oz the great and powerful | my movie review

Posted on June 7, 2013

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OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

I have to admit that I love the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. It’s totally foot-tappingly, thoroughly heart-warmingly enjoyable. But did you know that that wasn’t the first film version of the L Frank Baum story of The Wizard of Oz [he wrote 17 books based in Oz!]. ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was made in 1910, a mere 10 years after the book was written. One thing that baffles me is how few people have actually watched a silent movie. Silent movies spanned more than 30 years of cinema, so that’s like asaying you refuse to watch any movies that have been made since 1983! It’s also actually a pretty entertaining version and it’s interesting to see how effects were done 100 years ago. The fact that the story is told in 15 minutes means you have no excuse not to watch it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpV29YZ7Ksw

The fact that you can watch it in the palm of your hand is very symbolic of how far technology has come in the last century.
The next journey to Oz was in the 1925 silent movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’ starring a young Oliver Hardy and some glorious old school overacting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=se2149SPNJk
There have been several attempts have been made to transport us back to that magical land – none of which have done a particularly good job of it. In 1985 ‘Return to Oz’ failed to do little more than freak us out, completely lacking in heart and warmth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StLDV2hRlCQ
… and the Muppets also ventured to the land of Oz with their own lukewarm effort.

So could Sam Raimi – the man who gave the world ‘The Evil Dead’ and made a “meh” trilogy of Spiderman movies – deliver some of that original magic, or would this turn out to be another empty cgi mess of a movie a lá Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’?
This movie takes place about 10 years before Judy Garland gets whisked away. James Franco plays Oscar [Oz is his stage name], a travelling magician who aspires to not “be a good man, but a great one”. Zach Braff is his assistant Frank, Michelle Williams plays his love interest Annie. As with the scarecrow, tinman and lion in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ these actors also have roles in the land of Oz. Once arriving in Oz Oscar is hailed as the hero who was prophesied to save them from the Wicked Witch and therefore become the king of Oz. The temptation for Oscar to take the bling that comes with being king is too great and he reluctantly agrees to the task. He is accompanied by a flying monkey [Braff] and a china doll [Joey King] and encounters not two, but three witches. Mila Kunis is Theodora, Rachel Weisz is Evanora and Michelle Williams is Flippin-nora… i mean Glinda. All do decent jobs with their roles. There’s even the mandatory cameo from Bruce Campbell – although you may struggle to recognise him in his Winkie costume!

Let me begin by saying the movie looks wonderful and actually makes Oz feel even more magical than the original does. There are familiar elements from the original that will make people smile with joy at seeing  them on screen again – the poppy field that sends those who enter it to sleep, the distant matt image of the Emerald City, the singing munchkins [i kid you not, although it is kept to a minimum and comedy is drawn from it], although contractually there are also a lot of things that couldn’t be in the movie, such as the ruby red slippers.
The opening scenes are all shot in good old black and white, up until the tornado. At this point our “wizard” reached Oz and the screen suddenly widens and get the colour palette gets amped up to 11! The scenes are all beautifully realised with lovely touches but do, on occasion, venture a little too close to saccharine. From the raging tornado to the majestic tranquility of Oz – it’s a delight to watch.
The script is witty and clean, with many moments that will make you [and your young ones] smile. It builds the story in a manner that is in keeping with Judy Garland’s adventure. It retains some of the feel of a pantomime which some have slated, but I found enjoyable. Particularly scenes with the witches, which could be a little overacted. I particularly loved the little hint as to where the story hints at a twist when Theodora begins to cry over Oscar’s apparent rejection of her. It’s all really good fun. I particularly enjoyed the witch fight that reminded me of the scrap between Gandalf and Saruman [top stuff!], and the flying monkeys are even more scary than ever, managing to deliver a few jump out of your seat moments.
As you’d expect from a movie like this, the cgi takes a major role but Raimi very much uses the classic movie as his template for what he brings to the screen here. It’s mostly great, sometimes just good. But that doesn’t spoil it. I mean – who didn’t know that the scenery in the original was painted, or the flying monkeys weren’t really people in costumes? Did that spoil it? No, of course not – because the movie was so enjoyable. The same applies here – it’s such a lovely movie – uncomplicated, unpretentious, and fun story, that it simply doesn’t matter. The problem arises in movies that rest solely on the cgi being the main attraction rather than secondary to the story.
Thankfully Raimi didn’t go the route that Tim Burton took with Alice by having an all out battle as the finale, but instead delivers a far more well thought out, and fitting end to the story that leads completely naturally into ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

Thanks to Raimi’s brain and courage, he gives us a movie with a heart.

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