Oz the Great and Powerful

Review No. 448

Same wizard, same Oz, better visuals, new generation.

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Directed by: Sam Raimi
Screenplay by: David Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell Kapner
Based on: the “Oz” series by L. Frank Baum
Oscar “Oz” Diggs: James Franco
Theodora: Mila Kunis
Evanora: Rachel Weisz
Glinda, the Good Witch of the South: Michelle Williams
Annie: Michelle Williams
Finley the Flying Monkey (voice): Zach Braff
Master Tinkerer: Bill Cobbs
China Girl (voice): Joey King
Also Starring: Abigail Spencer, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Tim Holmes

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures on March 8, 2013. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 130 mins. Rated PG by the MPAA–scary moments, infrequent violence, infrequent/mild language.

Oz the Great and Powerful was watched on March 8, 2013.

“There’s no place like home; there’s no place like home; there’s no place like home…” –Dorothy Gail (Judy Garland) in The Wizard of Oz

It’s not really fitting to say that Oz the Great and Powerful is a useless prequel to 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum wrote fourteen “Oz” books between 1900 and 1919, and since then, countless others have expanded the universe dramatically. By this point, it’s surprising we haven’t had a direct Wizard of Oz lead-in already.

Sam Raimi’s movie, in fact, does what every prequel sets up to do: tell a story that gives more detail about the characters. The problem is, the Wizard of Oz is only a mentioned name until the last ten minutes of Victor Fleming’s 1939 classic. He enjoys a brief onscreen appearance, leading to an ending that is spoiled within the first three minutes of Oz the Great and Powerful.

We’re talking about a horse of a different color. Not just a prequel, but something of a quasi-remake feel. Oz is, as well, an update for children who cannot possibly sit through a melodrama like the one it precedes. It takes that story, imagines the Wizard in Dorothy’s place, removes any subtlety in the entire message (“be yourself and stay faithful to your friends”), and unknowingly adds frivolous humor left and right. If you ask me, it’s a pretty lazy attempt at screenwriting. I guarantee, however, that your little cousin would strongly beg to differ.

Oz makes passing nods to the timeless work from which it uproots. Oscar Diggs, known by his illusionist stage name “Oz the Great and Powerful,” is blown away in a tornado to a land he never would have dreamed of. There are three witches among the land–one good, the other two wicked. One of the wicked witches must be destroyed in order for the arrogant, egocentric Oz to be appointed king, and to prove that he has been sent to save the Emerald City. But when Oz left Kansas, he was known only as a conman. When that’s all the respect he has for himself, how is he going to earn the trust of an entire nation?

What saves Oz is the visuals. I wouldn’t recommend watching the movie. If I simply can’t convince you and you’re dying to see it in theaters, I’d suggest going for the most Oztentatious approach. The film is incredible in 3-D. Sometimes it can make a show of itself and it’s difficult to care. The film opens in black and white (an homage to the initial work, which commenced in sepia tone) in a 4:3 aspect ratio. When Oz reaches the Utopia, there is a stunning burst of color and a slow shift to standard widescreen.

I would call this sort of eye candy mind-blowing, but nothing else about Oz the Great and Powerful even comes close. All right, James Franco was sturdy in the title role. And the ending was acceptable. Mila Kunis isn’t half bad during the first half, though I’d rather not mention any offenses she threw at L. Frank Baum’s land after her transformation into the maniacal, green-faced witch.

My main problem, near the ending, was that I was beginning to fidget in my seat like a young child. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz too many times and thus found this prequel predictable, or that the film was just poorly written. It’s easy to say that neither is a tolerable result.

C PLUS

TOMORROW, ON CINEMANIAC REVIEWS…

My Left Foot

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8 thoughts on “Oz the Great and Powerful

  1. I liked it well enough. The spectacle was impressive and the script respects the original at least. But yeah this wasn’t particularly innovative. I have to give it credit though. Audiences LOVED this. Biggest hit of the year with over $200M and counting!

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