Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"Alice In Wonderland"
"Oz The Great And Powerful" feels like watching a magic show, literally. You feel like you are being fooled, but you can't take your eyes away from the trick that is playing out. Sam Raimi has subverted all the "Wizard Of Oz" tropes that you know and loved into an almost original, fun-filled ride that will make you feel like going down the yellow brick road again.
The film acts as a prequel of sorts to L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz". Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a notorious womanizer and a conman whose knack for parlor tricks leads him to become a small-time magician. However, after an unfortunate run-in with the enraged boyfriend of a lover, Oscar ends up in a hot air balloon that is blown into Oz. There, he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), who then tells him that he is the prophesized Wizard of Oz, come to save them from the terror of the Wicked Witch. Oscar is more than delighted to help, solely because of the vast treasures that await him.
To reiterate, from the premise itself, it feels like Raimi is laughing at hardcore fans of L. Frank Baum's novel who posit that he would not be able to make a great film, I mean, how much exciting would it be to watch yet another adaptation of Oz after the critically-acclaimed "Wicked" (a retelling of the Wicked Witch's story, before she became so)? Raimi then gives us a coward and a pretentious hero. Flying monkeys are bad? Oscar Diggs' assistant is a flying monkey named Finley. What about Dorothy travelling with three companions to defeat the Wicked Witch? As Franco puts it sarcastically, "Fine, let's all go in a merry parade to defect the Wicked Witch!"
But not all is upended as such. Raimi has kept some the more memorable landmarks of Baum's classic literature, such as the Yellow Brick Road, Emerald City, the Munchkins, the Winkies and the Oz we knew when Dorothy came to him. 'A' must be given for effort, for Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay goes beyond being a loose adaptation. There are actually parallels made between Kansas and Oz, as well as genuinely rip-roaring one-liners and running gags. There are no tasteless, slapstick jokes like those present in comedies of late, and more like those in Disney's "Pirates Of The Caribbean".
Franco is in top form here as Oscar Diggs. His role is nothing we have not seen before as Harry Osborn in Raimi's "Spider-Man" or as Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle's "127 Hours", but credit must be given to Franco for utilizing his charms, wit and playfulness to maximum effect. He manages to make us like him in spite of his detestable character, and believe that he IS destined to be the Wizard of Oz, which brings dimension to his character. It is hard to imagine anyone who could have done the sham of a wizard role so fittingly as he did. His performance is equally matched by Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams as Theodora, one of the witches who fall for Oscar's charms that result in tragic circumstances and Glinda, respectively. Yet, while the cast is fantastic, this is very much Oscar's story, he's the one who has to learn valuable life lessons, so the rest are pushed into the background in favor of that.
Which brings us to the flaws: There are more than a few glaring loopholes that may or may not spoil your enjoyment of the film. Firstly, the characterizations feel a little contrived, especially Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Take her role away from the film and events can still unfold the way they did. More screen time needs to be given to "Oz The Great And Powerful" side characters such as Finley the Flying Monkey, since they make for compelling storytelling. Zach Braff did a wonderful job despite being stripped to a CGI character's voice, and his scenes where he plays off James Franco's Oscar Diggs is a delight to watch. We also need to see the people of Oz suffering under the fear of the Wicked Witch. Secondly, while the direction that Raimi takes is novel, such as the initial ambiguity of the Wicked Witch's identity and the visit to China Town, the formula for the narrative is typical of every Disney film. It's a shame because you can see that Raimi just so wants to break out of the mold (there are various scenes that clearly aims to jolt audiences, warranting its P13 rating), but he never follows through.
The special effects for the film are especially astounding though. Just like how Franco felt when he opens his eyes to the Technicolor land of Oz, we are left breathless by the amazing detail that Raimi has thought up for the film, such as the various flowers like deadly Poppies and creatures, the magnificence of Emerald City as well as the various races. No two individuals look the same. Cinematography-wise, it was clever that they adapted the 1939's adaptation of "The Wizard Of Oz" format of storytelling in which the first 10 minutes of the film are depicted in black and white and in standard size instead of widescreen.
Great acting (save for Rachel Weisz) and striking visuals abound in "Oz The Great And Powerful" that makes it stand out from the sea of hammy fairy tale adaptations such as "Red Riding Hood", "Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters" and "Jack The Giant Slayer". The film is by no means one of the best films of the month, but it will go down in history for its ingenuity, much like how Raimi's "Spider-Man" is remembered. It is also the reason why you SHOULD watch it.Cinema Online, 02 March 2013