Theatrical Review: Oz, the Great and Powerful

Oscar Diggs, also known as Oz, is a small-time magician with dubious ethics and working for a traveling circus that’s now in dusty Kansas. thanks to Oz’s womanizing ways, he’s forced to make a run from the circus (in a balloon) right in the midst of a destructive tornado. This tornado whisks Oz to the magical land bearing his name. Now Oz finds himself to be the object of fulfilling a prophecy in the magical land; a great and powerful wizard with the same name as the land saves it’s people from the forces of evil.

That’s the basic premise of Oz, the Great and Powerful, a prequel film to Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz, and also the latest film from director Sam Raimi, who’s best known for his work on the original three Spider-Man movies, the Evil Dead series, Darkman and Drag Me to Hell. Now I like the original film, it’s an obvious classic, and it’s certainly strong enough to weather any number of sequels, prequels and re-interpretations that have come after it. For myself, if you first told that this was coming, I probably wouldn’t have been that interested in seeing it, but you tell me that it’s coming and that Sam Raimi is directing it, then it becomes a different story. I’m a huge fan of Raimi’s work and from what I first saw in the trailer to the movie, it looked to me like he was going to throw his all into this.

Well, for me he did and i ended up enjoying Oz, the Great and Powerful way more than I ever expected I would. Raimi’s an obvious fan of the original and it’s evident in his style of making the film. Raimi knows that the original is a simple morality story and he basically does the same thing here. The characters are played in broad strokes and there’s certainly plenty of hints and homages to what’s to come from Fleming’s film. This all worked for me but at the same time I can certainly see how it won’t for others. After Sony re-booted the Spider-Man series with The Amazing Spider-Man, one thing that I saw that other’s liked about it over what Raimi did, was the style of filmmaking. The new Spider-Man film was trying to be a little more grounded and much darker in tone, whereas Raimi’s films (third one withstanding, but it’s hard to blame Raimi entirely for that) are much more broad and carefree. If that style is a turn-off to you, then I’ll tell you right now, save your money and find something else to see.

Raimi’s visuals are just fantastic, brimming with life and color and an artificiality to them that screams pure theatrics, but totally suitable to the subject matter and Raimi’s storytelling style. Raimi’s thoroughly embraced the 3D process with this and I think he’s done a pretty darn fine job. The opening of the film is in black and white and side-boxed with more of an old TV full frame. Seeing that in 3D is like looking through a window, though Raimi has the odd moments’ where a few of the effects pop outside it. Once we get to Oz, the screen expands and the world around us becomes much more immersive and Raimi then plays a little more freely with effects that are also “in your face.” He does a great job with this and totally gets how 3D should be used. It’s a terrific enhancement here and I don’t think I’d even want to see this again without it.

My biggest issue with the film is that I think it’s pacing is just a little too relaxed in some places and it could probably be tightened up a little bit, but that’s not a dealbreaker by any means. Danny Elfman punctuates the action pretty nicely with a wonderful score, but that leads to another slight disappointment and that;s with the use of a Mariah Carey song over the film’s end credits. Now granted, it’s the end credits, most aren’t even staying through them, but I sort of look at as a little signature to the film and like to watch them my own self (and sometimes you get a nice little “easter egg” or two in side). The song just seemed out of place with the rest of the look and the style of the film, but really it’s a moot point.

I know there’s a lot of issues out there with the casting of the film, particularly with James Franco as Oz and Mila Kunis as Theodora. I know that Franco wasn’t the first choice for the film, but honestly it just didn’t bother me at all. Franco looked to me like he was having a ball making this and I certainly think he carries some charisma about him. I did make a little joke to a friend as we were watching this. Oz is making a speech to the people that he’s being charged to protect and here he is in his black coat and hat, standing tall and making a grandiose speech in front of all of these colorful inhabitants. I said to my friend, “It’s Tim Burton’s Lincoln!” (OK, it was a long way to go for little pay-off, but still I thought it was funny). Mila Kunis was a big surprise for me with this, I wasn’t necessarily expecting the transformation that she goes through here and I was quite pleased to see her embracing it and playing it just as big as she could. Rachel Weisz plays Theodora’s sister, Evanora, and I think she’s good in the part, but just a little dry compared to what Kunis does. Michelle Williams plays Glinda the Good Witch, and again, it’s nice work though it doesn’t quite carry the same opulence that’s in the original, but still well done. Further support is provided by the voices of Zach Braff and Joey King (though both are seen in different parts at the start of the movie) and again, I thought they were fitting to what Raimi’s presenting. And of course, being a Sam Raimi movie, it’s nice to see Bruce Campbell here as well, even if it is in a brief part as the Winkie Gate Keeper.

I had a great time with Oz, the Great and Powerful, as did the people that I saw it with. Sam Raimi’s visuals and broad theatrical style carry the film and I think it’s evident on-screen that the actors are having a blast making this little slice of fantasy. It’s a fun film with a big emphasis on the “fun” and it’s certainly enhanced with some wonderfully produced 3D. Very much recommended.