Nonstop Movies: ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’

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No one can say director Sam Raimi is afraid to take on a challenge. After creating a brand new universe for one of the most popular comic book characters with his “Spider-Man” trilogy, he now offers his interpretation of one of the most beloved films of all time, “The Wizard of Oz.” “Oz the Great and Powerful” is not a remake, however, but a prequel to the 1939 classic. The normal reaction to re-imagining such an iconic film would normally induce cries of sacrilege and claims of eradicating happy childhood memories, but with Raimi’s vision of Oz, one can only wonder what took so long?

The film starts by introducing Oscar (James Franco), Oz for short, a small-time con man in a traveling circus who only looks out for himself and relies on cheap tricks to get by. Always looking for more, he yearns to be great, rather than just good. After encountering a tornado while fleeing an angry victim of one of his tricks, he lands in the colorful world of Oz. He immediately meets three beautiful witches (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams), who believe he’s the great wizard who had been prophesied to save their land from the Wicked Witch of the West. Seduced by the power and wealth of becoming the kingdom’s leader, Oz plays along with the prophecy, despite knowing he isn’t the savior they were expecting.

The story isn’t original; we’ve seen countless films about heroes prophesied to be “the one,” where the hero knows he’s a fraud, yet continues the charade until things get serious, then goes through self doubt until realizing if he really believes in himself, he could become “the one.”

Despite the predictable plot, the earnest performances and stunning visuals will win you over. Franco, who’s worked with Raimi in all three Spider-Man films, is charming as the great wizard Oz, making you believe he can make everything better with a wink and a smile. There were some dramatic moments where he could have displayed more depth and gravitas, but I found his performance to be very charismatic overall. Williams is also excellent as Glinda, exuding wholesomeness and goodness throughout her performance. Weisz curiously is the only actor to speak in a British accent in all of Oz, but is still effective in her role as Evanora. Kunis is actually the weak point of the cast, as her transformation over the course of the film doesn’t feel real. The two sidekicks Oz picks up along his journey, a flying monkey named Finley and a tiny China doll, provide comic relief.

The eye-popping visual effects are also amazing. The film starts in black and white and cropped to a 1:33:1 ratio during the early scenes in Kansas, but then converts to a colorfully radiant 2:35:1 ratio while in the land of Oz. The change is like switching from an old square CRT TV with rabbit ears antenna to a HD flat-screen LED picture. Once you’re in Oz, you’re surrounded by brilliant colors and special effects, complete with Raimi’s trademark touches. Raimi is definitely one of the more original visual directors working today, and he allows himself to go wild when directing the set pieces in Oz. The 3D is also very effective, which is a rarity. This is one of the few films where I’d definitely recommend paying a few bucks more for the glasses. The 3D is so good that in one scene, I sincerely thought I was going to get stabbed through the chest with a spear.

Raimi says “The Wizard of Oz” is his favorite film of all time, and his reverence for the characters and their stories is indeed evident. His imagination in bringing the characters to life in the modern age, while also staying true to their roots, has resulted in a fun, visually stunning film. After already helming two film franchises with “Evil Dead” and “Spider-Man,” Raimi seems more than ready to continue on a third.

“Oz the Great and Powerful,” 130 minutes, is Rated PG and opens in theaters on Friday.

 

7 comments
WillL
WillL

Oz reminded me of why I loved LOST so much.  It was someone like Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof or Sam Raimi, taking a basic story and twisting it with imagination, mythology and allusions.  The flash backwards and the black and white movie feel of the old Flash Gordon movie, which provided a lot of cool and mysterious nostalgia.  I also liked Franco's performance because he played it like a real person with real flaws, and someone who did not take himself too seriously (whether in character or as an actor playing the character).  I felt like we were "behind the curtain" the whole time.  One more parallel with LOST is that Jacob seemed to always be behind the curtain, or at least invisible in his chair, as hardly anyone knew who he was or what he looked like.  

MyongChoi
MyongChoi

 @WillL Haha, always bringing it back to LOST. By the way, you should've read my review before seeing the film then you would've known to watch it in 3D! ^_^

WillL
WillL

 @MyongChoi Check this out from LOSTpedia, re: an ep. in Season 3 called, "The Man Behind the Curtain" (referring to Ben):

 

Wizard of Oz: The episode title is a reference to the 1939 filmThe Wizard of Oz, where the ruler of the Emerald City hides behind a curtain. The Wizard of Oz: "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." (Literary works)Aunt Em: Ben's mother Emily shares the same first name with Dorothy's aunt in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy's last name wasGale, as was Ben's alias. (Literary works)

 

http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/The_Man_Behind_the_Curtain

WillL
WillL

@MyongChoi @WillL I actually see too many parallels for me to think that Raimi wasn't influenced by LOST.

Annoddah_Dave
Annoddah_Dave

MC:  This must be at least a large bag of popcorn!  The trailer visual FX are stunning...did you expect the witches to break out in song?  Or did you pass on "Wicked"?  Oscar material?

MyongChoi
MyongChoi

 @Annoddah_Dave There is actually a really short song and dance number in the film, but not by any of the witches. And I did see the play "Wicked" during its run here in Honolulu but wasn't all that impressed by it to be honest.

 

As for Oscar chances, probably only for Visual Effects for this film. But still, a fun time at the movies.