Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox
Screenplay: Matchell Kapner & David Lindsay Abaire (Based on the “Oz” series by L. Frank Baum
I know the original “Wizard of Oz” (1939) film like the back of my palm. While watching Sam Raimi’s somewhat-“prequel” of how Oz the Great and Powerful Wizard came to be, I tried my best to stray away from my own opinions of how the story should be. I did this because I didn’t want to ruin the magic of the Yellow Brick Road. Coming into the film, I didn’t want to be judgemental because I know the source material like it was my own soul. However, I failed to stop making comparisons in why I wasn’t enjoying this lavish production (that tried to impress audiences with every single frame, no joke) as compared to the classic that is more simple but ultimately more joyful and masterful. However, “Oz” does have one redeeming qualities to it, and that would be its lead, found in the very campy performance of James Franco.
Franco plays the title role – the carnival magician (and conman) who mysteriously finds himself in the Magical Land of Oz, after being swept away by a tornado inside a hot air balloon. There he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a good witch, who takes his fancy immediately. Theodora soon briefs him that Oz has a prophecy that “a great Wizard who falls from the sky” will save their land and take it back again from the supposedly evil witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams). The rest of the film, is twists and turns in the classic children’s tale, that really aimed for people who are fans of “The Wizard of Oz”. Without knowing much about the old movies or books, it’s hard for other movie goers to appreciate what’s really going on. They aren’t aware of the other story lines and novelty tactics that the filmmakers of this new Oz used to try and gain the audiences approval. Instead “Oz the Great and Powerful” fell through blandly and was laughable most of the time.
One thing that isn’t followed throughout the film is its goal to try and convince us that we were in Oz. With all that technology used in the film (the 3D of it all!), we enter a very Tim Burton like-world that won’t impress any child and adult, alike. Because of the film’s lack of believability (trust me, it’s very possible for a fantasy film) we entered a world of fake tricks that made the actors look out of place. The costumes looked like costumes. The sets looked like sets, or were created by man on a computer. And the special effects were nothing out of the ordinary. It was something we’ve seen done before. The trailer made people believe that this was a feast to eyes. Though the last twenty minutes of the film really showed what the film should be like, the first hour and forty minutes were not well thought off in terms of visual effects, that it eventually made the end seem boring.
Through the direction of Sam Raimi (who I’ve always believed in as a director), the actors were not in sink with the material they were trying to re-inact. Though we could see Oscar winner Rachel Weisz enjoying her time on screen (I won’t say much about her, she was what she was), Kunis and Williams were atrocious to watch. Kunis was too over the top and did not capture any fear like the old Wicked Witch of the West did for children around the world back in 1939. She was a monster case of bad acting. That’s all I can say about her. They should’ve casted someone who understands material like this, someone like (I can’t believe I’m going to say it) Amy Adams. Williams was a walking parody of herself ten minutes into the picture. She was fake and looked ridiculous. It’s not too hard to play a part like her, Billie Burke played Glinda with such a high pitch accent and princess like movements. It’s as simple as that. But William’s overly thought method acting was misplaced in this one. She for me was the worst in show. Watching her was like watching one of those Hollywood satire films that actors agree to do to be able to make fun of themselves.
One casting decision I do support though is James Franco. It’s good to see him in another fun film. Not only was he fun, but he looked like he was having a lot of fun. However, he was misdirected and inserted into a movie that was overall not good. Still, he was the saving grace of the entire picture. He’s basically the reason why I gave the film a five instead of a four out of ten rating. He understood the character, and didn’t try too hard to be what the old Oz was in the older movie. He re-invented the character, and didn’t use a rip-off copycat edition of the Oz. Which was what was necessary to make the picture work. If the film was better crafted, and used a talented actor like Franco, the audience really could have had something. Unfortunately not all things go that great.
Overall, the film isn’t Oscar vying. And it knows that. I’m just glad that Sam Raimi was in the helm and not 3D-hell-creating Tim Burton, or else I probably wouldn’t rate this movie at all. Despite the similarities with many 3D Burton films, Raimi would probably be the best man for the job if he took it in a different direction. The film’s large production budget, vast scenes and numerous cast and crew members could only be directed in a fantasy/sci-fi flick by someone as talented as Raimi. Raimi should start taking risks again like he did in the 80s, because truthfully he is a good director. How I wish I could have whispered in his ear and tell him to change a few of his artistic choices. It being: to change a few of the actresses and choosing a more convincing world to portray the Land of Oz. The Land of Oz is just as important as any character in this material. Without its magic, there would be no film. Unfortunately, this film, though filled with special effects and high profile actresses, lacked magic…a lot. It had the elements to be great, but fell short collectively.