Not a Movie Snob - Oz the Great and Powerful

Posted on Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 06:00 PM

"Are you the great movie we've been waiting for?"

Oz the Great and Powerful

Making another film set in the merry old land of Oz is actually a less cinematically blasphemous prospect than you would think. After all, there were seventeen books penned by Frank L. Baum set in that place somewhere over the rainbow back between 1900 and 1920. With that being the case then, it's actually surprising there haven't been more Oz-set films. Oh sure there was that awful Muppets version a few years ago with Queen Latifah and Quentin Tarantino, and that really awful sequel Return to Oz in 1985 that nobody saw or cared about and that absolutely horrible blaxploitation version with Michael Jackson in 1978, not to mention a few silent versions in the early 1900's. Oh and the no budget animated sequel Journey Back to Oz, also in the 70's...ok never mind, there have been lots of adaptations of the stories over the years, but only one, it seems, which was any good.

The Wizard of Oz opened in 1939 and barely made its money back. It had good reviews but was seen as a kid's movie and as a result didn't generate much noise during its theatrical run. It wasn't until 1956 when it was picked up for television (then in its infancy) that it was discovered by an audience of all ages and is now, according to the Library of Congress, the single most widely seen film of all time.

It is this 1939 masterpiece of dramatic fantasy that is director Sam Raimi's all time favourite movie. I don't know to what extent it has influenced some of his other films, especially the gore hound likes of The Evil Dead series and Drag Me To Hell, but there it is. In one important aspect, Raimi is the perfect director to bring Oz back to the big screen. He has made a career for himself as a maestro of big budget special effects extravaganza's. From the Evil Dead trilogy to the first three Spiderman movies, effects heavy popcorn pop flicks seem to be his forte. Considering The Wizard of Oz was the biggest, and best use, of special effects up to that point in movie history it makes sense that those two facets should meet in Oz The Great and Powerful. But, as Spiderman 3 taught us, you can't have oodles of special effects and no story, or you'll walk away with a clunker.

The first thing I can say against this film is that it made a very poor choice in casting that overrated smirk machine, James Franco. I haven't minded Franco in some of the things he's done. He was a good fit for Pineapple Express, he was pretty good in Milk and 127 Hours, as well as the show Freaks and Geeks. Ever since his Oscar hosting fiasco though, he tends to annoy me when I see him in something. And in Oz, Oscar blunder aside, he's just bad. The wizard he plays (real name Oscar Diggs..awesome name) in the film is a trickster, a conman who gets swept up in a tornado and transplanted to Oz, where the land awaits the arrival of a saviour, a wizard who will deliver them from the wrath of the Wicked Witch. I don't buy Franco's performance. A little too smirky, too silly. Not enough talent to handle the more dramatic aspects of the story. Luckily for him, and for us, he shares the screen with some memorable creations and more talented performers.

Mila Kunis plays the good witch Theodora, who Oscar first meets when he lands in Oz. Kunis can be a hit or miss actress for me. Great in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, terrible in Friends With Benefits, great in Black Swan, terrible in Ted, and so on. Thankfully, Oz falls under the great category. Rachel Weisz and Michelle Willams also have important roles in the film and also do a great job with them, especially Michelle Williams, who is a gem in any movie she graces. There are also a couple of CGI characters who join Oscar in his adventure: Finley, a talking monkey who is saved by Oscar and as a result owes him a lifetime of servitude. And a china doll who is also helped by Oscar. They're great characters, Finley especially is a fun and likeable little guy, but I do have a major grievance with the china doll:

This movie is filled with special effects. Filled with them. From beginning to end they carry the picture from scene to scene. For the most part, they're well done. Despite James Cameron's best efforts, CGI in 2013 is not yet at a place where it is photorealistic. That is, if there's CGI in a movie, you can usually tell. So I don't have a problem with things not looking completely realistic at all times. Especially considering this is Oz and Oz is the product of a character's imagination and not an actual place (more on that in a minute). What I do have a problem with is the fact that every time a real actor or actress interacts with the china doll, it looks fake. Not just fake, really fake. Low budget 1980's fake. If they couldn't find a way to make those interactions look more believable, why did they bother having the china doll physically interact with real people at all?

Oz The Great and Powerful is technically a prequel, but it's also a remake. In the original Wizard of Oz the events that transpire after the cyclone hits Dorothy's homestead are not real, even within the movie. Dorothy gets clocked on the noggin by a wayward window frame and fever dreams the whole thing. The heel tapping, 'no place like home' refrain is her mind coaxing her back to consciousness.

That being the case, this film should not exist at all. Unless somewhere in Kansas Dorothy has slipped into a coma and is fever dreaming about Oz again, this time as observer rather than participant. The journey this time is relatively the same as last. Someone drops into Oz, the people of Oz assume this is their savour, sends the saviour off on an adventure, the saviour gathers companions along the way, companions which are fantastical versions of people they knew back in the real world, and has a show down with some cranky broads.

There are some great moments in the movie, a couple of really imaginative set pieces towards the end and we get to explore some areas of Oz the filmmakers didn't get around to in 1939. But there are also mistakes, continuity errors and elements that don't fit with the narrative of the original film, particularly concerning a certain field of poppies.

The original film holds up very well today for being 74 years old and I don't think anyone is wanting, or asking, for a remake of it. But as another facet of the classic fantasy landscape, you could do much worse than Oz The Great and Powerful. If nothing else it should reignite your appreciation of the original classic. A film we have all grown up with, a film that feels like a warm blanket. Like a journey home, wherever you're watching it. Like a skip down a yellow brick road.

Rating: ***½



NOTE: The showtimes listed on come directly from the theatres' announced schedules, which are distributed to us on a weekly basis. All showtimes are subject to change without notice or recourse to