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The Muppets' Wizard of Oz (2005)
In the earliest days of Muppet literary adaptations, such as "Hey Cinderella!" and "The Muppets' Frog Prince," Kermit would be the host and brand-new Muppets would be created for the production, some of whom would be added to the Muppet "pantheon." "Frog Prince," for example, introduced the world to Robin (the title enchanted prince, though the character later became Kermit's nephew) and everybody's favorite ogre, Sweetums.
These shows were 1-hour specials. By the time the Muppets were doing feature-length adaptations, beginning with "The Muppets' Christmas Carol" and "The Muppets' Treasure Island," so many Muppets had been added to the stable of performers that they wound up in major roles with few new or story-specific characters being made (exceptions being the three Christmas Ghosts).
Either formula has its good points and bad points, but I really think the better tack to take with a Muppet adaptation of "Wizard" would have been to do it the old-fashioned way, with new Muppet versions of the main Oz characters, with existing Muppets in supporting roles.
If I may make bold, here's how I'd have done it: I'd have had Kermit appear at the beginning as L. Frank Baum, telling the story to a mixed group of human and Muppet children. He would then act as voice-over narrator for the rest of the show.
I would have cast Dakota Fanning as Dorothy (and I say someone still should before she grows up) and had new Muppets made specifically to play the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. There already is a Muppet Lion, one of those costume/puppet combos; he sang a duet with Sylvester Stallone on "The Muppet Show." Toto would also have been a new creation.
As for those already known, I'd have cast the old wardrobe lady from "The Muppet Show" (I can't remember her name) as the Good Witch of the North, Miss Piggy as Glinda (on the premise that she insisted on playing the part) and Taminella, the witch from "Frog Prince," as the Wicked Witch of the West.
As in the movie that they did make, Scooter would have been the Guardian of the Gates and Sam the Eagle would have been the Soldier with the Green Whiskers, only he'd actually have the whiskers (or feathers, I guess...) I'd have appointed Gonzo to play Boq the Munchkin and Fozzie Bear to play the Wizard.
As for Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, I'd definitely have them played by human performers, though I've no solid idea who. Any offers?
Now, FINALLY getting to "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" which actually did get made, I found it on the whole enjoyable, but as has been the case with a lot of folks here, Pepe the Prawn as Toto got real old real fast. I like Pepe, but only in small doses.
The updating was a surprising touch given that the two previous Muppet literary ventures, "Christmas Carol" and "Treasure Island," were set in their proper historical eras (anachronisms notwithstanding). Certainly a teenaged Dorothy working at her aunt and uncle's cafeteria is as plausible as a 24 year-old schoolteacher Dorothy, as seen in the movie version of "The Wiz." But just like that movie, the all-too-modern Land of Oz was a bit jarring.
It wouldn't have mattered so much, only Miss Piggy as Tattypoo did say that Oz wasn't civilized. So how does she explain the TV's and computers and such? Having said that, the Wizard's use of holograms and VR was a clever modern twist on his old sideshow trickery.
Ashanti was delightful as Dorothy, and despite the um... outfit she got at the Emerald City (which was a parallel with the dress the literary Dorothy got), she always maintained that air of wide-eyed innocence which is essential to the character. The way she interacted with the Muppets was wholly natural, and she was a good solid rooting interest.
Kermit, Gonzo, and Fozzie did do a good job in their roles, I have to admit, and Kermit especially. The ingratiating personality given him by Jim Henson and so wonderfully maintained by Steve Whitmire suits the strawman-- er, strawfrog perfectly. Gonzo and Fozzie appeared as the Tin Man and the Lion respectively in a Muppet special saluting the movies some years back, so they seemed comfortable in the parts.
Then there's Miss Piggy as the Four Witches, and differentiating their personalities remarkably well. And though most folks here seem to hail her WWW, I liked her best as Tattypoo.
I was pleased to see how much of the book did get adapted, and delighted with the addition of bits that the general public probably wasn't aware of, like the SILVER shoes, the Kalidahs, and the various guises of the Wizard (even though the scriptwriter did mix them up unnecessarily). I also thought the amalgamating of the Munchkins with the Field Mice-- er, Rats was innovative.
The movie could have done with at least two more songs; there was a disappointing dearth in the singing department, especially since this was a Muppet production. I also thought that, even though it was true to the book, the scene of the Scarecrow being ripped apart and the Tin Thing being demolished was too intense for the very little viewers.
