Oz The Great and Powerful Director: Sam Raimi
Screenwriters: David Lindsay-Abaire, Mitchell Kapner
Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG | 127 Minutes
Release Date: March 8, 2013
Based on L. Frank Baum‘s Oz novels, Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to Baum’s 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and an homage to the classic 1939 MGM film, The Wizard of Oz.
Set 20 years before Dorothy clicked her heels, Oscar Diggs (James Franco) arrives in the magical Land of Oz where he encounters three witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams).
Theodora is convinced that the small-time magician and scam artist is a great and powerful wizard of prophecy, destined to overthrow the Wicked Witch who killed the king of Oz. Oscar must follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City where he will reclaim Oz from the Witch and free its people of her vile and cruel ways.
Along the way Oscar encounters Finley (Zach Braff), a flying monkey in a bellhop uniform, and China Girl (Joey King), a living china doll whose home and family were destroyed by the Wicked Witch.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a peculiar potion concocted from elements of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the Star Wars prequels, and a pinch of Raimi’s Spider-Man and Evil Dead franchises.
Let’s start with the scenery. Raimi’s film is certainly dazzling and yet, for all the spectacle and computer-generated splendor at work in Oz, there’s never one genuine moment of awe or amazement to be had. It’s empty illusion – nothing but green screens and motion-captured counterparts.
The landscapes look like Candyland, or one of the video game levels from Wreck-It Ralph. Everything’s shiny and pristine and Willy Wonka-esque and yet, the Wicked Witch has supposedly enslaved Oz – shouldn’t the Emerald City be a dark and dangerous place now, twisted by the Witch’s power? I guess not.
As for Oscar’s associates, Braff does his best Billy Crystal impression in bringing Finley the Flying Monkey to life, but the character fails to capture the wonder and merriment of Dorothy’s companions from the 1939 film.
Joey King as China Doll is a step in the right direction, however. A brilliant bit of computer wizardry, this living, breathing piece of porcelain often upstages the human actors in Raimi’s film – probably because she’s more at home surrounded by candy-coated pixels.
Speaking of humans, there are a few scattered throughout Raimi’s film. James Franco delivers an entirely decent performance as Oscar Diggs, though it would have been interesting to see what first and second choices Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp could have done with the wily con artist. As for the witches, Michelle Williams is great as Glinda the Good – and for all the eye candy in the film, nothing tops the rosy-cheeked, golden-haired goodness of Williams.
DISCLAIMER: I’m about to discuss specific plot points regarding Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful. This is a SPOILER WARNING! I really don’t think there’s much to reveal, but journey no further lest ye fancy spoilers and secrets!
It’s clear that Raimi wants you to suspect Evanora (Weisz) will become the Wicked Witch of the West – she’s draped in back, she wears a green crystal around her neck, and she shoots green force lightning from her fingertips – but it’s so painfully obvious that Theodora (Kunis) will transform into the green-skinned broom rider that the whole ‘surprise’ twist is anything but – it falls flat, as if Dorothy’s house had tumbled from the sky and crashed on top of the script.
Kunis is a wonderful actress – but she isn’t Wicked Witch material. For me, this is the greatest downfall of Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful. Let’s begin with Raimi’s approach to the character – he tries to make you sympathize for her by giving her a backstory. Theodora is heart-broken by Oscar and, in her dispair, deceived by Evanora into becoming a wretched hag. That takes away from her evilness, does it not? So now you have a villain who isn’t even that threatening – combine that with the fact that you know Oscar survives and becomes the Wizard and you’ve got a pretty pointless antagonist.
Ok, END SPOILERS.
Another problem with the Wicked Witch is the makeup. We’re talking about the most iconic villain in the history of cinema – more iconic than Darth Vader, the Joker, Ted Turner, George Lucas – you name it. The prosthetics used on Kunis make her look more like a cartoon villainess from Jim Carrey’s The Mask than the legendary Wicked Witch of the West. Did I mention she’s wearing a stereotypical ‘Sexy Witch’ costume? She’s wearing a corset! She looks like a Halloween costume model!
