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Captain EO – $1 million a minute


Return to Oz gets a negative review
Walter Murch Film-maker
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I remember reading a review the moment that Return to Oz came out. And it was in USA Today, which is a big, popular newspaper, certainly at the time. And it was a very good review by Mike Clark. Thank you, Mike. And I thought, 'It's going to work, great.'

And then, an hour after I saw the review of Siskel and Ebert, who were the two TV reviewers, who danced on the grave of the film, with tom toms and shuttlecocks. And just... They hated the film. And they wanted everyone else to hate it. And they would trade barbs about how bad the film was, and showed excerpts from the film. And then, showed excerpts from The Wizard of Oz, which was the first film. And said, 'This is how the film should have been made, not this way.'

So I felt the floor open up beneath me because I knew that that was going to carry the day. I don't know why I knew that. But there was something about the virulence of it that totally caught me off guard because the film was not made with anything like what they were ascribing to it.

And yet, in the irrationality of the reviewing process, I guess, you can't second guess the reviewer. And that's what they say. And in fact that was the brush that tarred the film that it was an overly dour and frightening film for children. And that I was some kind of molester of children because of the film, the screaming kids leaving the theatre. And it was a crisis of a kind because I had ultimately enjoyed working on the film, despite the being fired from it in the middle, and the difficulties in making any film. I thought I learned a lot on this film. And I wanted to then apply what I had learned to directing other films. And I had a number of ideas in the pipeline, my pipeline.

But the lack of commercial success of the film because it did not do financially well... And it was an expensive film. And it was a very high profile film because it was daring to make a sequel to a film that was even more than a film, The Wizard of Oz is, or had become a cultural icon that by which America almost defined itself. There are so many references to that film in popular culture that this seemed... This film, Return to Oz, seemed insanely malevolent from that point of view.

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: Return to Oz, The Wizard of Oz, Mike Clark, Siskel and Ebert

Duration: 3 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017