It's been observed for a long time that Hollywood and the entertainment industry have run out of fresh ideas. All they have left is re-telling the same old stories over and over again. However, few directors want to be so obvious as to literally remake an existing film frame-by-frame; they all want to put in a twist of some sort so they can at least pretend to have been "original."
Thus we get sequels, prequels, reboots, and the whole panoply of "been-there, done-that" that keeps us out of the theaters. It also means that, since we already know what the story is supposed to be having seen it before, new versions say more about the personal views of the director, or at least his views of modern culture, than was probably intended.
So it is with Oz, the Great and Powerful, reportedly one of last year's Worst Movies, adorned by the Worst Acting, Worst Screenplay, Most Annoying Sidekick, and so on down the line.
Like every other person who can read English, you know Oz - a bogus Wizard, an overabundance of Witches wicked and otherwise, unlikely minions and red-shirts useful mostly as cannon fodder, imaginative anthropomorphic sidekicks, and innocent young Dorothy who in this version doesn't even appear.
This Oz's one redeeming virtue is that it keeps to the tradition set by the legendary 1939 version of using modern technology for awe-inspiring cinematographic beauty: if this movie consisted of nothing but the CGI-generated scenery without any actors chewing on it, it would be Oscar-worthy.
Speaking of virtue, though, this new storyline puts forward some noteworthy philosophical and social issues highly relevant to today, particularly when it comes to the one thing that neither Disney movies in general nor Oz tales in particular are allowed to touch with a bargepole: sex.
The premise of Oz, as with such modern fairytale fare as Wicked and the Once Upon a Time TV series, is that infamous Wicked Witches aren't necessarily born that way. Once upon a time, they were innocent little girls with all the hopes, dreams and loves of your own daughter.
Hence Theodora, better known as the justifiably aquaphobic and admirably alliterative Wicked Witch of the West. Oz portrays her as the stereotypical overlooked but beautiful girl-next-door, shadowed by the light of her equally knockout but more outgoing older sisters. In her perambulations throughout Oz the fairytale land, she first encounters Oz the phony wizard, who works his charms honed from years performing with the circus and seducing women in every town.
Our Gentle Readers will not need to have watched the movie to intuit that Oz dumps her the very next day, leaving Oz the emerald city on a quest to (so he believes) earn the throne by offing the Wicked Witch, who turns out instead to be, yes, the gorgeous blonde Glinda the Good Witch to whom he instantly redirects his oleaginous attentions. Theodora, watching through her sister Eleanora's magic crystal ball, is crushed and conned into turning wicked herself in response to his vile betrayal.
One wonders whether our economy is truly as depressed as it seems, given that so many Americans appear to have time and Internet access to author critical essays on the love-lives of fictional characters appearing in a generally unpopular reboot. The question is whether Oz' seduction was in fact consummated, or whether Theodora was just suffering from puppy love.
Who cares? Well, actually, it speaks to a very current debate in modern society. The sexual revolution has evolved into a "hookup culture" in which young women have the freedom to act as badly as young men were once frowned upon for doing, jumping from bed to bed without regard for any permanent emotional relationship. Some feminists argue that women can enjoy this sort of recreational sex just as many men do.
Others, however, argue that women are fundamentally different from men, and that "hookups" are far more devastating to the ladies than to their male partners, as in such books as Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student.
We've all heard the saying "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," and Theodora is presented as a case study - though many reviewers including your humble correspondent actually found her more appealing than blonde Glinda, putting the question into Ginger-vs-Mary-Ann territory. The movie itself is silent on just how far her 24-hour relationship with Oz got, providing barely enough contextual clues to fuel Internet arguments.
But it's just those Internet arguments that make this interesting. The point is that, clearly, a great many people do believe that there's a difference between a failed relationship that never reached the sexual stage and one which did. A portion of the viewing audience simply didn't find it persuasive that Theodora could possibly be so hurt and humiliated by Oz as to end up wicked, without him having also robbed her of her virginity.
In movies as in life, an extreme result usually requires an extreme cause. If Character A steps on Character B's toe and B immediately pulls out an ax and chops A to death, it only works if B has already been presented as a psychopath or we've been given some strong pre-existing reason for homicidal hatred.
The annals of classic literature are filled with tales of lost and unrequited love, but when it's the man who loses his marbles, the issue of actual sex hardly enters into it. Charlotte Bronte's Heathcliff didn't require a roll in the hay with Catherine to destroy his life for love of her in Wuthering Heights, nor did Pip with Estella in Dickens' Great Expectations.
Women in literature, on the other hand, can generally toy with men all they please without consequence so long as they stay out bed, but if they cross that line and are betrayed, an extreme reaction like Theodora's can often be expected.
Obviously works of fiction don't define actual human behavior. What they do define, though, is what real human beings hearing the story find to be plausible. A work whose characters behave in ways that readers find unlikely, without some sort of sensible explanation, is considered poorly written and won't be popular.
Oz wasn't popular either, though more for other reasons such as bad acting and a deeply unlikeable main character. Yet it had at least enough human realism for its characters to become the subject of discussion, and enough human detail to sustain it.
It's striking that even after fifty years of feminists and the dominant media culture arguing that women and their feelings are no different than those of men, as soon as you leave the realm of overt political argument and into that of storytelling entertainment, those same old beliefs about men, women, feelings, and the perils of unwed sex return with full force.
Maybe there's an underlying truth there that it's time people stopped denying, and something to be said for the old philosophy that girls are better off if they "put a ring on it" first? There certainly do seem to be more feminist Wicked Witches cackling around than there used to be, blaming everything bad in the world on men without ever examining how their own choices made them what they are.
Over the past five years, the editors have been secretly working on a book that summarizes the fundamental viewpoints of Scragged.