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Wednesday 13 December 2017

We're off to see the Wizard ... which one?

RETURN TO OZ: Hollywood rivals plan three very different remakes to tempt generation of Potter fans

Seventy years after the first trip along the Yellow Brick Road, at least three major Hollywood studios are planning remakes of The Wizard of Oz.

This time, film-goers will be watching through 3D glasses, the heroine may very well be a streetwise teenager, and her story seems unlikely to end happily ever after.

The rival projects intend to drag Judy Garland's country girl from Kansas into the modern era, and offer darker plot twists to a generation of movie fans weaned on the Twilight franchise.

Many of the mooted remakes of the children's classic, which was based on a 1900 novel by L. Frank Baum, have been classified as "in development" for several years, but the staggering success of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland made more than $200m (f146m) on its opening weekend has convinced studio bosses to move them off the back burner.

Hoping to cash in on this trend, Warner Brothers announced this week it intends to green-light one of two rival Wizard of Oz projects currently being produced under its banner.

The first is a straightforward, non-musical adaptation, which remains faithful to the original novel. It is being developed by Temple Hill Entertainment, the production firm behind Twilight, and written by Darren Lemke, the screenwriter of Shrek Forever.

The alternative being considered by Warner Brothers, which is searching for a lucrative series of films to replace its soon-to-finish Harry Potter franchise, is a darker, more modern follow-up to the original tale.

According to a synopsis, that film, which is called Oz, will tell the tale of Dorothy's modern-day granddaughter, who returns to the Emerald City in order to fight the descendants of the baddies that her ancestor faced. It is aimed squarely at the teenage market.

Two other major studios are also pushing on with rival Wizard of Oz projects. Joe Roth, one of the producers of Alice, met with Disney last week to discuss a 3D prequel to the original film called Brick, which reveals how the Wizard, who like Dorothy comes from Kansas, originally arrived in Oz.

Meanwhile Universal is developing a film version of the hit musical Wicked, a spin-off of Baum's tale which is told from the perspective of the witches, and has been one of the most lucrative new shows of the past decade.

There has been a previous Hollywood remake of The Wizard of Oz. In 1978, a disastrous version called The Wiz with Diana Ross, as Dorothy, and the late Michael Jackson, as the Scarecrow.

And is Miley set to play Dorothy?

The biggest question about a Wizard of Oz remake is which winsome actress will step into Judy Garland's red shoes.

If the films were being made a couple of years ago, leading contenders would be America's favourite girls-next-door Anne Hathaway and Amy Adams. But by the time these titles make it into production, their days of playing teenagers will be long gone.

The most obvious teenage names are Miley Cyrus, who boasts close ties to Disney and a strong following in the "tween" market, Dakota Fanning, and the Little Miss Sunshine star Abigail Breslin.

They are already stars in their own right, though.

And the recent trend for film-makers is to plump for a complete unknown.

hnews@herald.ie

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