Title: Oz the Great and Powerful Movie Review
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Bill Cobbs, Zach Braff, Joey King, Tony Cox
For those that may not know their Wizard of Oz timeline, Oz the Great and Powerful takes place prior to “Dorothy’s” house crash landing via a tornado in the 1939 cinematic classic. And in some respects, it loosely, very loosely, actually, extremely loosely, touches upon a plot point found in the Broadway play, Wicked (whose storyline predates both).
One noticeable difference director Sam Raimi’s 130 minute spectacle-like vision executes is the exorcising of the singing. In fact, just one song is belted out and it was mainly done as a respectful nod to the source material, and, to poke a bit of fun. Whether or not that will annoy anyone these days is tough to predict, but one thing that did annoy this guy was the 3D. In some standard/straight-forward shots, it does look glorious and provides a decent scope for exploratory moments. And the kiddies will eat it up. However, when that camera is moving around, the backdrop is always blurry. It looks like a rambunctious kid finger-painting after slamming four Red Bulls.
Aside from that, the only other minor gripe is that the cast seemingly takes a scene off here-and-there.
James Franco is “Oz,” a carnival magician who travels around in a shanty carriage. Though conning his way through life, he does show signs of having some moral attributes. While wrapping up another show, and running away from an angry co-worker (Tim Holmes), he jumps in a hot-air balloon just as a tornado is plowing through the Kansas plains. And you guessed it…he magically gets transported to the Land of Oz.
Upon arriving in the colorful and vibrant landscape (or as yours truly likes to call it, a poor man’s Avatar), he crosses path with Theodora (Mila Kunis). She believes that an age-old prophecy is being fulfilled by Oz’s arrival; for it states that a great wizard will come and vanquish the land of the Wicked Witch. She takes him to the Emerald City where he receives a hero’s welcome, including from Theodora’s skeptical sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz). The two sisters – both witches by the way – alert him that in order to become the ruler of Oz, and have all of its riches bestowed upon him, he must travel to the Dark Forrest and destroy the evil witch’s wand.
Even though Oz keeps up the front as the grand savior, deep down inside he knows he cannot complete the task and live up to the hype. But after years of struggle, he cannot resist the lure of fame and fortune and nonchalantly takes on the dicey challenge.
When he comes face-to-face with the accused Wicked Witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams) things are not what they appear, and Oz begins to struggle with what direction he must take (Oh, the irony, with regards to select technical tactics).
If one is unfamiliar with the source material, and was able to avoid glancing at the cover of Entertainment Weekly (spoiling fools), the subtle twist does come off as clever storytelling. And a certain transformation was handled brilliantly whether one knows if it’s coming or not. Yeah it follows the pattern of its 74 year-old predecessor from the black and white homage opening, to Oz traveling around the yellow-brick road with unique, though computer-created, companions in a talking flying monkey (voiced by Zack Braff), and a gnome sized china doll (voiced beautifully by Joey King). Yet the playful interactions and a couple of tender sequences mesh fairly well with each other. And once the trio travels around to albeit familiar places, there’s still that sense of wonderment which will keep you engaged in the patchy journey. Plus, everything seen in this prequel does tie-in well with the aforementioned 1939 beloved classic’s mythology.
Overall, Oz the Great and Powerful plays out as a 21st century blend of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and 1986’s Three Amigos (its true). And that translates to: It’s not the smoothest brew of tradition and technology, but it’s an escapism ride worth taking.