Will I buy the DVD? I think so; there's certainly more I liked about it than didn't. But I do long for the day when someone (maybe Hallmark) finally delivers that definitive, faithful adaptation of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."
Until then, there's plenty of good "Oz" out there, and the Muppets' version can definitely be included among it.
Fantastic Four (2005)
Bigger? Definitely! Better? Not necessarily.
By now, most have heard of, if not seen, the original unreleased Fantastic Four movie which was made in order to keep the film rights until a "proper" movie could be made on a bigger budget.
Twelve years on, it's been made at last, and the FF have finally become a familiar name to non-comics fans, and the movie made it to number one in the nation! However, the general consensus among comics fans seems to be, "It's good, but..."
Speaking for myself, I do like this movie, and I genuinely hope there will be a sequel, maybe with even more screen time for Stan "The Man" Lee as Willie Lumpkin. But I have a warmer feeling for that first film, which I feel got so many things right that the second movie just didn't.
I'll only illustrate my two biggest gripes, the rest being pretty minor:
1) The costume worn by Julian McMahon as Norman Osborn-- sorry, I mean Victor Von Doom. I've tried to get behind the hooded trenchcoat look, but I just can't; though I will own that my opinion of said garment improved when I saw the very ritzy red lining.
In the first FF film, Doom, as played by Joseph Culp, wore the traditional-- and much more impressive-- armor and cloak.
2) I didn't like what they did with Alicia Masters. This has nothing to do with Kerry Washington, who plays her, being black (although that would sorta ruin her stepfather the Puppet Master's scheme to have her infiltrate the FF by disguising her as Susan!). It has to do with them making her into a hippy-dippy, "goddess"-worshipping flower child with that most un-Alicia-like trait-- an "edge."
As portrayed in the comics, Alicia is the softness that counters Ben Grimm's roughness, and this was brought out much better by Kat Green in the original movie. Granted, I do think that Miss Washington is the better actress; on the other hand, Miss Green played "blind" more convincingly.
Another thing I've observed is that while the costume worn by Michael Chiklis is obviously more sophisticated in its construction than the one Carl Ciarfalio wore in the first film, Mr. Ciarfalio's nonetheless had a more impressive design.
Overall, the new movie is a good, solid superhero flick, and a whole lot of fun to watch; the showdown between the FF and Doom especially is the stuff that legends are made of.
The main problem lies in the script, particularly in the drastic alteration in the origin of Doctor Doom (mind you, his going along on the space trip with the others does make for an intriguing "what if?"). Also, what the original "Fantastic Four" had which the new movie lacks-- or at least doesn't seem to have as much of-- is an obvious and genuine affection for the source material.
Here are my assessments of the two casts:
REED RICHARDS/MISTER FANTASTIC
Alex Hyde-White > Ioan Gruffudd
Both were great at playing the stalwart scientist, but Mr. Hyde-White was more authoritative, as Reed usually comes off in the comics. Mind you, Mr. Gruffudd deserves major props for delivering a convincing American accent-- no mean feat for a Welshman, I'm told!
SUSAN STORM/THE INVISIBLE WOMAN
Rebecca Staab = Jessica Alba
Frankly, I can't decide. Both did an able job portraying Sue's passion, strength of character, and desire to keep the family together. Miss Staab mainly played Susan's tender side, while Miss Alba played her with more steel, but both were very effective. And Miss Staab looks like Sue Storm.
BEN GRIMM/THE THING
Michael Bailey Smith/Carl Ciafalio < Michael Chiklis
Again, rock-solid performances on both sides, but Mr. Chiklis was a bit more affecting in the way he presented the angst visited upon Ma Grimm's Number One Son. Mind you, as the human-looking Ben Grimm, Mr. Bailey Smith did have one thing that the comics Ben has which Mr. Chiklis didn't: hair.
JOHNNY STORM/THE HUMAN TORCH
Jay Underwood > Chris Evans
Both played insufferable jerks-- which works, because that's what Johnny tends to be-- but Mr. Underwood had a bit more of the youthful exuberance which marks the character, and played a wider range of emotions, diving headfirst into each one. It also helped to have a Human Torch who did not tower over the Thing. As for Mr. Evans, he eventually showed that his version of Johnny gave a toss about anything but himself, but it took a long time.
VICTOR VON DOOM/DOCTOR DOOM
Joseph Culp > Julian McMahon
Some have criticized Mr. Culp's deliberately over-the-top performance, but to me it was total and utter DOOM; look at the King of Latveria in any comic and you'll know what I mean. Mr. McMahon needed to get his teeth into it more; also, his American accent was a little off-putting.
