From Walt Disney Studios and the director of the Spider-Man Trilogy comes Oz the Great and Powerful, the story of how a side show magician became the Wizard of Oz starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams. Does this prequel have the imagination and wonderment of the original or should audiences just ignore the man behind the curtain?
In 1905 Kansas, Oscar Diggs, or “Oz” as his friends call him, is a side show magician. He travels from one Midwestern town to another with a carnival of circus acts and attractions. He has two weaknesses in life, money and the ladies. He’s known to take a young naive farmer’s daughter that has hopes of stardom in his wagon to fall for his dubious intentions. Unfortunately Oz’s reputation follows him from city to city. One person who is not too happy with Oz is the show’s strong man. He’s found out that his girlfriend was having an affair with him and he’s on the tear to rip Oz’s head off. Oz gets word from his assistant and immediately packs his bag, grabs his top hat, and jumps into a hot air balloon to make a daring escape. But freedom is bittersweet, because a major storm has hit the country side and Oz finds himself in the middle of a Kansas twister.
The storm clears and Oz now finds himself in a wondrous world of strange and bizarre plants and creatures. His balloon deflates and he lands in a small body of water. At the banks of the water he meets Theodora, a beautiful woman in a red hat and outfit. Confused about his new surroundings, he asks her what this strange place is. She informs him he is in the Land of Oz. When Oz introduces himself, she is astonished. She tells him of a prophecy of a great wizard to fall from the sky bearing the world’s name to rescue it’s people from a terrible wicked witch. Oz tries to tell the woman the truth, but before he can, Theodora tells him whomever kills the witch will become the King of Emerald City to rule the land and obtain the kingdom’s vast golden treasure. Being a slave to his vices, Oz accepts the challenge. With the help of a flying valet monkey and a china doll, can Oz keep up the masquerade or will the good people find out what kind of man he really is before he can uncover the truth about the witches of Oz?
The Wizard of Oz will always be a classic in American cinema and even though it’s a musical, you don’t have to be a “friend of Dorothy” to appreciate all that the movie accomplished in both acting and technological achievements. The movie is so loved and revered it was the basis of over 125 films including Michael Jackson easing on down the road in The Wiz and Kermit and the Muppets having an adventure in the merry land of Oz themselves. There have been books, festivals and a Broadway musical all set within the mythical setting of Oz because there has always been a demand. So for Hollywood, it was inevitable that a film like Oz the Great and Powerful would be made. Many studios contemplated remaking the 1939 classic, but instead it took Disney to make a prequel and tell the story of exactly how a side show magician became the wonderful wiz he is.
The movie is a perfect homage to the original. It begins in black and white with a 4:3 picture ratio. The music and dialog is in mono. Everything is subdued. The story takes place on sets in a sound stage. The opening twenty minutes to introduce Oscar Diggs brings the audience back to 1905 Kansas. Thus the adventure of the man called “Oz” begins. Once James Franco emerges in Oz, it’s the same as when Dorothy opens the door to her crashed house in Munchkin Land. Color starts to saturate the big screen. Music and sound FX start hitting complete digital surround sound. But the biggest transformation is that the projected ration is now in wide screen and fills the audience’s viewing area. The whole transition from Kansas to Oz was really cool.
What makes Oz the Great and Power really cool to watch is that it was all put together by some amazing Hollywood filmmakers. Director Sam Raimi took a lot of attention to detail to all of the mythology of Oz that was created by L. Frank Baum and brought them together. There are hints to the original as well as major plot points from the Broadway Musical, Wicked. There are also a ton of sight and 3D gags that are really Raimiesque. The musical score was written by my favorite composer, Danny Elfman. The make up effects were done by Greg Nicotero who currently does the zombie effects and directs AMC’s The Walking Dead. The production design were created by by Robert Stromberg who won two “Best Achievement in Art Direction” Oscars for Alice in Wonderland and Avatar. Together all these men created a magical world that L. Frank Baum imagined. For all the Raimi nerds out there, be on the look out for the Bruce Campbell cameo.
