Friday, March 08, 2013

OZ: Not A Bomb But No Magical Masterpiece Either


Opening today at nearly every multiplex in the Triangle area:


OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL 
(Dir. Sam Raimi, 2013)


At one point in this movie, Sam Raimi’s lavish prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” when James Franco as the title character is making his way through the Land of Oz, I half expected him to run into a gang of Hobbits. These lush green 3D fantasy worlds can really look alike, you see.

Raimi is counting on familiarity here, with plot points matching the beats of the 1939 original (even has an extended black and white opening), but as keen on the details as he and his crew are, OZ feels like just another souped-up fairy tale update, interchangeable with the kind of projects Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have been doing for the last decade or so. 

It's a notch above, say, Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND, but not enough of a notch that makes it anything special. If it really was something special, it wouldn't be releasing at this time of year.

Franco certainly puts in an energetic performance as carnival magician con-artist Oscar Diggs, especially when he finds himself in a hot air balloon caught in a tornado. That's when he calls upon some 127 HOURS-ish method skills. Unfortunately the film's comic thread of Franco reacting to fantasical events with a modern day wiseacre delivery goes down as badly as it did in YOUR HIGHNESS.

On his journey on the Yellow Brick Road through the Dark Forest to Emerald City, Franco meets a cast of characters including some counter-parts to folks he knew back in black and white Kansas including Zack Braff as Finley the Flying Monkey (a CGI-ed monkey sidekick in a bellhop uniform, mind you), Michelle Williams as Glenda, Mina Kunis as Theodora (looking, at first, positively like a porcelain creation), China Girl (an actual porcelain creation via CGI voiced by Joey King) and Rachel Weisz as Evanora. 

The trio of beauties, Williams, Kunis and Weisz all become witches (one good, two bad), with Kunis getting transformed the most into the iconic green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West who screeches at the top of her lungs, and yes, gives us an ample sampling of that famous cackle. Kunis does her best, but still seems miscast, and the story-line of how she feels wronged by Franco isn't satisfyingly fleshed out.

The premise of a selfish scoundrel finding redemption by becoming what others believe in, in this case, the Munchkins, the tinkers, and the farmers of Oz thinking that Franco is their wizard savior from the reign of the Wicked Witches and using his trickery he becomes just that, is a well worn one that packs very little power in this all too conventional family friendly fairy tale.

There's a sometimes jarring disconnect between Franco and the artificial landscape surrounding him. I haven't been as aware of the heavy use of green screen since the STAR WARS prequels. In one bit, another allusion to the original WIZARD OF OZ, which has Franco and Williams travelling in bubbles in the sky, it was hard not to visualize the actors stumbling around on a sound stage - the desired effect of experiencing a different world sure wasn't happening there. Raimi's SPIDER-MAN movies are much more visually convincing.

OZ isn't directly based on any of L. Frank Baum's original Oz novels - it's supposed to be set a few decades before the first one ("The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" from 1900) - so it's a prequel to both the books and the 1939 movie, but despite the efforts of the capable cast, the savvy director, over 20 writers (that's right), and hundreds of computer animators it comes off more like glorified fan fiction than canon.

Still, it's not a total bomb; it's passable entertainment if you don't go in expecting a magical masterpiece (and if you're a Raimi fan you'll enjoy the Bruce Campbell cameo). It also may inspire some kids to seek out Baum's books and watch the 1939 classic so there's that. 

More later...

4 comments:

Ryan said...

There has been a lot of mixed reviews about this so far. I'm really looking forward to seeing it. Everyone says it doesn't really follow the formula of the fairy tale movies before it, but I think that's a good thing.

Aniruddha Rege said...

Thank you for this review. I am hearing too many mixed reviews from my friends. Some of them have really loved it, while others have hated it. You have confirmed what I thought, it is very much an average movie.

I'll probably wait for the DVD to watch this one!

Aniruddha Rege said...

Thank you for this review. I am hearing too many mixed reviews from my friends. Some of them have really loved it, while others have hated it. You have confirmed what I thought, it is very much an average movie.

I'll probably wait for the DVD to watch this one!

Hugo said...

I have heard very mixed reviews about this movie. While I like the idea and appearance of the movie, I fell Oz has been done to death and it really is just time to move on.