By Valentin Ewan
At first glance it seems safe to say that Sam Raimi’s recent film, “Oz the Great and Powerful” deserves some credit. In the creative wasteland of modern big budget Hollywood movies with its endless masses of remakes and reboots, it is nice to see something that isn’t just the Wizard of Oz with a fresher coat of paint. Though, perhaps, the only reason we got this different cinematic take on Oz was simply because Disney does not possess the rights to the original Wizard of Oz. Ironically, however, while “Oz” is not a remake it does not break much new ground and stays a little too close to the original film.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” stars James Franco who plays the titular character, Oscar Diggs, a small time carnie magician in Kansas who aspires to greatness. As we are introduced to Oz, Raimi pays great homage to the original film and classical films in general. The opening of the movie is done with a dearth of color, the aspect ratio and musical cues match the styles of movies from the 1930’s and even some of the acting and sets are hammed up in order to give the movie that classic Hollywood feel. The opening of the film is well done and a lot of fun as it is great to see things develop in this old Hollywood fashion.
It is not long, however, until colors bloom on the screen and the aspect ratio stretches to its normal width, as Oz is transported to the mystical land that shares his name. Upon arriving in this new land Oz is quickly thrust into a quest to save the land, fulfill a prophecy and line his pockets in more ways than one.
One of the greatest problems of the film is its relationship to 3D. It can be used to great effect to improve the cinematic experience of some movies, but more often than not it is jarringly foisted into films in order to sell more expensive 3D tickets upon release. “Oz” has a couple of scenes which add little to the narrative and actively break the flow of the movie only to justify and use 3D effects. I saw the movie in 2D so the pointlessness of these scenes was only made all the more apparent, as stuff simply flies at the screen and Franco’s performance and character are reduced to simple yelling and screaming. I don’t believe that movies should be theme park rides in the literal sense as some 3D movies try to make them.
Sisters Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Theodora (Mila Kunis), share a moment. It’s not what you think. Despite Game of Thrones’ rampant success and profitability, Disney is still slow to include any form of incest in their projects. I wonder why.
The plot of “Oz” starts off somewhat interesting, with some new characters and locations and old characters in very different and interesting roles. It is nice to see some of the familiar characters from the older movie get deeper characterization which they lacked in the original film. While there are no glaring problems with the plot of “Oz”, halfway through the movie, if not earlier, it becomes easily apparent exactly what will happen and how. It is unfortunate that this movie which had the chance to be almost wholly original, stays a little too close to some of the scenes and motifs of the “Wizard of Oz” and takes few risks. Oz and the other characters with their deeper and somewhat more realistic characterizations ultimately succumb to stereotypical roles and commonplace tropes. While risks are usually unlikely in expensive projects such as this, I believe that “Oz” could have benefited greatly from more risks taken in terms of characters and plot.
The acting in the film is a mixed bag. Franco has some goods scenes but is often forced into scenes where he can only smile or scream. Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. were at different times slated to play the role of Oscar Diggs, and while the two are great actors (two of my favorites) I do not believe that they would have necessarily made the film better. For a film trying to tell a different Oz story, especially a prequel, I think a younger and slightly lesser known actor fits better than Depp or Downey. Mila Kunis does not give the greatest performance while Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams give average ones, but in part, this might be because the script greatly restricts all of their characters later on in the film. Oz’s companions on the other hand, played by Zack Braff and Joey King perform their given roles rather well and are a lot of fun.
Fans of the original “Wizard of Oz” may likely see this film in a much harsher light, which is perfectly understandable, but it may not be fair to compare the two as they are almost two entirely different types of movies. “Oz the Great and Powerful” is not a terrible movie, but it is not a great and powerful one either. There are some nice scenes and laughs here and there to be had, so it is not an entirely mirthless experience. The film does, however, quickly become very predictable and sadly less magical by consequence. Hollywood needs to become more willing to take risks and break conventions. For all the majesty and awe that big budget movies can sometimes create, if they keep hitting the same notes for too long the power of that majesty and awe will fade and audiences will peek behind Hollywood’s curtain.