Review - Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), PG, 130 minutes - Oz the Great and Powerful is the probably not-so-necessary prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.  But if you didn't already know that, you've been living in a cave and/or I'm not sure what brought you to my blog!  I'm actually finding it hard to figure out what I want to say about the film.  I saw it this past Sunday evening, and I've been having a hard to getting motivated to write this.  Generally that means that I didn't really enjoy the film I saw at all, which in this case, isn't true.  I did enjoy it, but I think I enjoyed it more for it's style and technical aspects than for the performances or the story itself.
Those of course can be credited to Sam Raimi's direction.  If you are familiar with any of Raimi's work, you can tell this was a project of his.  His fingerprints are all over the film from certain shots having a very horror feel to them to the inclusion of Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi cameos.

James Franco plays the title character Oz, who really isn't a very likable guy at the beginning of the story.  He is a traveling carnival magician, an admitted con-man who treats his one friend, and assistant, Frank (Zach Braff) poorly, on top of being a bit of a womanizer.  He's actually running from the carnival's Strong Man - who is chasing him after discovering a music box that Oz gave his wife - when his hot air balloon is sucked into a tornado, plunking him in the Land of Oz.  He isn't in Oz very long before he meets the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis).  She believes he is the Wizard from prophecy that will bring peace back to the land.  She takes him to the Emerald City where he learns more about this prophecy from Theodora's sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), which says that he must kill yet another witch.  Along the way, he picks up a flying monkey of a sidekick named Finley (voiced by Braff).  They start off in search of the third witch but don't find what they expect.  The third witch is Glinda 'The Good', and she shares with them a different version of the prophecy.  Oz realizes that he was duped and vows to help Glinda (rightful heir to the throne of Oz) overtake Evanora.  No mention of the famous Wicked Witch of the West you wonder?  Don't worry, she's a big part of the film, but I'm not going to spoil that here (I touch on it in the spoiler section below).

As the story progresses, Oz begins to redeem himself, but something in Franco's performance just felt off to me.  I can't quite put my finger on it.  It wasn't bad though.  Maybe it was just different than what I had expected.  There were two performances that I did enjoy: Michelle Williams' take on Glinda The Good, and Zach Braff's voice work for Finley.  Williams very much reminded me of Billie Burke's Glinda from the 1939 film, providing the most believable line of continuity between the two films as far as the acting goes.  Braff was very entertaining as Finley and his short part as Oz's friend Frank back in Kansas wasn't bad either.  Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis weren't bad, but their character's actions didn't feel all that believable at times (more in the spoiler section below).

There were eighteen Oz related books written by L. Frank Baum that saw publication (two posthumously).  The only story that I am familiar with is the one that the 1939 film was based upon.  So while this film is a prequel to that film, I have no idea how true to the source material it is, or if this portion of the story had ever actually been told before.

As I've gotten some of these thoughts down on 'paper' I think I've decided that I enjoyed the movie overall, but feel a little let down that it wasn't as good as it could have been.  For a movie that is just over two hours long, with a lot of story, there are certain plot points that feel rushed or unexplained.  I also feel that maybe I'm not quite as bothered by Franco's performance as I originally thought.  I had no prior knowledge of Oz other than Frank Morgan's performance from 1939.  No background knowledge of the character's story at all.  So the fact that it was a bit different than I expected doesn't make it bad.  I didn't bother paying for the 3D version, but the visuals were beautiful anyway.  I'd say that Oz the Great and Powerful is worth checking out and is probably better seen on the big screen because of it's scope, but if you aren't worried about the grandeur of a film in the theater than save a few bucks and rent it when it gets a home release later this year.


- So I'm a little confused...I haven't seen the 1939 film in quite a while, but doesn't Dorothy get back home at the end, implying that the whole Oz experience was a product of a dream after she got hit in the head during the tornado?  Many of the characters that the Wizard encounters in Oz are analogs for people in his every day life, just as they were for Dorothy in the original movie.  But he stays in Oz in the role of the Wizard, that Dorothy one day is Oz an alternate universe sort of thing or a dream state?  If someone can explain this to me, please do so!

- I felt that Theodora's transformation into the Wicked Witch was a bit forced.  She falls absolutely head over heels for Oz two minutes after meeting him, then she's played by her sister not once but twice and after all of that she embraces her new scary green visage and absolutely hates Oz?  I don't have a problem with that character arc, just with how rushed it felt.

- Mila Kunis' green skinned turn certainly looked the part.  I felt that the make up people did a good job of making her a believable match for a younger version of the Wicked Witch.  I did feel like they over did it with the cackling though.  After she turned into the Wicked Witch, it seemed like all she did was say an angry line and cackle over and over.  Maybe it is because I haven't seen it in so long, but I don't remember the Wicked Witch cackling that excessively in The Wizard of Oz.

- Ok, I've complained and been a bit confused enough...onto the good!  It was a small detail, but I loved that they began the story in black and white and in the old 3:4 aspect ratio and then transitioned to gorgeous, vibrant color and today's widescreen format once the story shifted to Oz, much the same way that The Wizard of Oz jumped from black and white to color.

- While I may have had issues with Theodora's change, I did appreciate that she turned out to be the Wicked Witch and not her sister, who had already been referred to as wicked and appeared to be said character.  It was a minor twist, but nice and kept things from being too linear.

- Did I mention that I liked Michelle Williams as Glinda The Good?  I think she's quietly become one of my favorite actresses.  Everything she does is solid.  And Zach Braff.  I enjoyed both of their parts enough to mention again.


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