were looking at great works of art and somewhere else people were enjoying magnificent natural vistas and exquisite flowers but I assure you that no one saw anything more beautiful than I did yesterday as I sat just a few feet across from Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams, the stars of the 2013 release “Oz the Great and Powerful.” Their charm and looks make them pretty but their graciousness and dedication to their art and their audience makes them truly lovely.
Producer Joe Roth and director Sam Raimi sat on either side of the actresses to tell us about the film, a prequel to the story we all know, based on the book by “Wizard of Oz” author L. Frank Baum that tells us how the “humbug” got from Kansas to Oz and came to live in the Emerald City. Mila Kunis plays the witch who will become known as the Wicked Witch of the West, and Michelle Williams plays Glinda.
One luxury they all appreciated was the chance to minimize the use of green screen effects. Kunis spoke of the dazzling designs and the pleasure of working in a “fully furnished” environment. Roth described seven huge sets built in a Detroit filming facility, each twice the size of the typical Hollywood space.
Kunis told us that when she first moved to the United States from Ukraine as a little girl, “The Wizard of Oz was one of the first films she loved, and so her parents gave her the Baum books to help her learn English. Raimi, the director of horror films and the “Spider-Man” trilogy, spoke with feeling about how much it meant to him to make a film with so much emphasis on the way the characters change and what they learn. This is his first 3D film, so he had a learning curve about the way the technology affects editing and composition. “There’s a whole different language of cutting.”
He also told us about the patience the film required because his stars had other commitments — Kunis was filming “Ted,” Williams was promoting “My Week with Marilyn,” Rachel Weisz was making the new “Bourne” movie, and title star James Franco was “off getting another degree.” Franco himself had learned and grown since he and Raimi worked together on the “Spider-Man” films. Now that he has also been a director, he has more “openness, collaboration, patience, more of a sense of what goes into a shot.”
They did not have the rights to the iconic images we all know so well from the MGM film and in any event, their plan was to “nod lovingly toward it and make our own story” set in “the whimsical nature of Baum’s great world” and characters who struggle and learn and deal with the consequences of their choices.