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Thursday, May 31, 2018

THE STEAM ENGINES OF OZ -- Blu-ray/DVD Review by Porfle

THE STEAM ENGINES OF OZ (Cinedigm, 2018) is one of those dystopian Oz tales in which L. Frank Baum's wonderful fairytale land has gone to pot and needs someone to restore the magic.

And much like writer-director Sean Patrick O'Reilly's HOWARD LOVECRAFT AND THE FROZEN KINGDOM, it's also one of those modestly-rendered digital cartoons that will probably look decidedly low-tech to someone who's more used to lush, polished Disney and Pixar product.  (Although, ironically, it would've looked amazingly cutting-edge back in the "dawn of CGI" days of the 80s.)

As such, the character/background design and execution are of uneven quality throughout, with the underground and city sequences looking the best and the forest/battle scenes often having a somewhat unfinished look.  Not surprisingly, the film's steampunk angle is one of its most appealing elements.

The story begins in the vast subterranean world beneath the Emerald City, where a plucky young "Mary Sue" type named Victoria, whose job it is to help keep the city's massive steam engines running, is chosen by good witch Locasta and her flying monkeys to help defeat the city's tyrannical ruler and restore order to Oz.

Surprisingly, this dreaded tyrant is none other than the Tin Man, who rules with an iron fist (so to speak) in his quest to abolish magic and spread his steam-engine technology throughout the land to the detriment of the environment (giving the story an ecological slant).

A flashback in black-and-white motion-comic form--one of the film's best-looking sequences--explains Tin Man's motives (he's doing it all for love) but that doesn't lessen the image of him as a snarling metal monster (more of a sinister, hulking Doctor Doom than the benevolent little tin fellow we're used to) trying his best to chop the good-guy characters to pieces with his massive axe during the big battle sequence that occurs about halfway through the story. 

The film doesn't hold back on such imagery, portraying Tin Man's armies as goose-stepping fascists wielding lethal weapons (indeed, in one scene a likable main character is melodramatically shot to death with a lightning-bolt rifle).

Leading up to all of this, Victoria emerges "topside" for the first time in her life so that she can escape the Emerald City and seek out the help of the Munchkins as well as that of the fabled Wizard of Oz (here voiced by none other than William Shatner). 

Accompanied by her friends Mr. Digg and a comical Munchkin named Gromit, whom she freed from their dungeon cells as "honored guests" of the Tin Man, Victoria enlists the aid of Magnus, son of the Cowardly Lion, and the rest of his pack in what will eventually lead to the aforementioned battle with Tin Man's forces as THE STEAM ENGINES OF OZ becomes a bonafide war movie.

During all this we'll recognize obvious callbacks to various other action movies such as THE MATRIX, 300, and KILL BILL.  At one point, one of the Munchkin leaders exhorts his troops with the phrase, "Let's go, Munchspendables!"

Later, Victoria and company return to the Emerald City, entering Tin Man's dreaded steam engine chamber in search of the imprisoned Scarecrow and resuming the film's "quest" theme, which will eventually be resolved in a "love conquers all" ending.

I'm not sure how little kids will respond to THE STEAM ENGINES OF OZ, since it seems aimed mainly at those who read the graphic novel and/or prefer their Oz stories with a hefty dose of adult grit and grime.  I spent most of its running time reacting to it rather than actually enjoying it, my assessment varying as wildly as the gauges on one of Tin Man's smoldering steam engines. 

Ron Perlman ("Sons of Anarchy," Hellboy)
William Shatner ("Star Trek," Miss Congeniality)
Julianne Hough ("Dancing with the Stars," Footloose)

Format: BD+DVD / Digital (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu and more)
SRP: BD+DVD:$19.97
Running Time: 75 mins.
Genre: Animation/Family
Audio: Dolby 5.1
Aspect Ratio: 16x9 (1.78:1)

Subtitles: English
Extras: none
Street Date: June 5, 2018


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