OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
***1/2 (out of 5)
March 8, 2013
James Franco as OZ
Mila Kunis as THEODORA
Rachel Weisz as EVANORA
Michelle Williams as GLINDA
Zach Braff as FINLEY
Directed by: Sam Raimi
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Over the years, Disney has wrestled with the control of the Oz series, losing the chance to make the film “The Wizard of Oz” back in 1939. That was okay because it resulted in one of the greatest films ever made.
In the ensuing decades, Disney managed to get its hands on the other books in the series, producing various versions of the mythology, including television specials as well as “Return to Oz” in the 80s. (By the way, if you haven’t seen “Return to Oz,” make a point to do so. It’s an amazing film that has been mostly forgotten, but it delivers a fantastic vision of the original L. Frank Baum books.)
Now, Disney has taken a huge leap forward and spearheaded the sort-of prequel to the 1939 classic film with “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
In some ways, the story behind this film is as interesting as the film itself. Since Warner Bros. owns the rights to “The Wizard of Oz,” there was a complicated tap dance that had to take place in order for this new film to be inspired by the books but not serve as a direct prequel to the 1939 film. Fans of Oz history will notice stronger ties to the book (e.g., Glinda is the Witch of the South, as opposed to the North) as well as elements that never made it into the MGM production (like the original creatures that would have been the Horse of a Different Color in a background pasture).
Considering how fantastic the world and characters are in Baum’s Oz books, this is the perfect time to make a movie like this. Modern digital effects and production design can create a world of wonder that was only hinted at with the technology of 1939.
Sam Raimi was also a perfect choice for director. He has always been a fiercely visual filmmaker, and with the gimmicky (yet very appropriate) use of 3D, “Oz the Great and Powerful” takes full advantage of the medium.
The film itself stars James Franco as a Midwestern sideshow magician named Oscar (or, as he bills himself, “Oz) who is swept away in a Kansas tornado, transporting him to the magical land of Oz. There, he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a beautiful witch who informs Oz of a prophecy that he would one day come to liberate the land. Oz also meets Theodora’s conniving sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), whose wicked ways threaten the whole countryside. Oz agrees to help them defeat Glinda (Michelle Williams) before realizing he has been manipulated by the politics of the day.
It’s no surprise that “Oz the Great and Powerful” isn’t as good as the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.” I don’t think anyone expected it to be, and frankly, part of what makes that film so special was how groundbreaking it was at the time.
However, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is still a good film, perfect for family viewing and relateable to fans of the book and the movie. Like Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (which I rather enjoyed, at odds with many other critics), “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a pretty unique film. It’s beautiful to watch, and it takes full advantage of the modern filmmaking technology to present a visual spectacle.
The film is not without its flaws. The lead characters are somewhat simplified, with Oz’s main motivations being money and getting it on with at least two of the three witches. Sure, the character is a cad, but it’s laid on a bit thick at times. Also, the money-shot reveals of the witches aren’t as powerful as I expected.
However, I still quite enjoyed “Oz the Great and Powerful,” and I look forward to seeing more from the land of Oz if this film is as successful as Disney is hoping it will be.