Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
First of all, he’s supposed to be “Oz, the great and terrible.” Perhaps the filmmakers changed the classic description to avoid handing a gift to headline writers. If so, they needn’t have worried. While “Oz, the Great and Powerful” isn’t really great, it’s far from terrible.
The story follows ethically challenged sideshow magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) who, on the run after romantically misleading several women, escapes rural Kansas in his hot air balloon. A tornado lands in him in Oz, where he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), one of several witches he’ll encounter (and romance) in the next two hours and 10 minutes.
Diggs claims to be the wizard named in a prophecy who will rescue Oz from an unspecified evil and return the land to peace. The charming but greedy slug does so in order to obtain the power and untold riches that come with the throne. On his yellow-brick road to redemption, Diggs has to use the entirely mortal powers of technological know-how (he worships Thomas Edison, the “Wizard of Menlo Park”) and misdirection to defeat Oz’s evil.
Franco is occasionally brilliant in the role of the caddish, young wizard, but he plays some scenes too broadly and appears to be sleepwalking through others. Kunis is fine, even buried under tons of prosthetics following a midpoint transformation. Rachel Weisz turns in the film’s best performance as Theodora’s evil sister, Evanora and Michelle Williams makes a fine, game Glinda, though she makes no effort to ape the lilting voice or mannerisms of the original’s Billie Burke.
Chameleon Director Sam Raimi — known for schlocky horror fun including “The Evil Dead” and “Drag Me to Hell” as well as the big-budget superhero spectacle of the Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” reboot — never quite duplicates the dangerous fun of either of those genres within the confines of this safer family fare.
That’s not to say “Oz” isn’t scary — once the story kicks into gear, all manner of frightening creatures that populate the familiar fantasyland — especially the flying monkeys, here portrayed as vicious, razor-toothed baboons — burst forth from the screen and straight into viewers’ 3-D glasses.
The 3-D is worth mentioning here. I can’t help but think that if the technology had been available for the filming of the original “Wizard of Oz,” director Victor Fleming would have presented Kansas in two dimensions and busted out the 3-D when Dorothy landed in Oz. Although Raimi keeps his Kansas in black and white (just one of many nods to the original film — another is Diggs’ connection to the Gale family) it’s 3-D from the get go, which seems like a missed visual opportunity.
The film is too long, partially due to the talky Kansas prologue, which features little action. I am tempted to say that children — especially the wee ones — will be bored with stretches of the movie, but I must point out that I didn’t see a single fidgety squirt at the screening I attended.
“Oz” weaves compelling and believable back stories for many familiar characters and satisfyingly explains the origins of the fiery Oz head and the man behind the curtain. It’s not entirely faithful to the L. Frank Baum stories, but neither was the original. There are compelling new characters including a precocious, living porcelain doll and a wiseacre monkey bellhop voiced by “Scrubs’” Zach Braff.
There’s a ton of computer-generated material here — many a day must have been spent in front of a green screen. That caused me to marvel what they were able to do in 1939 without all of that technology; I guess, like Diggs, they made the best use of what they had.