March 19, 2013

Movie Review: Oz, the Great and Powerful

Considering how bright, colorful, and broad the Oz universe is, I find it surprising that we have not had more attempts to create films in its playground. I cannot say that I have done a lot of research, but since the 1939 classic feature was released there have been but three features that use L. Frank Baum's books as a basis, The Wiz, Return to Oz, and Oz, the Great and Powerful. I know there has been at least one televised take with the mini-series Tin Man. I guess all I am really getting at here is that this is a great playground with plenty of room for ideas and interpretations to play in and I wish this new movie was just a bit better.

When I first learned of the project, I must admit to being rather intrigued. Sam Raimi is a very good visual director, he has a unique style that manages to shine through in just about any project, be it his humble splatter beginnings with movies like The Evil Dead, or the big budget excess of his Spider-Man trilogy, regardless of the overall quality of the films as a whole. It is interesting to see his style translate to this material. The cast was also an interesting collection with the likes of James Franco and Mila Kunis leading the way. Of course, I also feared that this could go the way of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Well, at least neither one attempted a straight remake of the prior films.

Oz, the Great and Powerful is a prequel to the 1939 film, but not quite. While, the movie sets out to tell the tale of how the Wizard of Oz became the Wizard of Oz, it cannot make any direct use or reference to many of the elements of the earlier film. You see, the older film was made by MGM and is currently controlled by Warner Brothers and you have to believe they were ready to jump all over Disney with a cease and desist should anything synch up too closely. Disney even had to come up with a new shade of green for the Emerald City.

The movie begins in 1905 in Kansas, a traveling circus is putting on a show. One of the acts is Oz (Franco), a charlatan magician who uses his charms to meet women and add to his pockets. Although it seems pickings are slim and he is about to be caught by the circus strongman. Oz hops into a conveniently located hot air balloon and escapes a sure beating. However, he gets caught in a tornado and is whisked away to the magical land of Oz.

The story is pretty straightforward. Oz is believed to have been sent to, well, Oz to set everything right. Apparently the witch resident witches do not really get along and Oz is going to set them right, stopping the flying baboons and other nastiness around.

I don't know, the movie ever really grabbed me on a narrative level. The characters never seem to e all that well developed and suffer from never having the logical conversation when it needs to be had. Of course, certain things had to be done in certain ways to fit the stories that come after. Still, there is something about this that just doesn't feel right.

Part of the problem with the movie is the acting. I like James Franco, but is miscast here, his look and acting is too modern and just does not fit. He has an aloofness about him, like he really doesn't want to be there, but not really. He just doesn't come across as the Oz I envision. There is a similar issue with Mila Kunis, who plays Theodora. Like Franco, she has a modern look and style that doesn't fit. It doesn't help that the witch is not written all that well and the character shifts way too fast.

The movie also feels rather confined. Considering the effects at the filmmakers disposal this movie should have been opened up a bit more. It feels rather tight and small, it would have been nice of the movie had taken advantage of the possibilities.

With all that said, I do like the little touches that Raimi brought to the table. The opening being shot on black and white and being presented in the old Academy ratio of ~1.33:1 before opening up to a widescreen ratio and going bright color (I would have loved to see this in the old Technicolor process) when arriving in Oz. I also liked Raimi's use of point of view, quick zooms, and chasing shots used during the tornado sequence and throughout many of the action oriented sequences.

This is certainly better than Alice in Wonderland, but it still feels like a missed opportunity. It has sporadic moments that were enjoyable and I did not outright hate the movie, but it is frustrating seeing where improvements could have been made. I guess it is worth checking out, so long as you keep expectations in check.

Mildly Recommended.

Related Posts with Thumbnails


Post a Comment