This week, fans get to celebrate almost a century of "The Wizard of Oz" with a 70th Anniversary DVD/Blu-ray release of the 1939 film. It's fitting then that we have some exclusive new information to share with you on the screen adaptation of Todd McFarlane's "The Twisted Land of Oz" toy line.
MTV Splash Page editor Rick Marshall spoke to the man himself recently, and he was more than happy to delve into the project's genesis, some basic story elements and what the future holds. There's new stuff in here, things you haven't heard yet. The short version: this ain't your granddaddy's "Wizard of Oz." "Spawn" creator McFarlane has some dark ideas kicking around in his head, and they mesh very well with the inherently creepy qualities of "Oz."
Just coming to the point we're at today has been quite a ride for McFarlane. The "Twisted" line of toys performed well enough that McFarlane received a call from "Hollywood" asking if there was a story to go along with the action figures. There wasn't one at that moment, though he had a pitch prepped in the space of a week. Warner Bros. bit and Michael Bay was attached... but only until "Transformers" stole him away. And we all know how that turned out.
More recently, "A History of Violence" writer Josh Olson stepped up to pen a script. McFarlane's chief concern is delivering an Oz that is darker than what people know. As he told execs during pitch meetings, "Number one: you have to turn off the switch to the  MGM movie. If you don't turn off that switch, almost everything I'm about to say will not make sense to you."
See, what makes a man like Todd McFarlane so successful is an understanding of his audience. He's not out to bring "Oz" author L. Frank Baum's words and world to the silver screen; he simply wants to be inspired by it. "Basically," McFarlane reasoned, "what do I have to do to sell a 22 year old kid going to college [to come] see something called 'Oz'?"
"There's a lot of wink wink, nudge nudge stuff, so ['Twisted Land' isn't] completely devoid of what we've come to know," McFarlane said. It may not sound like it based on the story's setup, but the parallels are there.
"In mine, [Dorothy is] up in the Antarctic, and there's bad weather," McFarlane said. "The point is that when you're in bad weather in a s--tty place up north, it is completely gray. That would be our 'black & white [sequence].' Then she falls into her Shangri-La, called Oz, where suddenly everything's in color."
As anyone who knows the toy line is already aware, familiar characters aren't left out. They look a bit different, but all are present and accounted for. The biggest of the changes, in more ways than one, is to Dorothy's lovable dog.
"There's still a thing called Toto, except its the biggest thing in the movie and not the smallest thing. [The beast called Toto] basically ate the first dog, and it's this big thing that [the inhabitants of Oz] ride. They've given this generic word... so instead of horses, [people] ride Totos."
Unfortunately, Olson's script did not deliver in the way that McFarlane had hoped. "Josh came in [on the project] and I read the first draft. I told [Warner Bros.] I was curious about how we went from what I pitched to what I called 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.'"
"My understanding is that [the studio] thought we went a little too conservative, so somebody else is taking a crack at [the script] now. We're never going to get as crazy as I wanted, so I have to accept that. My pitch is fairly radical, if you will. If you're 22 years old, it's not radical. If you're an executive, it's radical."
For any changes being made to his original idea, McFarlane isn't terribly troubled. "I think there will be a compromise," he said. "I've told [the studio] that it's okay, I understand the business side." Which isn't to say that he's totally on board.
"I just found it odd that they bought that cool, creepy ['Twisted Land of Oz' pitch] and now they're taking a step back." Not a big one, mind you. Remember, the Olson treatment is still out.
"I think the first script was just a little soft for them," McFarlane explained. "I've always been a believer that the reason remakes don't work is that they stay too true to the source material. Hopefully we'll have a new script in the next month or two, and then we'll be a lot closer to seeing whether it will grab some true momentum or whether we're heading into development hell here."
Time will tell. I'm certainly hoping that momentum gears up on this project soon, as the land of Oz is ripe for the "darker" treatment that McFarlane's envisioned.