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Why Return to Oz seems scary


Three different administrations at Disney Studios
Walter Murch Film-maker
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Another change of management happened on Return to Oz. At the end of shooting the film, there was... A whole new regime took over Disney. And this was the Eisner Katzenberg regime that is now no longer there but who were in power for quite a while at Disney. And they had absolutely no interest in this film because it had not only been started by a previous administration, it was two administrations ago. And the downside of that is that they didn't put any serious work into releasing the film, how to release it.

Because it's a difficult film; it's a sequel to one of the most beloved, iconic films that has gone even beyond film. The Wizard of Oz is sort of how America defines itself in some weird way. So, to make a sequel to it is like... It was worse than making a sequel to Gone with the Wind with Clark Gable and... Because you had to address that issue of, what is this? And how should the audience take it? And our film was not a musical, and Wizard of Oz, the original film, was a musical and it was much more vaudevillian. This was more reality-based.

In fact, my approach to the beginning of the film was in 1899, which is when the film is set, what would happen to a real nine-year-old if she was caught up in a tornado, rescued alive and had a story to tell about where she had gone and it involved this fantasy about witches and flying monkeys and scarecrows and tin men. What would happen under real circumstances? And I did a lot of research into the dilemmas that farming communities were facing in 1899 in the United States. They were just coming out of a bad depression and there were all kinds of issues about the gold standard and the silver standard and how the banks were crushing the farms.

So, I placed the Dorothy in that film in the real environment, rather than the vaudevillian environment of the Wizard of Oz, with people in costume and singing, rather than Tik-Tok who is kind of a... There is somebody inside Tik-Tok but that is hidden from the audience. Whereas the Tin Man it's a... that's a human being made up to look like, painted in tin colours.

So, anyway, it would have taken a really smart intensive thinking to know how to market this film and I think they were just not interested in doing that. And the good part of that, though, was that they didn't interfere with what I was doing with the film. There were a couple of suggestions that they made but nothing like the kind of things that they were doing to the films that they were making themselves currently at the time. So, as awkward as being fired from a film and a number of the other struggles that happen on any other film, the cut of the film is the cut that I wanted. There's nothing in the film that I did not say, 'Yes, I want that.' No studio was forcing me to do this thing or that thing. But it was out of indifference rather than charitable towards my personal vision.

Born in 1943 in New York City, Murch graduated from the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. His career stretches back to 1969 and includes work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III, American Graffiti, The Conversation, and The English Patient. He has been referred to as 'the most respected film editor and sound designer in modern cinema.' In a career that spans over 40 years, Murch is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola, beginning in 1969 with The Rain People. After working with George Lucas on THX 1138 (1971), which he co-wrote, and American Graffiti (1973), Murch returned to Coppola in 1974 for The Conversation, resulting in his first Academy Award nomination. Murch's pioneering achievements were acknowledged by Coppola in his follow-up film, the 1979 Palme d'Or winner Apocalypse Now, for which Murch was granted, in what is seen as a film-history first, the screen credit 'Sound Designer.' Murch has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and has won three, for best sound on Apocalypse Now (for which he and his collaborators devised the now-standard 5.1 sound format), and achieving an unprecedented double when he won both Best Film Editing and Best Sound for his work on The English Patient. Murch’s contributions to film reconstruction include 2001's Apocalypse Now: Redux and the 1998 re-edit of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil. He is also the director and co-writer of Return to Oz (1985). In 1995, Murch published a book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, in which he urges editors to prioritise emotion.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Disney Studios, Return to Oz, Wizard of Oz

Duration: 4 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017