A re­turn to hal­lowed ground

Oz the Great and Pow­er­ful (3D)

Kapi-Mana News - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT -

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.

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