To play the role of Oscar Diggs/Oz fell upon the shoulders of James Franco. I wasn’t entirely sold on his performance. I guess I still have him mentally typecast as a stoner from Pineapple Express, but I think that’s what the film intended. Oz needed to be goofy. Oz needed to be unsure of himself, yet still hide that fact with illusion and misdirection. Oz needed to be a con man, who once he was needed to didn’t need to show greatness, but rather goodness. To prepare for the role, Franco trained with popular Las Vegas magician, Lance Burton, which you could tell in the character’s showmanship. I liked Franco in the role, but I didn’t absolutely love his performance.
Just like the original, many cast members have complimentary duel roles within the settings of Kansas and Oz. Zach Braff plays both the magician’s assistant, Frank and the flying monkey turned valet with a life debt, Finley. Joey King plays a crippled girl who is upset that Oz can’t make her walk and is the voice behind the China Girl whose legs were broken during a flying baboon attack to her village. The two sets of characters mold and shape the man Oz becomes in the same way the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion help Dorothy.
But it wouldn’t be a tale of Oz if it didn’t have witches and Oz the Great and Powerful has three, the same three from the original. Playing Theodora is Mila Kunis, the good witch with a temper. She is desperately lonely that she makes the terrible assumption that Oz will make her his Queen and they will live happily ever after. For fans of Wicked, this is the character that most represents the homage to the musical. Theodora is so angry that Oz rejected her, she not only mentally, but physically metamorphosizes into the Wicked Witch of the West. This is the one major flaw I found with the movie because this part of the story totally dragged down the second act. Plus I really hate when women are depicted as being that desperate for a mans attention, they let things like jealousy and anger control them. While I wasn’t a fan of this part of the story, I can appreciate the literal metaphor the movie was trying to convey. The other thing I really didn’t like about the depiction of the Wicked Witch of the West, was that she was still pretty and quite sexual. They didn’t ugly up Kunis that much and her wardrobe was not that far off from the sexy costumes women wear for modern Halloween parties. I really wasn’t expecting the Wicked Witch to be wearing a corset that emphasized her heaving bosoms.
Portraying, Theodora’s even more wickedly sister is Rachael Weisz as the seductively beautiful Evanora. She is the mastermind of the diabolical plan to enslave the people of Oz and rule the land with her army of guardsmen and flying baboons at her command. I really liked her character. When you think of Oz as a con man, Evanora is more. She has gained control of the Emerald City under the ruse of being the adviser to the former King and will stop at nothing to maintain that control.
The final witch is Glinda the Good portrayed by Michelle Williams. Out of all the actors and characters, Williams was my favorite of all. She has a certain grace, kindness and presence about her that was needed to make Glinda come to life on the big screen. She becomes Oz’s moral compass. She doesn’t give Oz any answers, she instead leaves him the trail of bread crumbs to figure it out on his own.
Oz the Great and Powerful is offered in 2D, 3D, RealD 3D, and IMAX 3D. My screener was in RealD 3D and I have to say that it is a must to view the movie in this form. Being a Sam Raimi movie, there are a ton of sight gags that take amazing advantage of the 3D technology. So many times objects fly on screen and in your face. The sequence with Oz in the hot air balloon puts you in a first person perspective and feels like you are in a ride at Disney World. I don’t say this for a lot of films, but OTGAP is a must see in 3D, if you don’t you are going to miss out on the vision the filmmakers intended.
My family had a great time with the movie, however there are some really intense sequences with the Dark Forrest and with the flying baboons jumping out of the screen that younger audiences may find really scary. My seven year old told me a few times she was scared. I personally loved how the movie started and how it came to a close in the finale. I loved the introductions to different villages and people of Oz. I loved how the film hinted to the creations of the tin man and scarecrow and why the lion became cowardly. The major flaw I had with the movie as I stated before was the second act and the transformation of the Wicked Witch. I thought the pacing dragged and I was bored. I also still wasn’t sold on Franco’s performance and question if he was the best person to cast for the role. But critiques aside, The movie is visually stunning, amazing in 3D, and does an excellent job taking theater goers back to the Land of Oz. If you are a fan of the movies, books and musicals, you’ll love the movie. I highly recommend checking out the film in theaters, because a television will not at all do the movie justice in projecting the awe inspiring scenes. If you are looking for a great family film this weekend, be sure to check out Oz the Great and Powerful.
In Theaters: March 8, 2013
Runtime: 127 min
Rating: PG (for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language)
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox
Genre: Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Official Site: http://disney.go.com/thewizard/