Kat Green > Kerry Washington
See above comments.
Here's what I think should happen: twelve years from now, someone will make a third Fantastic Four movie. Third time being the charm, this one will have the heart and soul of the first and the production values and dynamism of the second.
THEN they'll have something!
Lots of fun!
Okay, so the SFX make "Blake's 7" look like "Revenge of the Sith"-- so what? I say that as long as you can tell what's going on, the special effects have done their job. As someone raised on the works of Sid and Marty Krofft, not to mention being an old school "Doctor Who" fan, I know better than to condemn an entire show just because one aspect of it is not as brilliant as it could perhaps be with a bigger budget.
"Photon" was well-written, cleverly produced (with wonderfully imaginative costume designs), and expertly performed; the only awkward bit in the latter regard being that the show was produced in Japan, and although the mainly Occidental performers were obviously speaking English, their voices were overdubbed for release in the States. I've always wondered why.
In any case, the "Photon" series was great fun to watch and I know I'm not the only person who thinks it's high time that it gets released to home video.
(I feel it important to point out about this IMDb entry that it's wearing the wrong video box cover; the one they've shown is from an entirely unrelated anime series.)
Bishôjo Senshi Sailor Moon (2003)
Better than the anime
First let me say that I am a great fan of the anime; in fact, my wife and I have been re-watching it recently. But somehow depicting characters in three dimensions makes them more "real" to the viewers.
Everyone in the show is perfectly cast, even if the characters are not portrayed in ways that newcomers who have only seen the anime might expect!
Usagi Tsukino is much the same, actually, except that she doesn't cry at the drop of a hat. She whines and gripes, but she only really turns on the waterworks when there's a good reason to. Miyuu Sawai, who plays her, does an excellent job of portraying the many moods of Usagi/Sailor Moon, the sweetness and naiveté of Princess Serenity, and the coldness of the porcelain-faced Princess Sailor Moon, an uncomfortable and ultra-powerful amalgamation of Serenity and Sailor Moon.
Contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere, Chisaki Hama is the perfect Ami Mizuno/Sailor Mercury; quiet, shy, insecure, but full of love and compassion, and, once transformed into her Sailor self, bold and confident in battle. Miss Hama also is quite chilling in the story arc which shows Mercury being turned into an agent of evil. Her former sweet smile becomes a frightening leer, and it's quite a relief when she is brought back from the "dark side."
Keiko Kitagawa is the toughest, sternest, most pouty-lipped Rei Hino/Sailor Mars ever seen, and where the Reis of the manga and the anime had a burning ambition to be a pop idol, their live-action counterpart claims vehemently that she even hates karaoke. An amusing love-hate relationship grows up between her and Minako when Mina hoodwinks Rei into becoming-- a pop idol!
Mew Azama IS Makoto Kino/Sailor Jupiter. Of all the girls, she is undoubtedly the best cast. She's tall, built, brown-haired, and pretty. Her character underwent very few changes from the original version; she's strong, loyal, and brave, and also has a very soft, feminine side. It's hilarious when she's revealed to be just as ga-ga over getting to meet Minako as Usagi is-- mind you, she's a little cooler about it.
The person most different from her anime/manga depiction is Minako Aino/Sailor V/Sailor Venus, portrayed by Ayaka Komatsu, who, with her big round eyes, tiny mouth, and slim frame looks just like an anime character brought to life. In the manga and the anime, Minako can be serene and wise, but most often she's a happy, laughing, carefree klutz who can even surpass Usagi in ditziness. In the live-action series, she's a dead serious character who smiles very infrequently, and until very much later in the series, she stands apart from the other Sailors.
Of course, the fact that she has a fatal illness in this version of the story would make her a very different person. A little of the sillier Minako shows through, however, when she plays the occasional joke on her cat guardian Artemis and when she and the other girls take part in a wacky game show which finishes up with them hitting each other with padded clubs and finally falling into a laughing heap of arms, legs, and smiling faces.
The only shortcomings this show has are some of the sillier monster costumes and the seemingly limited availability of locations; certain areas of Tokyo, one office building in particular, crop up a lot as battle sites.
But overall, it's well-produced, brilliantly acted, and tugs very effectively at the heartstrings, the most heartbreaking episode being the one in which Minako finally succumbs to her illness and dies. But of course, in the Sailor Moon-iverse, no good person ever stays dead.
In summation, I believe that "Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon" is one of the best examples of a live-action superhero show ever made.