Reviews: Oz The Great And Powerful

Smoke and Mirrors

Oz The Great And Powerful at it's heart is a good looking film with a rotten core. It's not quite a popcorn flick because there is too much of the film devoted to character stuff which fails and everything from the action to the jokes suffer from the same rot and lack of motivation that saps from everything in the film.

That said, this had the potential to be a lot better than an average popcorn flick, and the fact alone that they managed to work out a typical film character arc for the wizard that still fitted in place with how he was portrayed in The Wizard Of Oz shows that there was someone clever at the helm. I will have one more good thing to say about the film at the end, but from now on this is mainly going to be negative stuff.

Although the colours and setting were beautiful, not even that was unscathed. The film was clearly designed for 3d and watching in 2D, that sticks out like a sore thumb. The effects for one of the witches becomes particularly jarring, although obviously stems from it's positioning as a prequel.

Which isn't the only problem created by that. It's impossible to have a proper resolution because whatever happens the people of Oz are stuck like that, being terrorised by witches waiting for some girl to come along and throw a bucket of water over their head.

Speaking of witches, there's a key change to one of them that the whole film revolves around, but the motivation for the act is so absurdly weak, it's actually becomes really insulting thematically.

Another thing Oz fails at. Every theme is toxic. Old=Ugly. Ugly=Evil. The most important thing you can do is lie to people so that they believe. No film has to have a moral backbone, but when you're calling her the 'good witch' and the plot centres around goodness, it would be nice if said witch didn't accuse the hero of fibbing and then tell him that the only way to redeem himself is to lie to everyone and continue lying to them for the rest of his life.

Did I mention that the protagonists are pretty unlikeable? It's meant to be part of the plot but the problem is only the script writer could ever think they were progressing.

Quality is erratic, as is pacing, tone is really erratic, interrupting fairly good climaxes for jokes that fall flat.

But there is one little china girl who has soul and all the actions and tensions based on her really connected

The prodigal (wasteful little shit of a) son.

''Oz, The Great and Powerful'' is a film that tries so hard to nod to its progenitor (the 1930s movie, not so much the books) and yet I get the impression it is secretly annoyed by it. After all, The Wizard of Oz lives in a time where you can have cardboard sets, pantomime singing and unashamed melodrama, whilst Oz, The Great and Powerful lives in a time where actors must brood, battles must be sweeping, and tone is just some thing you learn in a screenwriting class but don't quite care to remember. I envision a modern day producer, seething in rage at the more colourful, family friendly drafts of the movie. "What, are we making a movie for faggots?!" He would shout, "We need a million CGI baboons! And 3D gimmickry! And cleavage and dripping mascara!"

It's odd to get hung up on grimness when there already exists a decent, creepy as hell sequel. And what about the genuinely scary moments within the original? I think it worked back then because of a basic tactile quality to the flames, moth eaten monkey costumes and Margaret Hamilton's face. You don't expect that kind of shit in a movie that has a singing, lisping lion. In Oz though, a CGI 3D baboon, CGI 3D carnivorous plant, or Mila Kunis shrieking right into the camera just doesn't look like an authentic threat to a kid in the audience.

No, there is not a lot I liked about Oz. There are some nice costumes, and the CGI china girl was very impressive. That's it. The only thing else I can really do is use up the rest of the word count, complaining about the tacky looking CGI (china girl excluding), the terrible casting (Franco can't come across as anything other than slimy, Zack Braff as boring, and Mila Kunis as unrelentingly awful) and a revisionist script that buggers up the fairly straightforward job of setting up a story everyone knows off by heart. Much like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, I can't quite figure out who Oz is aimed at. Teenage girls who hate books and classic movies, maybe? It's a demographic too small to include me, anyway. The most positive thing I can say about Oz is that it isn't as bad as Alice in Wonderland.

Ignore the negativity, please.

The best way to enjoy this movie is to go into it not expecting much more than another CG-enhanced, bank-breaking blockbuster film. As with many of those films, viewers are not here for the characters (and if you know anything about the source material, expect a lot of Jerkassery involved.) No, like the people visiting the traveling circus in the prologue, viewers are here to be dazzled, and the movie more than delivers on that front. The beginning of the movie echoes the original The Wizard Of Oz by going black and white, full-frame, lo-fi sound, but then Oz arrives in the land of Oz and suddenly everything's in glorious color and the image onscreen expands to full-size right before your eyes. And then the sensory overload a la Alice In Wonderland kicks in to deliver one of the most beautiful examples of Scenery Porn ever seen.

That's what people should be coming to this movie to see, the visual delights. And of course starting up the story of how the Wizard and the several Witches got to be where they got to be. Which comes with surprising twists, too. Not impossible to see coming, but it's easy to be shocked by some of the developments that happen as the movie progresses.


A mixed bag

Oz the Great and Powerful tells the origin story of the great wizard Oz, who begins as a lowly fraud wizard in the state of Kansas until he unexpectedly ends up in the magical land of Oz.

The movie is, on a whole, visually pleasing. The environments look like they came out of a fantasy book, the colours are vivid and lively and the world is very pretty.

The plot is rather simplistic, with the expected fairy tale cliches, but enjoyable enough. The residents of Oz are quirky and funny. Finley the flying monkey is welcome comic relief, while China Girl easily steals the show. I'm not sure whether puppeteer work was involved, but she moves naturally, and is just another part of the world of Oz instead of tacked-on CG.

While the comic relief characters mostly work, our main cast...well, the result is mixed. Franco doesn't ultimately feel like he captures the whimsical charm of a lovable conman. He is ok, but not great. Glinda was mostly dull, but for the typical "good fairy" role, Michelle Williams did an adequate job. Rachel Weisz was probably the best out of the leading cast. Having not previously seen her in a villainous role, she managed to capture the role of the wicked, vain sorceress without turning obnoxious or narmy, for the most part.

Mila Kunis was, sadly, the most disappointing part of this movie. Her initial performance as a good witch was boring and uninteresting. Instead of feeling like a character, she was just...there. Her change into the wicked witch felt forced, so instead of inciting pity or any kind of emotion, it just yields a big meh. We lack the incentive to care, because we see so little of her. Why does Evanora infuence her so easily? Is she predisposed to wickedness? We get a hint or two, but this is never followed on, instead jumping directly to her wicked witch self. Mila Kunis's performance as the wicked witch is somewhat better, but still lacking. Theodora on the whole ended up as an underwhelming, flat character.

In the end, the movie is a good two-hour popcorn masher with plenty of visual candy fluff, but don't expect it to blow you away. It has its own flavour, but it falls short.