Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful 3D (2013)
It's very hard for a modern movie to follow a great classic like The Wizard of Oz (1939). And it would be an unfair comparison. Oz the Great and Powerful should be seen at its own standalone merits. However, you can't help but compare. The original Oz is a fantasy adventure full of charm, heart, whimsy, and music. This movie, like all current movies, heavily relies on computer generated special effects to provide the bang for the buck. However all that sophisticated animation is okay without a good story and good acting.
Oz the Great is based on one of L. Frank Baum's books in the Land of Oz series. If you have read Baum's series, you are familiar with the tale, if not, you don't have to know the book to enjoy the movie. An ambitious, third-rate magician from Kansas, Oz, is swept away to (coincidentally named) the land of Oz, under fantastical circumstances. He is mistaken for the great wizard, who according to prophecy, will save everyone from the clutches of the evil witch, Evanora. The first person Oz befriends is her sister, Theodora, who wants to bring him to the Emerald City and meet her sister. Oz agrees, not knowing who they are. On the way to Emerald City, traveling on the yellow brick road, Oz rescues Finley, a flying monkey. Evanora tricks the unsuspecting Oz to go forth and break Glinda's wand which will render her powerless. As Oz and Finley travel to find Glinda, they find the remnants of China Town, which has been attacked by the evil witch's flying baboons. China Town is populated by people made of delicate china. The only survivor is a young china girl whose glass legs are broken. Oz fixes her broken legs and China Girl joins them. Soon Oz discovers Evanora's deception and decides to help the good people of Oz get rid of the evil witch, but how can a magician lead a battle when the people of Oz are not allowed to kill?
The production of the movie seems to me very workmanlike. There were times when the animated figure doesn't seem to match the actor's eye. You can sort of tell that that actor seems to be talking to a blank space on which the figure was later super-imposed. And the movie tries hard to provide a wow factor to the audience. Because this was a 3D version of the movie, there is the gratuitous scene of snow where it looks like snow is falling around you. Similar to the original Oz movie, the beginning of the story takes place in Kansas and is shot in black-and-white. Once the story moves into Oz, the movie is in glorious color. The choice of costume for Theodora and Evanora are a little odd. There are, of course, enough in this movie that have echoes of the 1939 original. The poppy fields, the Emerald City, and the Munchkin people are here. You are introduced to new groups of people. The evil witch's flying monkeys are replaced by flying babboons.
James Franco plays Oz the magician as a small time con man with an eye for the ladies. However, Franco's acting skills are not enough to give Oz a deeper dimension. Michelle Williams is luminous as Glinda, but seems so passive and lifeless. Glinda's personal story is explained but Williams rendering is shallow. Mila Kunis plays the younger witch, Theodora, as a bratty younger sister. It's unfortunate because the character, has a gut wrenching experience, a major development that directly ties the character to the original movie. Rachel Weisz is just unconvincing as Evanora, the evil witch. The screenplay should have given Weisz more material to enhance the character. It is unclear why Evanora was already evil and why Theodora was not. I also found it odd that Evanora has a British accent while Theodora sounds like an American girl from the suburbs. There is plenty of color, special effects, and the movie unfolds at a pace to keep you interested. Director, Sam Raimi, has the skills to produce a good-enough movie, but you can't help but wish for something with a little more substance. You'll want to see this movie in its full glory at a big screen theater. It might not translate that well in a small one on DVD or digital.
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