Oz the Great and Powerful

Posted March 8, 2013 by in


Total Score

3/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: family, fantasy
Director: Sam Raimi
MPAA Rating: PG
Actors: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis
Length: 130 minutes
Release Date: 3/8/2013
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures (presents) (as Disney), Roth Films
What We Thought

Oz is worth watching as a visual experience.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
Imagine if Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (2010) looked like Evil Dead.  What you’d have is Oz the Great and Powerful, directed by Sam Raimi, who brings his unique flair for visuals to his first 3D family film.
     Oscar Diggs (or “Oz” to his friends, played by James Franco) is a carnival magician on tour in Kansas, who dreams of bigger and better things.  After an altercation with the carnival strong man, Oz flies away in his hot air balloon, when he’s caught in a tornado, and whisked off to the land of Oz.  He meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), who tells him that he must be the Great Wizard, prophesied to save the kingdom from the Wicked Witch.  He is promised all of the treasures of the land of Oz, but only if he journeys to the Dark Forest, where he must defeat the Wicked Witch.  Along his adventures, Oz meets Finley, a talking, flying chimp dressed like a bellhop; and a living china doll, who lost her family to the Wicked Witch.
     Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel the 1939 MGM musical, explaining the origins of the Wicked Witch, and how Oz came to power.  Like its predecessor, Oz opens in black-and-white, then goes to color once Oz arrives in the land of Oz. Oz goes two steps farther than the original, starting in 4:3 ratio then going to widescreen, and diving from flat 2D into deep 3D.  For the most part, Oz is a 3D film done right.  Shots are held long enough to appreciate deep compositions, and colors are bright and saturated.  However, Raimi goes to close-up a little too often to make Oz the equal of Avatar as a 3D film, so consider the surchage optional, but recommended.
     Visually, Oz is stunning.  The CGI work creates a few memorable side characters, particularly Finley.  Finley steals the show, delivering many of the film’s humorous moments, and his reaction shots are priceless.  Backgrounds and settings are also gorgeous.  Oz travels through a forest of man-sized flowers, and the gleaming Emerald City.  The Dark Forest and the nearby cemetery are fun, spooky places.
     As good as the visuals are–and they are that–the special effects overwhelm the story and characters.  Finley disappears for a long stretch of the film, and Knuck (one of the Munchkins, played by Tony Cox), gets more attention at the end of the film than his character deserves.  He’s either underwritten, or his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor for running time.  Time spent in China Town (where the porcelain girl comes from), is too brief and eventless.
     As a story with something to say, Oz comes to a conclusion it does not earn, suggesting that it’s better to be moral than to be important and accomplished.   Oz is a flimflam man who’s been called upon to portray the moral leader of the people.  Given that Oz begins and ends as a fraud and unrepentant womanizer (which has consequences on the story), the message is illusory.  What Oz has in style, it lacks in coherent substance.  I’d add that the romantic b-plot is shoehorned, and the lady’s interest in him comes off as foolish given the way Oz carries on.
     Most of the performers are fairly good.  Franco is theatrical, but it’s the right choice for his character.  Oz is always “on stage” in his encounters, bowing and making large arm gestures as if playing for the back row.  Michelle Williams gives a strong performance, radiating purity as Glinda the Good Witch.  Rachel Weisz’s performance as Evanora is flat though next to the over-the-top Kunis (and I mean that as a description of Kunis, not a criticism).
     Despite its shortcomings, Oz the Great and Powerful is worth watching, not as a visual narrative, but as a visual experience.  Consider it dessert; it’s not substantial, but enjoyable all the same.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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