Oz: The Great and Powerful
History of The Wizard of Oz
Oz: The Great and Powerful
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire, L. Frank Baum
Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox, Stephen R. Hart, Abigail Spencer, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Tim Holmes, Toni Wynne, Rob Crites, William Dick, Gene Jones, John Lord Booth III, Suzanne Keilly, Shannon Murray, Ralph Lister, John Manfredi, Robert Stromberg, Channing Pierce, Brian Searle, Russell Bobbitt
Voice Cast: Zach Braff, Joey King
Synopsis: A small-time magician arrives in an enchanted land and is forced to decide if he will be a good man or a great one.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language
The World of Oz Featurette
Who dares to defy the great and powerful Oz?!?
To quote Michael Fassbender from "Prometheus", "All big things have small beginnings." Well that statement couldn't be more true, when it applies to the prequel, "Oz: The Great and Powerful." Outside of "The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug", "Oz: The Great and Powerful" is perhaps the film that I've been wanting to see the most this year. Maybe it's because it happens to be a prequel to a film that I've grown up with. A prequel that reminds me of the nostalgic feeling of watching "The Wizard of Oz", when I was a child. Or perhaps, the trailers made this film seem so enticing that I couldn't resist. Or maybe, it could be a bit of both. Whatever the case may be, lets dive into the review.
For those expecting this film to be straight prequel to the 1939 version of "The Wizard of Oz", then you'll be very disappointed. No, according to Sam Raimi, this film follows more closely to the original book series that L. Frank Baum wrote. Granted, the film still falls in line with the original 1939 film, as I didn't think the movie contradicted anything from that film. However, there have been a few critics that have cited otherwise, but I'll let my readers decide for themselves upon viewing. But if you ask me, I honestly thought the film was a perfect prequel to the original film, and syncs up nicely with the events of "The Wizard of Oz" quite well; in spite of the fact that this film isn't a musical.
Like the original 1939 film, this movie starts off in black and white, as it depicts a traveling circus back in 1905. Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggsaka (Yes, this is his actual name here folks) is a traveling magician, who yearns to be a great man someday along the lines of Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison all rolled into one. Sure, he could be a good man like his father once was, as he worked his whole life in the dirt. But, that's not what Oscar wants at all. Sadly though, he's stuck as a small time magician for a traveling circus. Acting under the stage name, "Oz, the Great and Powerful."
Oz also happens to be a con man, who's dream in life is to lie his way to the top. Seducing almost every pretty girl he sees with a music box, along with a fake story to impress them into sleeping with him. And to make matters worse, the only thing that Oz cares about more than seducing girls is money. Indeed, Oz is probably one of the most egotistical and greedy protagonists that you'll ever find in a film. However, in spite of all these qualities, we do find out there's a bit of good in him as well. Something that not even Oz can see, as his ex girlfriend, Annie (Michelle Williams) points out to him early on in the movie; when she visits him to tell him of her engagement to another man.
We're never told why Annie and Oz broke up, nor is it ever directly mentioned that they were even together at all, at some point. However, it does seem like they shared a close intimate relationship together, and that Oz deeply cares about her; based on how the scene plays out with Annie and Oscar, at the beginning of the film.
As the two share a tender moment, where they both wish for each other's happiness, Oz finds out he's in terrible trouble. The strongman finds out that Oz has been having an affair with his wife, so this prompts the wizard to runaway. The strongman and clown chase him across the circus relentlessly, until Oz manages to seek safety into a hot air balloon; thus flying away from danger...or so he thought.
Oz's hot air balloon gets sucked up by a tornado, in what turns out to be one of the longest dragged out scenes in the film. Moments later, Oz finds himself in the land of Oz, where Theodora the good witch (Mila Kunis) is the first to greet him.
It's there that Oz learns that an evil wicked witch terrifies the land, since the last great king of Oz died. It's been said that a great and powerful wizard bearing the same name as the land of Oz would come to set things right, and would become the new ruler of Oz. Reluctant at first, Oz lies to Theodora saying he's the wizard, when she tells him that the new king would have access to all the gold that the kingdom had to offer; hence the journey begins.
Like always, Oz uses his womanizing ways to seduce Theodora, as he finds her to be attractive. Theodora seems to possess very little to no experience when it comes to romance, so it's easy for Oz to seduce her. He gives her a music box saying how it belonged to his dead mom; which he does with every girl that he seduces in this film. Theodora falls for it, and then they dance together in the night. Afterwards, they share a tender kiss, and then the scene fades into the next day, as they're strolling along the yellow brick road while holding hands.
Although it's never mentioned what happened that night between them, but it's clear that Theodora is head over heels in love with the wizard; even though he was clearly using her the whole time. Along the way, they meet a flying monkey named Finley (Zach Braff), in a bellhop's uniform, that's tied up in some vines. Oz goes over to help him, at Theodora's request, but a lion appears to attack them. Using cheap parlor tricks, Oz manages to chase the cowardly lion away; thus Finley swears a life debt to Oz.
