Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful photo starrating-3stars.jpgOscar Diggs, a magician/con man, leaves Kansas in a hot air balloon, gets sucked into a cyclone and winds up in the Land of Oz. Here he encounters various personalities, including Evanora who promises all the wealth of the king if he kills the Wicked Witch by destroying her wand, the source of her power. This sends our fearless hero on an odyssey where he meets a couple of characters who join him. The action is all well and good, but the plot merely apes the events of the Victor Fleming version with less inspired results.

L. Frank Baum’s introductory novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is also the basis for this unofficial prequel. However the 1939 landmark film feels more like the real inspiration than that book. Director Sam Raimi was legally prohibited from replicating certain elements (i.e. ruby slippers) but he clearly references the 1939 classic with deferential respect. Raimi goes from black and white to color to highlight the transition to Oz and simulates the same environment in many scenes incorporating Munchkinland, the yellow brick road, and The Emerald City. The Winkie guards, flying monkeys and The Scarecrow are also among the many allusions. These are welcome touches, but the duplicated story is where the similarities become more problematic.

Ultimately Oz The Great and Powerful suffers in comparison. The human people here lack that same mythic sense of wonder. When Mila Kunis as Theodora first arrives, her modern ensemble appears like she time traveled back from 2013. Her floppy wide brimmed hat looks like something J.Lo would wear. Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch is pretty but bland. She lacks the otherworldly charm (and distinctive voice) that Billie Burke had when she played the part. Rachel Weisz fares better as Evanora but only because we never really knew her in The Wizard of Oz. As Oscar the con man, James Franco relies on the actor’s insincere demeanor to play the role.  His trademark smirk is more than adequate, but less than enchanting. He certainly disappointed me in one scene. There’s a moment where Munchkins start to sing and dance in a lively musical number that got my feet a-tapping. Just as it was hitting its stride, Oscar puts his hand up and tells them to stop.

Oz the Great and Powerful has its moments. Visually it is a delight. The set design is first class with color and special effects combining in attractive displays. The film was shot in 3D, but I hardly think it demands to be seen in that format. It doesn’t contribute much to the already impressive spectacle. The frame is packed with gorgeous visuals that incorporate magical plants and bizarre creatures. A little porcelain China doll is a fragile creature that walks and talks with a cracked, reflective body. These demonstrations incite our fascination. The ending is particularly engaging too. The wizard’s impressive appearance to the people recalls his physical manifestation in the classic work. Oscar’s resourcefulness genuinely gets our emotions. Too bad you must wait to the end to see it. We’re constantly reminded with hints of the infinitely superior original. For most the production, the script simply isn’t unique enough. The narrative rings hollow although the smoke and mirrors just might be enough to entertain.

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32 Responses to “Oz the Great and Powerful”

  1. “Her floppy wide brimmed hat looks like something J.Lo would wear.”

    ^ Haha!

    It sounds like a solid rental than going out of my way to see it. To be honest, I was never that excited to watch it. I find James Franco OK but I think his (sometimes limited) acting style is more suitable in smaller movies. I do want to see the magical plants (do they have teeth?) and bizarre creatures.

    • Oh yes. When they first meet up with Finley, a winged Capuchin monkey, he’s tangled up in a mass of man eating plants.

      It is a decent rental, but since the special effects are the main selling point, I’d say this would play better in a theater on a big screen.

  2. Nice write-up. I am kind of at a loss for what to say about this one. I’m on one hand considerably let-down by Franco’s performance and the really awkward pseudo-contemporary dialogue from time-to-time, but on the other, maybe this was the only way this new direction could have gone without practically making a carbon copy (as you said, Raimi was prohibited from borrowing from the original 100%). Some parts really worked well, others went disastrously for me.

