Audiences will soon return to a place somewhere over the rainbow in "Oz: The Great and Powerful," director Sam Raimi's prequel to one of the most beloved motion pictures of all time that tells the tale of a Kansas stage magician and con artist who becomes a mighty, well, wizard after a tornado sends him straight to a magical faraway land in need of a hero.
It's a film brought to life by what co-star Rachel Weisz calls the "incredible, child-like imagination" of director Raimi, who's one of the few Hollywood filmmakers who still wears a suit to work. The man who called the shots on the original "Spider-Man" trilogy can certainly run a big show -- and demand some of the finest designers in the industry to help bring his brash, bombastic and highly theatrical vision to the big screen.
While "Oz: The Great and Powerful" certainly incorporates a generous amount of CG technology, production designer Robert Stromberg paid homage to the original "Wizard of Oz" by also creating many practical sets as he conjured an "original, breathtaking take on the Land of Oz," according to Raimi.
"There was an actual Yellow Brick Road," said co-star Michelle Williams, who plays a character well-known to anyone who's ever visited Oz before: Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. "My castle was like from a fairy tale, but it was complete; it was right in front of my eyes."
Stromberg is no stranger to creating large-scale fantasy-scapes after having worked on "Avatar" (2009) and "Alice in Wonderland" (2010), for which he won Oscars for Best Achievement in Art Direction. Stromberg also received an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects for his work in "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," a film that also features rather inclement weather.
Ultimately, though, it's not the digs but the clothes that make the wizard ... and the witches. Costume designer Gary Jones was charged with the task of bringing a fresh spin on such familiar characters as Oz, Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West.
"We started very specifically with each of the witches; we also at the same time were preparing Oz's clothes," said Jones, who had previously worked with Raimi on "Spider-Man 2" (2004) and received an Oscar nomination for his work on "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999). "Truly, I realized that I had never experienced the joy of working in a land of sheer fantasy -- it's been a thrill."
Finally, longtime makeup and special effects wizard Howard Berger was brought on board to bring the many strange and wonderful denizens of Oz to life. Not surprisingly, Raimi pushed his longtime colleague to go as over-the-top as possible when it came to a certain villain character.
"Right away Sam tossed aside the subtle stuff and said 'No no, it's the Witch! I want a big scary green witch!'" said Berger of the approach to the film's incarnation of the Wicked Witch of the West. Berger probably expected such a direction after working with the gleefully macabre (and decidedly unsubtle) Raimi on "Drag Me to Hell" (2009) ... and way back on "Evil Dead II" (1987).
"Oz: The Great and Powerful" won't be in Kansas anymore when it opens in theaters on March 8.
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