The Wicked Witch is actually more of a Green Gobliness. Instead of a glider, she buzzes around the city on a broom bellowing black smoke, throwing fireballs that look a lot like the Goblin’s pumpkin bombs. All that’s missing is a motorcycle helmet and a few “We’ll meet again, Spider-Man!” screams and you’ve got what could have been Raimi’s Spider-Man 4.
Like the Star Wars prequels, Oz the Great and Powerful focuses on all the wrong things – the scenery is pretty, but the characters are empty – and the heart and spirit of the original has been watered down by explaining away too much of the magic. I mean, come on… a prophecy!? If it didn’t work for Anakin Skywalker, it sure as hell isn’t going to work for Oscar Diggs.
I actually enjoyed the movie a lot. I think you’re kinda making a big deal out of things that weren’t really a big deal. I mean if you cast Mila Kunis to play a wicked witch do you really think they’re going to not make her sexy?
Comment by Skrizzle10 — March 24, 2013 @ 12:45 pm
I genuinely enjoyed this movie too! My girlfriend dragged me to see this
and expected me to fall asleep before it transitioned to color but I
remained awake for it’s entirety. Maybe it helped that I haven’t seen
the Wizard of Oz but I like this one. Also agree with Skrizzle that some
of the nitpicking isn’t really that big a deal. For me, I don’t think
Sam Raimi wanted any of us to believe that Evanora was going to become
the Wicked Witch of the West. From the moment she made her entrance, I think it was pretty clear that she was the evil sister and that Mila Kunis’ character
(I don’t remember her name) was being played. I don’t feel like Sam
Raimi was hiding any of that and feel like he made it so transparent so that
we (the audience) would be in on the “joke” when Evanora’s betrayal
happened later. While I don’t think she’s the most beautiful actress out there, she is attractive and I agree with Skrizzle (again) that you don’t cast Mila Kunis with the intention of making her hideous. That said, I had major issues with her makeup after the transformation into Wicked Witch of the West. Was it actually prosthetics? To me, it looked like terrible CGI and now that you paint a comparison to the Mask, I think that sums it up perfectly. I would also go with the Hulk from Ang Lee’s movie of the same name. Not sure what it is. Maybe her face wasn’t elongaged enough but it looked too cartoonishly round to me. Most of all, it lacked texture and I think that was a problem for me. You’re hideous, you’re wicked, you fly around throwing and appearing in FIRE…but you have skin that looks as soft as a baby’s behind? Didn’t buy it. And I wish they did something with her voice because all I could think about when she cackled like a witch was Meg Griffin (Mila’s character from Family Guy). On the other hand, I liked the other characters (Oz, Glenda, China Doll, Nook, etc) so much that the problems with the witch didn’t bother me, not even the monkey.
Comment by PAUL — March 25, 2013 @ 10:03 am
This movie is a must-see for fans of Wizard of Oz.
Notice in one of the
early scenes when Annie [Michelle Williams] tells Oz that John Gale has
asked her to marry him and Oz explains his aspiration to be great and
not a Kansas farmer, etc. – in the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s last name is
Gale – Dorothy is Annie and John’s granddaughter?!?
Also, when the
girl in the wheelchair pleads with Oz to heal her legs during his circus
act, you can almost see in his face how he want’s to help her, but he
can’t because he’s only a magician. When he’s in Oz, he is able to help
the china doll because he is equipped to help. In Oz he can become the “great” man he wants to be.
I think those that are panning the movie should stick to documentaries on Habermas’ Dialectic of Enlightenment and leave the fun and imagination to the rest of us.
p.s. see this movie in 3D if you can!
Comment by Kimberly Ann Katt — March 25, 2013 @ 4:54 pm
if its supposed to be 20yrs b4 Dorothy arrives…then its entirely believable that in the eginnings – the witch was youngish looking/semi-sexy..heck, she was a -New- Witch…..give her time to become haggard!
Comment by rextrek — September 2, 2013 @ 5:49 pm