Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: Oz the (Not So) Great and (Not Really) Powerful

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 18 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Running minutes: 130 minutes (2 hours, 10 minutes)
MPAA – PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language
WRITERS: Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire; from a screen story by Mitchell Kapner (based on the works of L. Frank Baum)
EDITOR: Bob Murawski
COMPOSER: Danny Elfman

FANTASY with elements of action, adventure, and comedy

Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox, Bruce Campbell, and Ted Raimi

Oz the Great and Powerful is a 2013 fantasy film from Walt Disney Pictures. Directed by Sam Raimi, this movie is based on the works of L. Frank Baum, especially Baum’s most famous book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was first published in 1900. Oz the Great and Powerful’s story takes place before the events depicted in the book, so the movie is kind of a prequel to the novel. The new movie focuses on a small-time magician who arrives in an enchanted land, where he reluctantly joins a fight to save the land from evil witches.

Oz the Great and Powerful (which I will sometimes refer to as “OGP”) is not officially connected to the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, which is also based on Baum’s original novel and was produced by MGM (and is now owned by Time-Warner). In terms of quality, Oz the Great and Powerful is half the movie the 1939 film is. OGP is not a bad movie; it is simply mediocre, corporate film-product that cannot hide weak characters and a poor story behind tens of millions of dollars worth of special effects.

Oz the Great and Powerful opens in 1905, where we meet Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco), a small-time magician, con artist, and womanizer. His activities lead him to make a desperate escape aboard a hot air balloon. The balloon, however, is sucked into a tornado, which takes Oscar to the mysterious and strange Land of Oz. The first resident of Oz he meets is the beautiful Theodora, the Wicked Witch of the West (Mila Kunis). Theodora tells Oscar that he is the prophesized wizard who will save Oz from the wicked Glinda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams).

They travel the yellow brick road to Emerald City, the capital of Oz. There, Oscar meets Theodora’s sister, Evanora, the Wicked Witch of the East (Rachel Weisz), who sends Oscar on a mission. Joined by Finley the Flying Monkey (voice of Zach Braff) and China Girl (voice Joey King), Oscar begins a journey that takes him to Munchkinland, where he must decide whether to be great or to be a good man.

In a perfect world, Oz the Great and Powerful would be judged on its own merits, but this is not a perfect world. This is an imperfect world that is made better by a great movie first released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz. In that film, Judy Garland is still a young thing and matte paints can make you believe in dark forests and emerald cities. Thus, OGP must match up with (or perhaps against) that classic 1939 film, and OGP doesn’t win that match up.

Oz the Great and Powerful has its inventive moments, but it lacks the imagination of the 1939 film. The new film is all special effects technical wizardry, but it doesn’t have the magic, the heart, or the folksy charm of 1939 film. There are a few moments in OGP that mimic the first film’s rustic flourishes, but everything else in OGP pales before a computer-generated onslaught of elements and effects. This is not heart; this is noise.

The last half hour of Oz the Great and Powerful (before the end credits) is actually quite good, but the other 90 minutes is equal parts hits and misses. The actors and their characters are also inconsistent. Who thought James Franco was right for this part? Franco is a good actor, but half the time, I found him unconvincing as Oscar Diggs. Michelle Williams’s performance as Glinda is way too sugary, a shame as she is actually a good actor.

OGP is really an odd little movie that was super-sized and thus, made too big by corporate studio demands. Still, I think fans of all-things-Oz, young and old, will find things to like about this movie (as I have), if not fall in love with the entire movie. The last act nearly makes up for the rest of the movie, but not quite. Oz the Great and Powerful is big rather than great and overpowering rather than powerful.

5 of 10

Monday, March 11, 2013

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