'Oz: The Great And Powerful' Movie Review: 'Oz' Adds Comedy And 3-D To The Magic
This great story has been marinating for over a century, waiting to assume its powerful shape, and now the time has come. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written in 1900 by L. Frank Baum, has made its way into the 21st century and the age of 3D.
Director Sam Raimi, known for previous creations like Spiderman 3 and The Evil Dead, really has opened up his box of crayons for this prequel of a classic tale. Of course, it is previously best known for the 1939 musical adaptation on the big screen, starring the adorable Judy Garland. The core elements of this original story are still there: the land of Oz, the yellow brick road, and a wicked witch, but this is definitely a new take on the concept. This is not the same story that made our forefathers' lips tremble over 70 years ago.
This "new" story deals not with the arrival of Dorothy to the land beyond the rainbow, but with the wonderful wizard himself. Aptly enough his name is Oscar (James Franco), or "Oz", as his friend and assistant Frank (Zach Braff) calls him. He is a traveling circus magician with the qualities of a conman — dubious morals, an ego the size of Kansas and a habit of having a lady in each and every town. He overstays his welcome at the circus and travels to Oz by twister and hot-air balloon, the same way Dorothy did. He walks the yellow brick road towards Emerald City and finds a few friends along his way: Finley, a monkey bell-boy with wings (voiced by Braff), and the prettiest little porcelain doll you've ever seen (voice by Joey King). The china girl is arguably the cutest animated character in film history, with her fragile legs and arms softly clinking as she goes.
The main difference from the original story is that there a total of three witches: Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams), Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz). They are easily the most beautiful cast of witches ever. But who is really the most wicked of them all? This is not obvious, and there are smoke curtains laid out to deceive both the audience and Oz in this matter.
The story is saturated with comedy. It also has some embedded details that serve as a tribute to the original story. There's a real life lion and magical scare-crows marching in the milky mist across a perfect poppy field. The settings are theatrical more than musical, which means there is no singing, except for the dancing dwarves — the munchkins — giving a very short enthusiastic performance.
We get to witness the making of the Wicked Witch of the West, induced by a broken heart and a poisoned green apple. Shortly after her corrosive crying and her heart has stopped, she rises up, resurrected and goblin green, with spinach between her teeth as the ultimate sign of her wickedness.
The visual experience is what ultimately motivates this prequel. The Garland version is old enough to be retired, and the times have changed quite a bit since before World War II, especially when it comes to filming technology. The special effects are spectacular in every sense. You can almost smell the flower petals sticking out from the screen. You bob down as spears come flying. This is by far the best 3D seen on screen. I would go so far as to say it even surpasses Avatar.
Add a truckload of "modern" thingamajigs and mechanical devices complementing the magic and the scene looks different enough to be a worthy heir to the fairytale throne.
Despite the names, there is no Oscar-level acting in this film, and even if Franco does his best to deliver comical work, he is outplayed by Braff by several yards. Many of the supporting actors' performances give this comedy an extra push, and the witty one-liners planted throughout the plot are very amusing.
All ends well, just as it should in a fairytale. Oz finds a good heart deep down in his own chest and with the help of some mighty modernistic machines, and the finest fairytale fireworks ever, he defeats the witches. We are all the wiser on how to spot a witch when we see one. We have learned that green truly is the color of evil, and that we should not to accept music boxes from meager magicians. And when the next twister comes along, we will not run and hide in shelters, but go out to our hot-air balloons and wait for the wind to take us away.
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