Craig's Movie Breakdown: Oz the Great and Powerful
on 2013-03-05 17:01
Lets go back to a time when the Lollipop Guild was still in diapers, and the Wicked Witch of the West and Good Witch of the North were both still kinda hot. Oz is a place that continues to get younger from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (the first book in a series of 14 dealing with Oz) and the movie it inspired, whether you’re talking about the two college-age witches learning to find themselves in the Broadway musical “Wicked” or in director Sam Raimi’s prequel “Oz, the Great and Powerful”, which is reportedly now the most expensive film ever made.
Raimi, best known for horror films like the “Evil Dead” franchise and “Drag Me to Hell” as well as the “Spider-Man” trilogy, is also going younger here. This is his first Disney film, something that brings to mind Tim Burton’s jump from the dark side into more generic/family-friendly territory with “Alice in Wonderland”. “Oz” was written by David Lindsay-Abaire, who’s written a lot of kid-friendly stuff like “Robots”, “Inkheart”, and last years “Rise of the Guardians”, and Mitchell Kapner, who wrote idiot-friendly Bruce Willis-Mathew Perry comedies “The Whole Nine Yards” and its sequel “The Whole Ten Yards”.
James Franco plays Oscar Diggs, a flim-flam magician intent on becoming a great one, but who now must settle for working small-time Kansas City carnivals. One of his tricks gets him into trouble one day, forcing him to climb into a hot air balloon for escape only to be blown right into a tornado that whisks him away to Oz. There he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), who proclaims him to be the wizard that some prophecy foretold would banish the wicked witch for good and save the land. Little does she know that her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) is the wicked witch or that men can be fakers when it comes to love, making her never want to feel the love she has for Oscar ever again. Meanwhile, Oscar is joining forces with Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams) to help save the people of Oz.
Remember when fairy tales used to fill you with wonder? Now it’s all sameness. Snow White, Alice, Jack from “Jack and the Beanstalk, and now Oz have all become “Expendables” for oppressed fairy tale villagers. Yes “Oz” at least follows cobbled together bits from Baum’s books and a big chunk of it seems lifted right from “Wizard of Oz” itself but that just makes it an even bigger surprise how enormously dull it feels.
As a throw-back to the 1939 film, Raimi begins by shooting the Kansas scenes in black and white, which in the age of 3-D and vibrant colors (both on display in this film) seems more like a blandness knock against Kansas. Anyway, we switch over to a rich array of colors once Oscar hits Oz, a place with beautiful flowers, enchanted creatures, bubbles that can take you anywhere you want to go, and the glistening Emerald City. No one is going to tell you this movie doesn’t look good, but it’s the way it’s used that’s the problem.
Raimi gets to show off his penchant for freaky creatures and general spookiness in one dark forest scene but the rest feels oddly lax, like a bunch of serene pictures that just sit there, much like Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror” last year. Not only that but there are times when characters are walking in front of an obvious green screen, we only get brief glimpses of the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys, and two of Oscars traveling companions on his quest to destroy the wicked witch, both a monkey and a little China doll, were obviously effects created cause they look cute but are a far cry from a scarecrow, lion, and tin man.
And speaking of story, here is the biggest problem. Oscar, as played by James Franco, is a bore. Sure he’s a pretender who needs to learn what kind of power pretending holds, and there is some funny stuff early on where Oscar’s motto seems to be fake-it-til-u-make-it, but Franco comes off as a bland choice for a role that could have been much better played by a quirkier and more inspiring actor. And Oscar’s journey is uneventful and obvious, a wait-for-the-epiphany-in-the-third-act type of thing. Williams looks equally bored, forced to say most of the many generic lines in the film like “Anything is possible when we believe”. Weisz actually commits the most here in her role as the evil Evanora but Kunis is in over her head as the Wicked Witch of the West, the once good witch turned bad (and green). Her transition from good to bad feels rushed and she looks and sounds like a child trying to win first place in a school Halloween costume contest. But probably the most depressing showing here comes from Bruce Campbell, a staple of many of Raimi’s films, who gets bopped on the head a couple of times and then done away with.
There are some cool optical tricks (if the ending could get even a few kids interested in researching the movie projector inventions of Thomas Edison then its not a total loss) and the witches do battle by expelling dangerous lightning from their hands, as witches and wizards are prone to do and kids seem to eat up. And the film does make for a pretty picture, though for one that costs reportedly 325 million to make, it’s a bit sad that you can’t get some imagination for that kind of money.