Meaning, that no matter what happens, Finley has to remain Oz's faithful servant until death. Therefore, Finley is obligated against his will to help Oscar pull off the biggest con that Oz has ever seen, by making everyone believe he's the wizard of oz.
Only problem is that Theodora's sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), isn't convinced that Oz is who he claims to be, so he must prove it by killing the evil wicked witch. Normally, any other sane person would run like hell, but Oz accepts the challenge anyway, after seeing his mountains of gold that he'd inherit upon becoming ruler of Oz.
From there, they meet China Girl (Joey King), an actual little girl made out of china, and Oscar discovers that things may not be all that it seems in the merry old land of Oz. And, that's all readers really need to know about the story for now.
To be honest, "Oz: The Great and Powerful" is arguably the best film of 2013 thus far. Not only is the story very engaging, but it's a tale about redemption. Sure, Oz starts off as a manipulative, womanizing, lying, selfish, greedy and a egotistical jerk, but as the film plays out, we soon learn that under all that lies the heart of a good man. A man that may not be the wizard that Oz was expecting, but he may be the wizard that it needs.
Although with the exception of Mila Kunis' performance that seemed a bit sub par in this, all the other actors seemed to pull of their parts quite well. I especially loved the voice acting by Zach Braff, as Finley, who almost steals the entire film. Plus, Joey King's performance as China Girl was simply adorable, as you can't help but love her character. And for those that think James Franco isn't a good actor, he really shows off his range in this film; while Rachel Weisz knocks her performance out of the park.
The visual effects are nothing short of amazing. And if you choose to see this in IMAX 3-d, then you won't be disappointed. This is one of the rare films, where it's worth seeing in IMAX 3-D, as it makes you feel like your right in the film itself. However, even if you choose to see it in regular 2-D, the visual effects are still very impressive. Although that tends to be part of the movie's problem. Sure, the visuals are impressive to look at, but Sam Raimi tends to drag out the film longer than it needs to be to show off these visuals. Take the tornado sequence for example, the scene should've taken no longer then maybe five minutes for Oscar to land in Oz. However, Raimi chooses to show off the visual effects, by making the whole tornado scene, and crash landing scene in Oz, over ten minutes long.
It's these type of scenes that cause a lot of pacing issues throughout this film; which should've been a ninety minute movie at best. Not a two hour one full of filler, so we can awe at eye candy throughout the film.
However, that's not to say that the technical aspects about the film weren't great. It was fairly impressive how the film pays homage to the original 1939 film, with it's approach at showing our world in black and white; while showing off Oz in color. Plus, when the film shifts from a black and white flat screen to show our world, and then shows off a full colorized wide screen version of Oz, it only makes it that much more impressive to watch the startling contrast.
Not to mention the sound effects are fairly impressive as well, as Raimi switches from a monotone sound effect, when the film is still in our world, to a stereo sound system when it switches over to Oz. Granted, most moviegoers won't notice it, but it's another nice touch that helps differentiates the two worlds.
Danny Elfman musical scoring is fairly decent for this film. Although I hesitate to call this his best work, but he still manages to capture the theme of the film quite well. As far as the look of Oz feeling like it's a rip off of "Alice in Wonderland" according to most critics, I'll again let my readers decide that for themselves. If you ask me personally, I honestly felt this film was visually different than what we saw in "Alice in Wonderland."
In "Alice in Wonderland", it portrayed a post apocalyptic fantasy world because it was years later after Alice had visited Wonderland, when she was a child. The evil Queen of Hearts' reign had grown worse over time; thus there were a lot of desolated wastelands throughout the film. Whereas "Oz: The Great and Powerful", it showed a fantasy world that was not only unique, but it also still managed to stay true to the fantasy world that audiences saw in the original 1939 film.
Granted, there are obvious similarities, but it's never enough to where I would say that this film clearly rips off "Alice in Wonderland." Again, it's only my opinion, so you can take it for whatever it's worth.
Overall though, I wouldn't say this is the best fantasy movie that I've seen, as the pacing issues drag down the story quite a bit; with it's unnecessarily dragged out scenes to show off the visual effects. Granted, the wide angled shots are nice too, in order to show off the magical world of Oz. But again, all this does is drag out the movie even more than it has to be.
Plus, it doesn't help that the story tends to be a bit predictable at times. Not to mention the fact that this film might've been better had Mila Kunis had a better performance, but I digress.
However, if you're just looking for a fairly decent popcorn film that'll tickle your senses, and take you on an epic journey without having to think too much into it's story, then look no further than "Oz: The Great and Powerful." Not the best fantasy film out there, but it's still enjoyable nonetheless, as I'd encourage anyone to see it at a rating of three out of four.
© 2013 Steven Escareno