Oz the Great and Powerful cost $325 million

CGI is expensive, yo.

Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful started screening this week in advance of its Friday opening, and Disney execs are hoping it does well, because according to a new report in the New York Times, it cost $325 million to make and market. That’s not the most expensive movie we’ve ever heard of (John Carter cost an estimated $350-$400 million to make and market, for instance), and $325m is barely half James Cameron’s budget for yacht prostitutes, but it’s still more than any normal human could possibly hope to fathom. To paraphrase Mike Birbiglia John Mulaney, an easier way to make money would be to just put $325 million of cash in a room and charge people to look at it.

No movie studio would have the nerve to remake “The Wizard of Oz,” the beloved 1939 musical ranked by the Library of Congress as the most-watched film in history. But “Oz the Great and Powerful,” a Disney-produced prequel, is nearly as intrepid. The company is betting that a new twist on a story moviegoers already love will result in a hit on par with “Alice in Wonderland,” which took in more than $1 billion in 2010.

Oh, were they trying to recreate Alice in Wonderland? Gee, I couldn’t tell.

It’s a breathtaking gamble. “Oz,” at turns goofy and dark (and not a musical), cost about $325 million to make and market, according to people who worked on the movie who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid conflict with Disney. Mr. Franco has never anchored a mainstream movie before.

Hmm, well Rise of the Planet of the Apes grossed $482 million worldwide and Franco was the lead in that, unless you count Andy Serkis in a spandex suit.

According to surveys that track advance interest, “Oz” could take in $80 million or more in North America in its first weekend, a huge debut. But movies this expensive need intense audience support; in the Twitter and Facebook age, films can fall off a cliff almost overnight if early attendees don’t like what they see.
Disney’s marketers have not been cowed by the huge shadow cast by the original “Oz” — indeed, their ads for the new film invite comparisons to the classic. But the popularity of the original may ultimately represent the studio’s biggest challenge. Is there room for a new cinematic vision of Oz, as Disney believes? Or will movie audiences (and critics) be reluctant to embrace an Oz that does not look a certain way, have a certain tone and feature a certain set of slippers?

Granted I don’t have kids and I hate kids and I never talk to kids, but I doubt kids are really concerned about whether the movie is faithful to a property that came out in 1939. Hitler hadn’t even invaded Poland then. But I do like the idea that Disney imagines a bunch of 8-year-olds with their arms folded across their chests like Comic Book Guy, sneering “This is totally out of synch with the Good Witch mythology.”

Like most movies of its size, “Oz” had production difficulties. Based on feedback from test audiences, Disney at the relative last minute had Mr. Raimi expand the presence of a talking, computer-generated monkey as a comedic buddy for the antihero wizard. [NYT via Yahoo]

“We were worried audiences might not accept this new twist on the classic Oz mythology, which is why we added more talking CGI monkey.”

Yep, sounds like Disney.