A return to hallowed ground
Oz the Great and Powerful (3D)
Starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bill Cobbs. Screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, directed by Sam Raimi. 130 minutes, rated PG (scary scenes). Showing at Reading Cinemas Porirua, Light House Pauatahanui.
There is expectation and then there is Oz. In this cinematic era of serialised fantasy epics, it was a no-brainer L Frank Baum’s Land of Oz books would find their way back to the big screen sooner or later. Baum followed his 1900 fairytale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with 13 other Oz books. In other words – cha-ching.
The tricky part was finding a filmmaker daring enough to walk the same yellow brick road as the 1939 musical classic The Wizard of Oz – arguably more iconic and beloved than Baum’s original fairytale – and risk tarnishing its legacy. Disney previously had a stab in 1985 with Return to Oz, a box-office disaster.
Director Sam Raimi, who gave movie credibility and profitability to comic- book super- heroes, turned out to be just the man.
Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel of sorts to Dorothy’s adventures, is a visually splendid and hugely satisfying re-entry to Baum’s fabled world of witches, wizards and flying monkeys.
A small-town magician and conartist in early 20th century Kansas, Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is whisked away to another world when he and his air balloon are caught in a tornado. The people of Oz view him as a prophesied wizard, destined to free them from the rule of a nasty witch but Oscar is more moved by the amount of gold in the Emerald City’s vaults.
He encounters a myriad of characters, including a monkey sidekick, an orphaned girl made of china, and witch sisters Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Glinda (Michelle Williams) and Theodora ( Mila Kunis), who guide and misguide him on his quest.
In terms of fairytale whimsy, tone and design, the movie is a close cousin to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland but Raimi’s picture is far more memorable.
The former was an optic overdose of computer-generated imagery and Burtonesque wackiness but little more. Oz’s technical achievements are finely balanced with meaningful, affecting themes and reverence for the 1939 picture – though it only once tries its hand at a musical number.
It is also one of the few movies to make marvellous use of 3D and in an age of recycled ideas and designs, its vision of Oz is eyepopping.
I was particularly impressed with the Wicked Witch of the West’s script.
She is not simply an evil cackler but a tragic figure whose creation is a direct result of Oscar’s philandering ways.
Which brings us to the picture’s main sticking point. Oscar is a bit obnoxious.
Nobody likes a squeaky-clean hero but we still want to be able to cheer for them and I’m not convinced Franco’s smug bluster will engage audiences in the way he should. More Han Solo, less Lando Calrissian was required for this scoundrel.
Nevertheless, of any family movie I’ve seen in the three and half years since I’ve had children, this would be the one I most want to sit down and watch with them – though the frightful flying monkeys will mean that’s still a few years away yet.
Bubble vision: Glinda the good witch (Michelle Williams) and conman-cum-wizard Oscar ‘‘Oz’’ Duggs (James Franco) make an effervescent escape in the highly entertaining Oz the Great and Powerful.