MOTW: Oz: Still as Magical as Ever

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A prequel to L. Frank Baum's novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" and the 1939 film adaptation, this 2013 3D fantasy adventure follows Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, as he's whisked away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz. At first he thinks he's hit the jackpot-fame and fortune are his for the taking.
Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures
March 6th, 2013

MOTW: Oz: Still as Magical as Ever

The imaginative world of Oz originally shaped by author L. Frank Baum comes to vivid life in the new movie "Oz the Great and Powerful," a prequel to the 1939's "The Wizard of Oz." When moviemaker Sam Raimi decided to craft a sequel to one of the most well-known fairytale movies of all time, he had some pretty big ruby slippers to fill, but he didn't shy away from the challenge. Tapping industry veterans like Robert Stromberg of "Avatar," Raimi has brought the incredible world of Oz off of the page and into lush reality on the big screen with a set design that will likely set the new bar for fantasy movies in the coming years.

Fans of the 1939 film will recognize familiar elements such as the iridescent bubbles that convey the characters around the Land of Oz as well as an emphasis on brightly colored gardens. Using an organic palette of vibrant waterfalls, mountains, and the signature emerald green of the Oz legends, Stromberg and his team have sculpted an incredible fairytale paradise for the film's characters to explore, accentuating their journeys and eventually becoming a part of the story itself. As issues like rocky cliffs rise to challenge the powers of James Franco's turn as the titular would-be wizard, he managed to envelop the audience's field of view by swirling clouds and swaying greenery. This immersive approach allows moviegoers to feel as if they too are taking the plunge into the unknown to prove their faith.

A new part of Oz is also unveiled in tantalizing glimpses in a trailer, the camera pulling back to reveal a ruined city created entirely of teapots and china. The wizard is shown escorting and protecting a pretty young girl made entirely of china in later sequences, hinting at the origins of this exciting, new character.

While computer-assisted design was obviously a part of creating the movie, impressive attention was paid to important details. The infamous yellow brick road, for example, was created of actual bricks instead of pixels, ensuring that this important fantasy landmark held the proper weight on screen. The seamless interaction between CGI and living costars emphasizes the care that went into marrying technology and cinematic skill with this film-the result is a beautiful homage to the feel of both the previous movie and the book series that inspired it.

The characters of "Oz the Great and Powerful" have also received a sensational treatment at the hands of Gary Jones and his team of costume and makeup designers. Jones admits that the team began fleshing out the characters with the trio of witches that the story revolves around. Michelle Williams' Glinda is clad in a gold-and-white gown, complete with angelic sprays of white feathers across the shoulders, golden glittering sleeves, and a crystal-topped wand. Her fellow witch Evanora (Rachel Weisz) takes a hint from the darker end of the spectrum, clad in black netted lace and peacock feathers that evoke a distinct 1920's feel, complete with a large square emerald brooch resting at her throat.

The third witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis), is perhaps the most memorable of all, donned in a rich red felt duster and a matching curved-brim hat that, along with her eerily grinning flying sidekick, squarely casts her as something otherworldly. While Franco's wizard may seem to be upstaged by these distinctly clad ladies, he manages to cut quite a fashionable swath on his own in a stylized top hat and coat that blurs the line between formal and fantasy.

Rather than designing costumes and makeup for faceless extras and simply applying them to the men and women who ended up being selected, the costume and makeup department considered each individual as a special canvas beforehand. The overall look of each living background character was created to work with the actor portraying it, not vice-versa. Touches like wild hairstyles, over-the-top facial hair, and eye-catching costumes transport ordinary extras into a living, breathing part of the scenery. The result is a visual harmony that conveys a true sense of their belongingness in the Land of Oz, further supporting the immersive quality of the story.

"Oz the Great and Powerful" stands poised to live up to its bold title at the box office, serving up an incredible world of fantastic visions and lovingly crafted heroes and villains. Paired with a sweeping score from award-winning composer Danny Elfman, this trip back in time following the incomparable wizard of Oz and his rise to fame may just be the most exciting family film of 2013.