It’s Oz but not as we know it – ★★★½
Everybody just calm down a god damn minute and stop getting your wands in a twist. This is not a remake of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, it is a prequel and a very fine one at that. Director Sam Raimi respects the universe created by Victor Fleming and gives it his own flourishes and subtle nuances.
When The Wizard of Oz came out back in ’39 it was lauded for its use of special effects and technicolor, so it is without question that if it was made today it would certainly incorporate all the tricks and gadgets available. It comes as no surprise that Oz is available in 3D IMAX and this is how we here at Spooool recommend you see it, where possible. The film is incredibly beautiful and makes full use of 3D and the visual effects at its disposal. As with the original, it transitions from black and white to colour and the manner in which this happens is truly breathtaking. The world explodes in a rainbow (steady) of colour and life. On par with James Cameron’s Avatar, Oz shows how when used correctly and not as a cheap gimmick, 3D can be enjoyable and truly enhance the movie-going experience.
Set in the familiar world of Kansas, Oz is a travelling magician/conman played by James Franco who dreams of greatness and longs to escape his current set of circumstances. He is a reincarnation of Bruce Campbell from Raimi’s Evil Dead movies – a coward, concerned only for himself and plays it pretty fast and loose with the ladies. Franco plays the part well and as both he and Raimi have worked on three previous films, Spiderman I II and III, it’s clear to see they feel comfortable and trusting of one another. When a tornado hits the sleepy plains of Kansas, Oz is transported in his hot air balloon to the magical land of Oz. Believed to be the land’s saviour come to rid them of the Wicked Witch, he must decide who to trust and what type of man he really is.
The three witches he encounters are Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams). Kunis and Weisz are good in their respective roles but at times Kunis devolves into merely shouting and screaming and you can’t help but picture her as Kelso’s nagging girlfriend from That 70’s Show. Williams is by far the best and has a difficult job in making Glinda interesting and relatable while not coming off too sickly sweet. It’s great to see Zach Braff back on our screens with a small acting role as Frank the unappreciated assistant to Oz and with a major voice role as Finley a flying monkey and unappreciated assistant to Oz. Joey King also does a fantastic job bringing life to China Girl, a character whose whole family have been destroyed by the evil flying baboons.
Raimi has done a fantastic job threading the whole fantastical world together. Taking traits from the ’39 original such as characters appearing in both worlds and transitioning from different colours we can see his love of the world which Baum wrote about and Fleming directed. He still manages to pepper it with his traits of horror, humour and slapstick. The piece is very funny, full of sarcasm, physical humour and brilliant one liners. He’s taken his vast experience of the horror genre and put it to good use with the flying monkeys being particularly scary. The way in which the China Girl character is portrayed also has you questioning her ethics and carries a tiny Chucky vibe at times.
Some shortcomings are that unfortunately due to the large amount of special effects a few scenes look quite fake and cartoonish and calls to mind both Alice in Wonderland and the recent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Some will see the dialogue as hokey or too Disney but try to imagine yourself as watching this in the 40’s and the wholesome good-natured message won’t seem so saccharine. A great addition to the cannon of Oz material, Oz the Great and Powerful is a magical adventure story with a truly great commander at the helm in the form of Sam Raimi.
USA / Directed By: Chan-wook Park / Written By: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire / Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Zach Braff / 130min / Adventure, Fantasy / Release: 8 March 2013 (Ireland, UK, USA, Canada)