    • James Franco is James Franco. He can only play that guy. Some times it works (127 Hours, Pineapple Express). Most of the time it doesn’t. Yes the contemporary dialogue as well as the clothes I mentioned in my review, were an issue for me. When one of the witches turns into her evil self, I was taken aback by how much cleavage was shown. Definitely not your classic Oz.

  3. Good review Mark. I really liked this movie, but I didn’t fall in love with it like I did with the original. I’ll admit that it drags in the middle, but somehow revived itself at the end with a fun, explosion-filled spectacle that brought me back to the wonderful world of Oz.

  4. Wordschat Says:

    The plot merely apes the events…. stopping monkeying around Mark; that line is better than the movie dialog Lol. We’re on the same page here.

  5. I enjoyed it more than you Mark, it definitely did show a “deferential respect” to the original, and I appreciated that. You’re right that the script isn’t anything spectacular, but I think that revisiting the classic land of Oz, plus the gorgeous visuals, plus the all the fun characters made it a worthwhile watch!

    • I gave it 3 stars because this obviously had a love for the 1939 movie I appreciated that too You couldn’t possibly duplicate the magic of the original, so I would’ve expected a story that offered a new concept. This didn’t, and why it fell short for me.

  6. Great review! I liked parts of it but all in all they played the things a bit too safe, it’s clear Raimi couldn’t really be himself and had to put in all those sweet and family friendly moments.

  7. As someone who’s not a fan of the original, I have to say I had a lot of fun with this one.

  8. I wanted to love this movie, but just liked it. It had great characters, but the story was disappointing. I will say, the ending was awesome and the 3-d was spectacular. Over-all 3 1/2 stars.

    • I liked the visuals but the 3D didn’t add value for me. To be honest, I wish the format would just go away. I don’t enjoy paying $15 to see a movie.

  9. Disappointing to hear it’s meh, but not entirely surprising. Although I love Sam Raimi I didn’t care for his Spiderman movies and worried I would feel similarly about this one. Your review seems to echo others that I’ve read. Raimi does great with the visuals, however the characters don’t give you much to latch onto emotionally. In some cases I’ve read it’s the writing and in others the performances of the actors. I think I would have much preferred the original choice for the wizard, RDJ, over Franco. A lot of the times I see Franco he doesn’t bring much personality to his performance. I see so few movies in 3D that actually demand the format. If I paid to see most of my films I wouldn’t bother spending the extra dough. I might go check this movie out over the weekend and I will probably opt for the 2D presentation if available.

    • If you didn’t care for Raimi’s Spiderman movies, then I’d dock one star from my review. Those were significantly better than this IMO. Didn’t know that Robert Downey Jr. was the original choice to play the wizard. At least he’s closer to the right age for that character. I would have preferred Jude Law in the role, but hey, that’s just me.

  10. I wonder how people who haven’t seen the original (i.e. me) would feel about this one as I have nothing to compare it to.

    I’m not fond of Franco’s casting from the start. “…relies on the actor’s insincere demeanor to play the role.” Ahah yeah, he’s got that smug look on his face that’s off-putting.

    • Ruth I look forward to hearing your impression, are you gonna watch them in reverse order of release?

    • That’s an interesting question to ponder. Not having seen the original will probably improve your enjoyment. Although personally I tried to view this film on its own terms. I mean how can you compare a film to one of the greatest ever made?

  11. Mark, I think you liked this just a bit better than I did. While I enjoyed parts of the film, especially the opening sequences and the Oz reveal at the end, the middle was very uneven. I did like Kunis in her leather pants 😉

    • Ha ha. Yes the wardrobe was definitely creative.

      I agree with you about the opening sequences, the ending and the uneven middle. But I found it just entertaining enough to give the film a pass.

  12. Fair review. My friends and I had a great time at this–that is until the lady in front of us shut us up. We were whispering all throughout the movie because none of us really were enjoying it. I think I liked it the most of them actually, and I’ll be giving it a C-plus!

    I think the one true standout here was the visuals. Did you see it in 3-D?

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