New Line Cinema has locked in Watchmen‘s Nicole Kassell to direct a new adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. Following its release in 1900, L. Frank Baum‘s beloved children’s novel has served as the foundation for numerous movies (both live-action and animated), TV shows, and theatrical productions. As far as English-language adaptations are concerned, it’s been several years since Sam Raimi‘s ill-fated 2013 prequel Oz the Great and Powerful debuted, which may have cooled the public on the fantasy property following its release. However, to this day, MGM‘s 1939 adaptation starring Judy Garland is still the gold standard for Wizard of Oz adaptations and likely the one that will be looming over Kassell and New Line as they move forward on this project.
Deadline exclusively broke the new Kassell would be directing a new adaptation of Baum‘s story for New Line. Previous script drafts were penned by Darren Lemke (Gemini Man) as well as screenwriting duo Neil Widener and Gavin James (who are also set to work on the script for San Andreas 2). Deadline reports Kassell won New Line‘s seal of approval primarily through her work on HBO‘s Watchmen limited series, where she was a major creative force and was integral in shaping the look and feel of the series. Of course, Kassell is a seasoned director whose most recent credit just happens to be one of the most popular TV shows of 2020. Previously, Kassell directed the 2004 movie The Woodsman as well as episodes of TV shows we love, including Westworld, Vinyl, The Killing, The Leftovers, and Better Call Saul.
Kassell released a statement (also via Deadline) expressing her excitement about her new gig:
“I am incredibly honored to join Temple Hill and New Line in bringing this beloved classic to the screen. While the 1939 musical is part of my DNA, I am exhilarated and humbled by the responsibility of re-imagining such a legendary tale. The opportunity to examine the original themes — the quest for courage, love, wisdom, and home — feels more timely and urgent than ever. These are profoundly iconic shoes to fill, and I am eager to dance alongside these heroes of my childhood as we pave a newly-minted yellow brick road!”
It’s important to note that reports state Kassell will be directing a “re-imagining” of The Wizard of Oz. The term “re-imagining” implies Kassell‘s version will not attempt to remake MGM‘s adaptation; rather, it will draw directly from Baum‘s book. (So, blessedly, it seems we may be spared a Return to Oz repeat.) Variety notes in their report that New Line promises this will be a new take that could draw from the Garland movie, but nothing seems to be set in stone at this time. In fact, because Kassell‘s Wizard of Oz movie is set up at a studio whose parent company (Warner Bros.) owns the rights to the 1939 movie, there is lots of room for Kassell‘s version to weave in ties to that movie — a luxury other adaptations don’t have.
We’ll keep you posted as Kassell‘s adaptation of The Wizard of Oz develops.