Friday, March 8, 2013

Oz, The Great and Powerful review

There's no place like home. That's one of the more famous lines in the 1939 musical masterwork, The Wizard of Oz. The line isn't present at all in the film, likely due to copyright issues between Disney and Warner Bros, but somehow Oz, The Great and Powerful feels a bit like returning home. Oz is such a beloved place among fans of cinema along with people who aren't movie geeks and the new Disney film does homage to that place quite well. I wasn't sure how this film was going to end up. And I'm still not sure how to describe it. But it's a fun, visually spectacular return to the world that we all know and love and despite several significant problems, it ends up being entertaining.

Oz, The Great and Powerful mirrors the story of The Wizard of Oz despite with a different character. This time, it's the Wizard, Oscar Diggs (James Franco). He is a greedy, selfish, womanizing circus magician who ends up going to the land of Oz when (what else) a tornado hits. There he meets three witches; Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and another who's name is a spoiler (Michelle Williams). One of them is the wicked witch and the Wizard must defeat them to get the Royal Treasure of Oz. Along the way, he meets a monkey named Finley (Zach Braff), a girl made of China (Joey King) and the Munchkins. In the end, Oscar must become the leader of Oz and wage a war against its oppressors. 

I liked this film for two main reasons. One is the visuals and use of 3D. Now, if you're a frequent reader of this blog or know me personally, then you'll know that I am against giving a film a good grade just because of the visuals. I think that anybody with a special effects expert can get on a computer and make a CGI tiger named Richard Parker and say that they made a great movie because they made a great tiger. That's wrong and one of the reasons that I despised Life of Pi as much as I did. But in Oz, The Great and Powerful, I can't stress how good the visuals are. They are A+ effects and help immerse you in the world of Oz.  It's not a carbon copy of Alice in Wonderland, which I was happy about.

To continue on my last point, the visuals help immerse you in the land of Oz like no other film ever has. This film makes Oz feel less like a small town and more like a full land like Middle-earth in the Lord of the Rings series. I thought that that was a very positive thing about the film and helped to bring the viewer into the film. Another thing was the 3D. That was another thing that put you into the land of Oz like never before. The first scene with Franco's character in Oz was probably the highlight but there's also lots of gimmicky pop-out 3D that I love. So, if you get a chance, see it in 3D. 

As a fan of the original, I also loved all the nods to the 1939 film. It's almost constant and without the subtlety in which the lines are delivered, the references would come across as aberrant and stupid but with Raimi's direction and the script by Mitchell Kapner, it comes off as the best part about the movie. If you're an Oz fan, keep your eyes and ears peeled as there are tons of little easter eggs that you will love.

But this film is not without its major share of problems. First off, I'll get an easy one out of the way. The story is paper-thin. There's nothing substantial to uncover and the story almost mirrors every single hero's journey film ever made including The Wizard of Oz. If you're looking for something new in the story department, I'm disappointed to let you know that you are in the wrong place. The characters are also vague. You know very little about any of them including the main three. There's some sort of background between all the witches but it's not gone into in depth. I hope that whoever makes the already-greenlit sequel explores that.

The performances are mediocre. I actually liked James Franco as the Wizard. It felt like a very natural performance. The witches were kind of boring. Rachel Weisz seemed to have some fun playing Evanora, but Mila Kunis looked miserable despite being arguably the most interesting of the three witches. Honestly, their shlocky melodrama bogs down the film at times. Director Sam Raimi tries to explore their backstory but their interplay hurts the film more than it helps it.

The worst thing about this film is the tone. It has absolutely no idea what kind of film it wants to be. At times, it seems to aspire to be more like the original with its sense of wonder and kind of lighthearted childish humor. But then at the same time, it wants to be this really frightening and really intense fantasy epic with loads of action and scary flying monkeys. And those two different tones could work really well together. The original Wizard of Oz is one of the prime examples of humor and scariness blending together seamlessly. But they don't and it screws up the film at times. It's never sure what it wants to be.

I don't really know who this film is going to appeal to. I liked it because I'm a Wizard of Oz fan and found all the hidden references in the film along with the awesome visual effects. But it's way too intense for little kids who might be fans of the Wizard of Oz and it could be too childish for teens who don't think that there is enough action. I don't know. I do know that if you go see it, you will enjoy it, especially if you're a fan of the original. I can't stress that point enough. But if you haven't seen the original, you still will enjoy it, even if the pacing is a bit slow. Just take the visuals in and enjoy it.

THE FINAL GRADE: B                                                (7/10)

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