Olson to write revisionist take on Baum books

Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures are teaming on “Oz,” a revisionist take on the L. Frank Baum books that hatched “The Wizard of Oz.”

Project was acquired based on an idea by Todd McFarlane that was fleshed out and pitched by Josh Olson (“A History of Violence”).

Olson will write and McFarlane will produce with Thunder Road’s Basil Iwanyk. Rick Benattar (“Shoot ’Em Up”) is exec producer.

Conversations with McFarlane and Olson make it clear that they are still working out the tone of the film. They have plenty to work with. WB has owned the rights to the original “The Wizard of Oz” since buying Ted Turner’s empire, whose assets included the film and other plum titles in the MGM library. There are also 15 novels in the Oz series written by Baum, most in the public domain.

McFarlane has a vision of Oz that is a dark, edgy and muscular PG-13, without a singing Munchkin in sight. That was clear with a toy line he launched several years ago that featured a buxom Dorothy and Toto reimagined as an oversized snarling warthog. Olson has something a little tamer, and PG, in mind.

“I saw those toys, and Dorothy as some bondage queen isn’t something I want to do,” Olson told Daily Variety. “The appealing thing about the Baum books to me is how wildly imaginative they are. There are crazy characters from amazing places. I want this to be ‘Harry Potter’ dark, not ‘Seven’ dark.”

Both McFarlane and Olson are on the same page when it comes to the promise of marrying the Baum story with benefits of visual effects advancements.

“My pitch was ‘How do we get people who went to ‘Lord of the Rings’ to embrace this?’ ” McFarlane said. “I want to create (an interpretation) that has a 2007 wow factor. You’ve still got Dorothy trapped in an odd place, but she’s much closer to the Ripley from ‘Alien’ than a helpless singing girl.”

Olson was keeping plot specifics to himself but said the film will be closer to a sequel than a remake.

“We still want to take advantage of the first film, which might be the most beloved of all time, and rely on its place in your cultural memory to bubble beneath the surface,” Olson said. “A lot of the plot is mine, but the characters are all Baum.”

McFarlane, a former Marvel Comics animator who created “Spawn,” is working on several producing projects, such as Paramount’s “The Torso,” which has David Fincher attached to direct. McFarlane is producing with Bill Mechanic and Don Murphy.

Olson is repped by WMA, McFarlane by ICM.

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