We're off to see the Wizard – but which one?

Dorothy set for modern makeover as three rival studios prepare new versions of the classic musical
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The Independent Culture

Seventy years after their first trip, film-goers are about to get several new opportunities to head off to see The Wizard. This time, they'll be watching through 3D glasses, the heroine may very well be a streetwise teenager, and her story seems unlikely to end happily ever after.

At least three major Hollywood studios intend to hit the Yellow Brick Road again, with rival projects that drag Judy Garland's frock-wearing country girl from Kansas into the modern era, and offer darker plot twists to a generation of movie fans weaned on the Twilight franchise.

Many of the mooted remakes of the children's classic, which was based on a novel by L. Frank Baum, have been classified as "in development" for several years, but the staggering success of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland has convinced studio bosses to move them off the back burner. Mr Burton's 3D re-working of Alice got mixed reviews, but nonetheless made more than $200m (£133m) on its opening weekend. That's more than Avatar, which also showcased 3D special effects, and following its launch before Christmas became the most lucrative film of all time.

Hoping to cash in on this trend, Warner Brothers announced this week it intends to green-light one of two rival Wizard of Oz projects currently being produced under its banner.

The first is a straightforward, non-musical adaptation, which remains faithful to the original novel. It is being developed by Temple Hill Entertainment, the production firm behind Twilight, and written by Darren Lemke, the screenwriter of Shrek Forever.

Since L. Frank Baum's book was published in 1900, film-makers are free to adapt it without having to worry about copyright claims, said Temple Hill's Wyck Godfrey. They hope to turn it into the first in a long-running franchise, with sequels based on the author's 21 other books about Oz. "The idea is that no one has done a faithful adaptation of the Frank Baum books, something that's more of a straight adventure story," he told yesterday's Los Angeles Times. "The MGM movie [the 1939 original] took the source material and made a classic musical."

The alternative being considered by Warner Brothers, which is searching for a lucrative series of films to replace its soon-to-finish Harry Potter franchise, is a darker, more modern follow-up to the original tale written by Josh Olson, who previously adapted David Cronenberg's A History of Violence.

According to a synopsis, that film, which is called Oz, will tell the tale of Dorothy's modern-day granddaughter, who returns to the Emerald City in order to fight the descendants of the baddies that her ancestor faced. It is aimed squarely at the teenage market.

Two other major studios are also pushing on with rival Wizard of Oz projects. Joe Roth, one of the producers of Alice, met with Disney last week to discuss a 3D prequel to the original film called Brick, which reveals how the Wizard, who like Dorothy comes from Kansas, originally arrived in Oz.

Meanwhile Universal is developing a film version of the hit musical Wicked, a spin-off of Baum's tale which is told from the perspective of the witches, and has been one of the most lucrative new shows on both Broadway and in the West End of the past decade.

There has been a previous Hollywood remake of The Wizard of Oz. In 1978, a disastrous version called The Wiz was released featuring an all-black cast, including Diana Ross, as Dorothy, and the late Michael Jackson, as the Scarecrow.

Who to play Dorothy? The contenders

*In the eyes of the public, the biggest question about any Wizard of Oz remake is which winsome actress will step into Judy Garland's sensible shoes. If the films were being made a couple of years ago, leading contenders would be America's favourite girls-next-door Anne Hathaway and Amy Adams. But by the time these titles make it into production, their days of playing teenagers will be long gone. The most obvious teenage names are Miley Cyrus, who boasts close ties to Disney and a strong following in the "tween" market, Dakota Fanning, and the Little Miss Sunshine star Abigail Breslin. They are already stars in their own right, though. And the recent trend for film-makers is to plump for a complete unknown.