Taking on a movie as beloved as “The Wizard of Oz” is a daunting task. The iconic Judy Garland film is considered a classic and many of the songs from the film have remained part of our culture since it was released in 1939. Despite several book sequels, the attempts to continue the series have had little success as there have been animated films as well as an urban remake, “The Wiz”, which also failed to reach the success of the original. Director Sam Raimi opted to do an original prequel story that tells of how the fabled Wizard of Oz came to be.
Oz (James Franco), is a small-time magician toiling away in small circus in Kansas in 1905. Life on the road has allowed him to be a womanizer and an egomaniac who dreams of greatness. When his actions catch up with him, Oz is forced to flee and takes refuge from an angry mob in a hot air balloon. An unexpected storm funnel grabs the balloon, and whisks Oz to a dazzling and colorful world filled with all manner of strange creatures and wonders.
Upon his arrival, Oz is greeted by Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes that Oz is the great wizard that legend has said will arrive to save the land and rule the people in a kind and just way. It is revealed that the land is under siege from a wicked witch, and a prophecy indicates a great wizard will arrive with the same name as the land, and will save the day.
Naturally Oz does not believe this but is more than willing to charm Theodora and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and plot to get his hands on the abundant gold that will come with his appointment as the great wizard. Oz learns that in order to take the throne, he has to defeat another witch (Michelle Williams), and sets off on a journey to the Dark Forest with his flying monkey companion Finley (Zach Braff). Along the journey, Oz learns first hand of the horrors the witch has unleashed on the unsuspecting and learns that his selfish behavior has serious consequences not just for himself, but for innocent people as well. This leads to some serious soul-searching and a confrontation that will force Oz to become the man that many believe he is, less they all perish.
The film has some great visuals as Raimi wisely shot the movie in 3D and mixed CGI with some very impressive sets. It is clear that much of the film is shot against a CGI backdrop but the visual wonder of the film is something to behold. The biggest issues I had with the film were that it was slow-paced and did drag in several parts. Franco does his best to play up the seedier side of Oz, but makes some very odd facial expressions throughout the film that seem very forced and out of place for the film and the situations he finds himself in. Kunis and Weisz make excellent witches and their backstory is a very interesting and an integral part of Dorothy’s adventures in the original film. Williams does well with her role but never seems to develop the needed chemistry with Franco. I was also surprised that the film was very light on musical numbers as there was only a hint of one that was quickly halted by Franco. “Oz: The Great and Powerful” is a visually enjoyable film that sets the stage well for the original film and Raimi is to be praised for taking on such sacred material and providing a new chapter for the modern generation. While it is not likely to be considered a classic like the original film, it is still a worthy chapter in the series which will provide good nostalgic entertainment for fans new and old alike.
3.5 stars out of 5.
Second Review by Joseph K Saulnier
Good; not great. Those were my thoughts immediately after seeing Oz, the Great and Powerful; those are still my thoughts as I write this.
Oz was shot in 3D, and they did a great job of not going too overboard with rubbing it in your face about it being 3D. This is a drawback to most 3D movies released these days, and it’s nice to see that it’s starting to fade out. The visuals in Oz were absolutely amazing. They did a great job presenting on screen the concepts that Frank L. Baum put into writing oh so many years ago. I didn’t see anything ground breaking, but what was in the film was done very well.
I thought the supporting cast did an amazing job as well. In Oz fashion, many of them had parts before and after the Wizard’s trip to Oz. Michelle Williams brought new scope to the character once made famous by Billie Burke, showing the tougher side of the ever-regal Glinda the Good Witch of the South. Joey King shows good range both as an actress and a voice talent. Bill Cobbs and Tony Cox also provide a good balance to the group of… Oz-ites? Oz-ians? Anyway, the scene-stealer throughout the movie was Zach Braff. Who did distracted you from James Franco’s sub-par performance as Frank, Oz’s assistant in Kansas, and Finley, a flying monkey who owes Oz a life-debt shortly after his arrival in this foreign land. On the other side of the good vs. evil fight was Rachel Weisz, who played Evanora (The Wicked Witch of the East) perfectly.
While the supporting cast was excellent, I felt that Disney dropped the ball with the casting of our major players. I was impressed with James Franco’s performance in 127 Hours, and really was looking forward to seeing him in this film. During the whole movie, it felt like Franco thought he was acting in one of the raunchy comedies he has become so well known for. He wasn’t horrible, but I just don’t think he was the best choice for the part.
I could say almost same for Mila Kunis as Theodora, aka The Wicked Witch of the West. Now I say “almost” because I feel like there were moments in the movie where she played the part well. But for the most part she over acted almost the entire performance. Add to that the makeup job after she made her transformation from Theodora to the Wicked Witch was sub-par. I’ve seen better makeup job’s on SyFy’s Faceoff.
All that said, I did enjoy the movie; albeit I was a little disappointed that it was not a musical as the original was (some would argue that The Wizard of Oz was not a musical, but I say any movie with 4 or more songs sung by the cast who are not part of a band is a musical). I felt that the movie had a good presentation, with a good storyline that was based on Baum’s world. Living up to The Wizard of Oz is a daunting task, and while Disney hit it out of the park with story and visual representation, it left me wandering how much better it could have been with better casting choices.
The big question I hear after I watch movies these days is: “Should I see it in theaters?” Just for the visuals alone, and the supporting cast carrying the movie on their backs, I would say yes. That said, I would still give the movie 3.5 out 5 stars.