Sam Raimi brings Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis to Hall H to introduce 'Oz'
SAN DIEGO - Chris Hardwick, better known as king of a podcasting empire under the handle The Nerdist, was practically giddy as he introduced the second film at today's Disney panel in Hall H at the San Diego Comic-Con. He said he'd never had a chance to meet the filmmaker he was about to bring out, but that he considered himself a huge fan, and confessed, "I peed just a little bit when I found out this next guy would be here."
The highlight reel that they showed featuring clips from "Evil Dead 2," "The Quick and the Dead," all three "Spider-Man" movies, "Darkman," "Army Of Darkness," and "Drag Me To Hell" made a strong case for why Hardwick might be so excited. Taken as a thrilling kinetic whole, the clips not only featured some huge, iconic pop culture moments like the upside down kiss in the rain from "Spider-Man," but geeky beloved beats like Bruce Campbell's "groovy" and "Hail to the king, baby." Sam makes images that you can instantly recognize as Raimi images, and he is justifiably adored by many film nerds. He took the stage to enthusiastic applause and settled in next to Hardwick to discuss his latest film, "Oz The Great and Powerful."
"This is my home away from home, Comic-Con. I love it here," Raimi said, talking about how his favorite parts of the convention are "where they sell the comics," which he considers the heart of the event.
Describing "Oz The Great and Powerful," Raimi said, "It's based on Frank L. Baum's books. It's the story of the Wizard. It's about who the Wizard was and how he became the Wizard we know." At the film's opening, Raimi says the Wizard has many flaws. "He's a Lothario and a cad, but Oz turns out to be the land of second chances for him. He makes new friends, falls in love with Glenda, and becomes a more selfless man."
He went on to describe the set-up to the film in broad strokes. "The story begins in Kansas, where he's a good carnival magician with bad social skills. He has a good heart, but he's not in touch with it. He thinks the way to greatness is through fortune and fame instead of the selfless expression of his talents. His life becomes untenable in Kansas. He's an adulterer, and he's chased out of Kansas, and that balloon gets swept up into a tornado."
By now, you may have seen the new trailer for the film, which premiered online just after the panel ended:
Online, you can't really see how overt the 3D in the footage was. Raimi seems to be from the school of "throw things right at the viewer's face," and I love how there are fireballs rolling past the edge of the frame or flying monkeys swarming all around the viewer. And that last shot of the green arm? Great. It looks like Raimi is totally playing around with the iconography of the 1939 film to some degree, and doing some really fun things with it.
As the trailer ended, Hardwick welcomed Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis to the stage. Both were stunning and seemed to be pleased, although Kunis looked far more relaxed than Williams, who always has that endearing nervous energy, like she's about to bolt.
Chris asked Williams to describe her portrayal of Glenda, and he did an impression of Billie Burke as Glenda in the classic film, a trilling falsetto that had everyone onstage laughing. Michelle said, "I wanted to do that, but Sam wouldn't let me."
Raimi shook his head, though. "No, that's what I wanted. It was Michelle who said no."
Still laughing, Williams described her take on the character. "She is the embodiment of everything that is good and pure, but with more of a human quality. She's the only one who sees the best in Oz, even when no one else does."
Turning to Kunis, Hardwick asked her about playing another of the witches. Kunis explained, "I play Theodora. Evanora is my sister, played by Rachel Weisz." Although she's a witch, the way Kunis explained what she's playing didn't sound particularly wicked. "Theodora is the first character Oz encounters. She is incredibly sweet and naive, and so she really believes that he is the Wizard."
It would be a natural assumption, looking at that trailer, that everything was created using green screens, but when asked about the experience of shooting, Kunis refuted that idea. "I thought it would be all green screen, but it wasn't. The sets were built. It was tangible. Everything was in front of you. It was magical going to work. As to what was in front of you, it's all there."
Kunis went on to describe one particular set that she loved. "I have to tell you, walking into Glenda's castle was one of the most magical experiences of my life. The green in the Emerald City was one of the most amazing things… this will be magical for people."
With that, Hardwick opened the panel up to questions from the audience. The first guy up was dressed as Ash from "Evil Dead 2," blood seeping from a fresh head wound, and he asked a very Raimi-specific fan question. "You can never kill a Classic," he said, "so will the Classic be in the movie?"
That is, of course, a reference to Raimi's first car, a 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 that has shown up in all of his films. This seems like the first time that would be impossible since the film is set both during the Depression and in a magical land without cars, but Raimi revealed that he's managed it anyhow. "It's not seen in its original form, but we did manage to use its engine block and cam-shaft, and they are in the film."
The next question came from a girl who said she was a big fan of "The Shadow," and she wanted to know how things are going with Raimi's proposed film version of the pulp character. The news from Raimi was not encouraging however. He said, "That's a great character, and I'm a big fan of Maxwell Grant's books, but we never got the screenplay right. I didn't want to do it unless it was perfect."
The fan said, "I understand" before she stepped away from the mic.
Hardwick, who was incredibly quick and funny during the entire Disney event, said, "Whew. Dodged that bullet." I think he was entertained by the various fans and the costumes, and he couldn't resist having some fun with the things he was seeing.
The next woman stepped up to the mic to address Raimi, saying "I've seen the teaser images. The balloon looks eerily like the one in the '39 film. Is this a prequel to that or a sequel to the books?"
Good question, and Raimi's answer was very political. Remember, Warner Bros. was very clear during this film's pre-production that they don't want to see anything from the 1939 film in this new one, and that anything Raimi does needs to be from the books. It's a very touchy copyright issue, because the Baum books are public domain. Anyone can do whatever they want, but that 1939 film is off-limits.
Raimi said, "Mitchell Kapner, our screenwriter, went through the first four books and he distilled all the information there about the Wizard and then made up the rest. So it's based on those first four books, but it nods lovingly to the 1939 film as well."
Following up on that theme, the next person to ask a question wanted to know a very specific costuming point. "Are the shoes ruby or silver or do we not see them at all?"
This time, Raimi was careful to point out, "Those ruby slippers were unique to the 1939 classic, and we didn't have the rights to them. They do not make an appearance in our film."
The next question continued along the same lines. "Will you bring in the classic book characters like the Scarecrow and the Tin Man?"
Raimi shook his head and said, "Those characters are not in this film, because our film takes place before that. This is all before Dorothy. It's more about Oz becoming the Wizard and the protector of the Emerald City."
The last question came from a fan who seemed to understand that Raimi was walking a very narrow line with what he could and couldn't do in the film. ""I loved the black and white at the start that transitions to color. Very nice. You mentioned some restrictions. What other pieces from the 100 year history of 'Oz' sparked your visual look for the new film?"
Raimi explained that the first thing he did when he took the job was hire his production designer. "Robert Stromberg did beautiful work on 'Avatar' and 'Alice In Wonderland,' and we wanted to create a unique look, so we went back to Baum's books to really find some fresh ideas."
Raimi continued by praising his producer as well. "Joe Roth brings a lot of world-building ability to the project, too. We needed to build a new world, and the 3D really helped with that. It nods its head to things we've seen, but it also does things that are completely new."
With that, the panel came to a close, and as Raimi, Williams, and Kunis stopped by the edge of the stage for photographers to snap pictures, Hardwick pretended to be one of the photographers. "Sam! Sam! Who are you wearing?" Unable to resist, he jumped up into the background of the shot. As everyone walked off, Hardwick took his seat again, laughing. "Like I'm not going to photobomb that."
"Oz The Great and Powerful" arrives in theaters March 8, 2013.