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Review: Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz the Great and Powerful

Rating

Director
Sam Raimi
Screenplay
Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire (Based on "Oz" novels by L. Frank Baum)
Length
130 min.
Starring
James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox
MPAA Rating
PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language

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Review
What child doesn't have fond memories growing up with Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow? Never content to let a classic lie, the next-worst thing to remaking a film is making a pseudo-prequel. Oz the Great and Powerful proves that commercialism doesn't care what greats it diminishes as long as it makes a quick buck.

Starring Oscar hosting flop James Franco as Oz, the man who would one day be "behind the curtain" in The Wizard of Oz, is a parlor magician and shyster traveling with a circus in Kansas when a freak twister carries him away to a colorful land of dangerous plants and witches whose goodness or badness is variable. The first woman he meets is a beautiful, large-eyed witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) who falls for Oz hard because of the lies he can't seem to keep from telling. Within minutes, he discovers that a prophecy dictates that a great and powerful wizard will arrive in the land of Oz (coincidentally matching his name) who will rescue them all from the dangers of the Wicked Witch, whose directional association doesn't become clear until later in the film.

Theodora's sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) tells Oz of a dangerous witch whose power radiates from a mystical wand and by destroying that trinket, she will die and the prophecy will be fulfilled, along with the promise of a huge treasury destined for the eventual ruler of Oz. Along his journeys, he befriends a talking, flying monkey (Zach Braff); a broken china doll (Joey King) and eventually discovers the existence of Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams) who reveals the truth of the battle between good and evil.

Sam Raimi hasn't delved too heavily into the fantasy genre as a director (on TV, he produced the Hercules and Xena series), the Spider-Man trilogy and the Evil Dead films don't really qualify. Yet, other than Spider-Man 2, I have yet to catch a good film that he directed (as a point of information, I have not seen A Simple Plan, which is said to behis best directorial effort). Oz is not a great film. It's not even an entertaining one. So intent on abusing the 3D medium and creating an over-the-top, kid-friendly film, Raimi has managed to deconstruct and haphazardly reconstruct the mythos of the land of Oz. Victor Fleming's original adaptation may have been largely altered from the L. Frank Baum original, but the magical qualities of that Judy Garland starrer create expectations that would be impossible to live up to.

The color palette is over-exposed, almost garish. His photographic choices are broad, battering and unfocused. The story has potential, but is squandared by being overly sentimental and blandly accessible. Recent big budget successes have proven that you don't need to be mind-numbingly simplistic to make a movie that audiences love. There are some almost brilliant moments, but they are simplified to a point of banality.

Apart from 127 Hours and Milk, I haven't been terribly impressed with Franco. He's a talented actor, but he seems more interested in banking cash than creating a lasting legacy. Kunis has the same troubles. In Black Swan, anyone disappointed by her big screen outings would have been hard pressed not to admire what she does under Aronofsky's tutelage. And before she starts eating scenery after being spurned by Oz, Kunis was an affable presence.

Williams and Weisz, on the other hand, have little excuse for the performances they give. Both are talented actors, the former being one of the best and brightest young thespians working in cinema today. Neither amounts to much in the film, which is severely disappointing for anyone who expected them to bring their gravitas to the roles. Instead, we're fed ham-fisted dialogue, lame emotive line readings and a lack of passionate concern for their characters. We expect talented actors to take money-making roles so they can continue working on their more substantitive roles, but even then they should still be making a little effort. Raimi either doesn't know what to do with them or wants them to be so painfully rudimentary that he undermines the greatness that could have been achieved by making a more subversive or pensive film.

Oz the Great and Powerful will likely be too intense for small children and older children might not be that entertained by the way the film talks down to them. Adults shouldn't be entertained by the film, but Michael Bay makes a mint for the same work, so I'm not at all surprised by the film's successes, though I am disappointed by just how unambitious the whole project ended up being.
Oscar Prospects
Probables: Production Design, Visual Effects
Potentials: Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Unlikelies: Original Score
Review Written
April 15, 2013

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