Review: Oz The Great and Powerful
PLOT: A small-time con-man (James Franco) who ekes out a living conning audiences at a travelling carnival, is swept off to the magical land of Oz after making a hasty getaway in a hot air balloon. He quickly fools people into thinking heís the great magician thatís been prophesized to replace their dead king. Before assuming his throne, he must first contend with the dead kingís three daughters, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Theodora (Mila Kunis), and Glinda (Michelle Williams).
REVIEW: Sam Raimiís WIZARD OF OZ prequel is big in just about every way a tent pole movie can be. Itís big-budget, with big effects, and big stars- but biggest of all is its ambition. MGMís THE WIZARD OF OZ has been an undisputed childhood classic for generations, but the saga doesnít end there. Author L. Frank Baum wrote seventeen OZ novels, and other than Disneyís 1985 flop RETURN TO OZ, and the stage play WICKED, itís a bit of a surprise that it took Hollywood this long to dive back into this immediately recognizable world.
Obviously this is meant to launch a new franchise, which is an area director Sam Raimi knows well, having launched the (classic) EVIL DEAD series, as well as the original SPIDER-MAN trilogy. How does Raimi fare with OZ? Well, I have to admit that overall, I found OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL to be underwhelming in a pretty big way. Anyone hoping Sam Raimi was going to put a little edge into the world of Oz is going to be sorely disappointed. This is strictly for the kiddies- despite the presence of James Franco and Mila Kunis, whose presence seems to promise a somewhat sexier movie.
Then again, the 1939 MGM film wasnít exactly sexy either, and itís been entertaining families for seventy-four years- so if it ainít broke... Fact is, kids may well love this, but being a thirty-one year old- without any kids, I have to look at it a certain way. The best family movies, such as the Pixar film, have universal appeal, and while OZ tries for the same thing, it doesnít really succeed. Raimi stages a couple of the goofier scenes, such as the Munchkin Land musical number (címon- you had to know thereíd be one) in a way thatís clearly winking at older audiences, but thatís one of the few concessions he makes. Otherwise, this is strictly PG territory.
Even still, I would have liked OZ had it delivered in a few key areas. Its biggest shortcoming, sadly- is the titular role, played by James Franco. Iím far from a Franco hater, and in the right role he can be amazing. But- the problem is that the role of Oz calls for a silver-tongued, ultra-charming con-man, and thatís just not Franco. They needed someone like Robert Downey Jr., or Johnny Depp, both of who are absolute masters at playing likable rogues. Franco is too naturalistic, and when he tries to go big and energetic, it feels forced. Franco is definitely trying- and no one can accuse him of phoning it in, but I found his character hard to care about.
The ladies fare a bit better. Michelle Williams is actually kind of great as Glinda the Good. She has the right ethereal look, and most importantly, she one of those rare actresses (like Amy Adams) that can truly radiate kindness. Maybe the film should have focused on her? Rachel Weisz, and the sexy- bad sister, chews the scenery, and gives off a nice, vampy vibe. As for Mila Kunis- to avoid heading into spoiler territory, all Iím going to say is that she starts off pretty well, but eventually feels really miscast.
One area that OZ definitely doesnít fail in is the visuals. In a nice touch, Raimi has the film open in pre-1953 Academy ratio- 1:33:1, and in black and white (why not sepia?) before, once Franco arrives in Oz, stretching to a magnificently colorful 2:35:1. The transition is really effective, but itís blunted by Raimiís decision to shoot the entire movie in 3D, rather than just the OZ sequences. If, in addition to the wide-screen, and color- the movie had suddenly shifted to 3D, the impact would have been amazing. Still, even as is, itís pretty impressive. The 3D is also pretty good, although if youíre cool on the format, it probably wonít change your opinion too much. I also liked Danny Eflmanís score, and itís nice to see him working with Sam Raimi again.
Pretty visuals aside, the main reason I didnít like OZ is the fact that I never, ever, felt myself emotionally invested in the story. I didnít care about Francoís character at all, and his evolution from con-man to hero feels under-cooked and predictable. The same goes for the Land of Oz itself, as other than Glinda, and the China Girl (a child made of china porcelain); you never really get to know or care about the people of Oz. Even Zach Braffís Tinker- the Flying Monkey, exists mostly for comic relief. Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaireís script feels like little more than a roadmap to the big action set pieces- which, to be honest, arenít that memorable.
In the end, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL just feels bland- but then again, I doubt the legions of kids that will no doubt flock to this will care much. Iím sure theyíll like it, but even then, I bet theyíd prefer the 1939 original- which, more than anything had heart- which is something that I feel canít be said for this big-budget reboot. Itíll still make hundreds of millions though.