Oz the Great and Powerful Directed by: Sam Raimi Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins Rating: PG Release Date: March 8, 2013
PLOT: A circus magician (Franco) is whisked away by a tornado to a land that bears his name, and is told by two witches (Kunis and Weisz) that can only save their terrorized territory by killing another witch (Williams).
WHO'S IT FOR? With brief strong moments of terror, the original Wizard of Oz movie isn't only for kids. In fact, even that film might be too much for some of them. This version of Oz takes that concept and runs longer with it, throwing into the mix sexual innuendos and a freaky demon lady or two. It goes without saying that while this movie does have bright colors and various cute things, it's certainly made with a reasonably mature audience in mind.
EXPECTATIONS: The whole Wizard of Oz franchise is funny to me in that its a very recognizable brand, but at the same time, creators seem to be afraid of it. And maybe for good reason, as previous movies about the land of Oz have just been odd (like Return to Oz, or The Wiz). Perhaps Raimi, with a background in fantasy and horror, would be able to at least make a serviceable Oz movie?
James Franco as Oz: As the story of Oz goes in a different direction, so does it with its choice of a lead actor. James Franco isn't the most obvious of choices for a fantasy lead, especially when he seems to have his creative head anywhere else but making blockbusters (maybe he needs to fund an art project?) But, here he is, as the movie's centerpiece, with a perpetually sleazy character who is going to make audiences reinterpret the sweetness of the wizard from the 1939 movie of his name. In such a role, Franco shows that his presence as an actor is unavoidable, his Franco-ness larger than any wizard messiah. With the film relying especially on the star's ability to make a green screen sing (or talk back to him, as it may be), the best part, or the most amusing aspect of this character, is that Franco is simply playing him. And doing a decent job, at that. Score: 6
Mila Kunis as Theodora: An actress who seems to be constantly thrown at us, Kunis is tough to chew on. On one hand, she seems to be having some fun in this role, boosted by prosthetics especially. On the other hand, her character is frustratingly simple, and defined by consistent naivete despite her changing attitude throughout the story. It's the same case whether she is being played by Oz like another one of his circus bimbos, or screeching like a young teen in angst of such treatment ("I hate you!"). Kunis is able to give the simplicity the script seems to be asking for, but at the same time she doesn't prove that she can do much else; we don't even believe her third act cackling. Score: 4
Rachel Weisz as Evanora: Of the three co-witches in this movie, Weisz's proves to be the least involving; this is a fault of a script that has little idea what to do with her, and a performance that matches that lack of interest. Outside of the influence she has on her sister Theodora, there doesn't seem to be much of a reason here. Score: 3
Michelle Williams as Glinda: Borrowing the airy delivery of dialogue and doting gaze from her previous performance of Marilyn Monroe, Williams seems like a good fit for the gentle good witch Glinda. Like Franco or even Kunis, this actress who gravitates more towards realism doesn't seem like she'd be easily applied to a fantasy story, but she provides the softness such a character needs most of all. Score: 5
TALKING: While Oz the Great and Powerful bases its conflicts around its title character's lady chasin', the film isn't entirely adult, especially with its dialogue. There are still sparkly passages about believing, ("For when we do believe, anything is possible" yadda yadda yadda), and other tidbits one can take away from the softer parts of this film. But its worth noting that there are moments in which the script gets particularly winky with its innuendos, like when Oz says to Evanora, "Well, I look forward to being served" after she offers him anything he could want. It's very amusing to think of why such suggestive dialogue is there anyway: to amuse adults? Or to see what type of sexual gestures kids will grab onto? Score: 5
SIGHTS: The movie's exorbitant budget is extremely evident throughout, making it too clear too often as to what pieces of the visuals have a strong physical presence, and what is simply extremely rich but still fake animation. Even if it's intentional to make the landscape of Oz look overly colorful, possibly in hopes of evoking the Technicolor palette blast of the 1939 film, this movie achieves at best a stilted mix of live action and animation, constantly disrupting the chance of fully believing Raimi's vision. In terms of the film's 3D aspect, Raimi's flat presentation stagings doesn't bring the 3D aspect to any type of spectacular life. However, the film did cause me (and others) to jerk in our seats from a couple things thrown at the camera in a more classic usage of the format, so there's that. Score: 7
SOUNDS: The sound design may match the dedication of the absurdly detailed animation (even China Girl has very distinct glass steps), but the music in the film isn't one of its stronger factors. Superstar film composer Danny Elfman doesn't provide anything distinctly memorable from the score; "Almost Home" by Mariah Carey plays during the credits, and is only distinct for how bland it is. Even for "time to leave the theater" music. Score: 4
BEST SCENE: The premiere of the wizard in the form that we know him from in the classic 1939 film was an unexpected surprise (although I probably should have seen it coming). This made for one of the film's more clever sequences, and one without any type of overcomplicated witch backstabbing. Plus, it also had the movie's biggest laugh (Bill Cobbs' screw problem got me).
ENDING: We finally have our wicked witch, and Oz finally does something clever.
QUESTIONS: So ... where does it go now? Where can it go now? And who cares?
REWATCHABILITY: There isn't anything about this film that demands a second viewing. I think I'd rather attempt to revisit Return to Oz instead.
Struggling to find a purpose to exist, the script by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire gets tangled up in its backstabbing three witches drama, which is all spurned on by Oz's anticlimactically boyish "don't hate the wizard, hate the game" flirtiness. However direct the path of its story may be, it slows down significantly when toying with which witch is actually the worst witch. The third act of the movie proves to be the script's best, for its when things are not unnecessarily complicated, and can equally function on original or nostalgic charm. Still, it is a winding road to get there.
While the movie's casting choices are inspired, this attitude doesn't pass onto other corners of a large movie which is too consumed by its splendor. Raimi does prove to be a decent fit as a storyteller for this franchise, whether or not he should be putting his focus towards movies like this, or spending time on original projects. The film's monetary motivations lingering far too much, this tale of a special effects messiah is missing a good heart. As colorful as his tone may be, Raimi's storytelling here is too phony with its fantasy to make audiences believe.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10