This post is the unedited copy of the review published at Dawn.com on the 25th of March 2013.
Entertainment Page Blurb: Sam Raimi returns to the Land of Oz in a hard to make prequel of a golden age classic.
Inspired by Greatness, A Conman in Wonderland Becomes King!
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
For starters, I wouldn’t count on today’s young-um’s to know about L. Frank Baum’s earlier – and more popular – version of Oz’s story. It is because of two rather distinct reasons: One – our beliefs in genuine, showbizz-y, and color-splashed fairytales has gone kaput by the horrid, and susceptible, likes of up-hinged 3D and flat-footed imagination; and Two – our next generation of parent’s (and I mean the ones still oogled by video games and Twilight) don’t read to their children at bedtime.
So, for the most matter, Sam Raimi’s delightfully brash, 3D origin tale of the Wizard of Oz is speaking to the right audience when it tries to amalgamate linear (and somewhat flat) storytelling with the right dash of overblown blockbuster-ism to cash-in the box-office.
As far as individual opinions go: I liked it – and there’s good sound reason behind this; this version is about entertainment, as its predecessor in its heyday was. However, I wouldn’t count on this Oz turning into a classic – or even a semi-classic – anytime soon.
What Mr. Raimi’s film does is accept and adapt what it has to go on: two Wicked Witches need to be alive, because one of them is destined to find a cockroaches’ demise below Dorothy’s house (as seen in the opening color frames of 1939’s the Wizard of Oz); And a wrinkled wizard needs to be present at the end of that very same movie.
There’s also a nod to nostalgia. When the film opens we see a deliberate, and very apt, black and white opening title sequence with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio (the size of almost square television screens that films of the golden age were produced in). A long opening shot floating just above the human eye-line, introduces a circus. The moment has the plain punch of the golden oldies as we move past strongmen, women sharp-shooters and straight into Frank (Zach Braff), the loyal – and long-suffering – assistant to Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco), a harmless womanizing swine and swindler who happens to be a magician with a vaudevillian tilt (he even sports a villain’s mustache to prove this).
Oz’s dreams of greatness is inspired by other people’s greatness (his idols Thomas Edison and Harry Houdini, also have a fair share of flair in his methods as the screenplay shows us later); His own greatness, however, never makes it out in the open.
Mr. Franco plays Oz with a twisty, insincere smile and a half-baked charm that never fully clarifies his character’s sincerity to the Land of Oz or their people’s plight when he crashes there via tornado (which I believe is one of three ways to travel there).
Oz, quickly ties up with the innocent Theodora (Mila Kunis), a Witch and sister of Evanora (Rachel Weisz, playing another witch), who gets captivated by his woman-seducing devilry. Theodora is also quick to brand Oz as the prophesized wizard who will save the Land of Oz from its resident villain, Glinda (Michelle Williams) – the Good Witch of the South (although, I fail to understand how a witch labeled “Good” could be a villain in the first place).
Oz, en-route to the Emerald City with Theodora, saves Finley (a winged monkey, voiced by Mr. Braff) from the Cowardly Lion, who in-turn pledges to be his lifetime slave-cum-assistant, and a porcelain girl (Joey King) who shares a subconscious resemblance to someone from Kansas’ circus.
While I don’t really like animated side-character in Live-action CGI movies, it is rather obvious that Mr. Franco needs Mr. Braff’s considerable voice skills to keep Oz – The Great and Powerful from becoming a rather dull enterprise. Not only is the monkey stereotypical (there’s a monkey loves banana gag stuffed in for good measure), this throw-away character, for some reason, suits the flow of story just fine.
Despite his insincerity, in a way Mr. Franco’s sly flippancy is nearly what you would call for here; but do we connect to him. I’d say no.
Ms. Kunis’ Theodora is perhaps the film’s second character who you feel emotionally attached to (the first being a wheel-chair bound girl in the initial black and white sequence) – and when she is betrayed, you can’t help but wince at the situation.
Ms. Weisz, unfortunately, doesn’t get the story-space to come out of her relatively obvious villainess.
Ultimately though, despite drowning in a very Alice in Wonderland-like Production Design by Robert Stromberg, Mr. Raimi manages to pay kudos to the 1939 filmed sequel, while distempering Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire’s screenplay with his own unique directorial stamp (watch out for his low-budget minded touches here and there).
It’s a good thing he did. A lesser director with a lesser experience would only bungle up this adventure; the story is limited enough by itself thanks to its 7 decade old successor.
“Oz – The Great and Powerful” is released by Footprint Entertainment and Disney. The movie is rated PG – Parental Guidance required, though not necessary.
The published version is at: