If it only had more brains
Neither great nor powerful, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is nonetheless a visually impressive if otherwise underwhelming prequel to the 1939 classic film which, predictably, casts an insurmountable shadow over the proceedings. Director Sam Raimi, who has helmed both cult favorites (“Army of Darkness”) and sterling blockbusters (the “Spider-Man” franchise) can’t overcome a dubious script.
But he still gives “Oz” terrific first and final acts, and insures the film doesn’t embarrass the iconic franchise. But, if anything, “Oz” further reaffirms “The Wizard of Oz’s” enduring legacy and the risk associated with any adaptation that trifles with L. Frank Baum’s 113-year-old source material.
When we meet Oscar Diggs (James Franco) he’s a con-man magician and member of Baum Brother’s traveling circus performing in Kansas in the early 1900s. When his womanizing gets him in trouble, he flees the scene via a hot air balloon that gets thrust into a mighty twister and winds up deposited into the land of Oz. These early scenes, like the original classic, transform from black and white to widescreen color and display Raimi’s technique at its best, with both the tumultuous tornado sequences and the stunningly vivid initial scenes of the resplendent, verdant Oz. These scenes provide some of the film’s most memorable moments.
Eventually, Oscar, now just Oz, must fulfill the prophecy and save the people of the Emerald City by killing the Wicked Witch. But which witch? The film presents three: Theodora (Mila Kunis), her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams). All three are beautiful and beguiling, and the three actresses are strong personas inasmuch as the script allows their story to dominate the film.
Unfortunately, this establishes a weak foundation for the film to build upon because as a supposed origin story, the script doesn’t provide enough backstory about the sisters, the reason for their rivalry, the nature of their powers, or their motivations other than the predictable desire for power.
On top of this, Oz’s philandering leads the film into a romantic subtext that feels awkward and irrelevant. On the plus side, two sidekick characters are introduced: Finley the flying monkey (Zach Braff), and a porcelain China doll (voiced by Joey King). Both offer some sweet diversions.
For his part, Franco (“127 Hours”) is a fine actor, but he seems to be lacking in the necessary winking charisma of his character—something Robert Downey Jr. (rumored to have been considered for the role) has in spades.
In truth, “Oz” should be compared not to the original film but to the much better executed prequel story contained in the stage musical “Wicked,” which not only fully developed the sister angle but contained terrific music – an element sorely lacking here. Credit Raimi however, for he was given stringent artistic limitations on what he could, and more importantly could NOT do, regarding any ties to the 1939 original.
Thus the odds were stacked against “Oz the Great and Powerful,” a film that has some moments but hardly seems momentous.
Rated PG: for sequences of action and scary images and brief mild language.
Agree or disagree? Email Bruce @ Madaboutmovies2@aol.com.