OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
By Gary Murray
Starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams
Written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Sam Rami
Running time 2 hr 10 min
MPAA Rating PG
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
Sam Rami is the director behind the cult classic series of Evil Dead movies. He took his low budget skill-set into such major works as The Quick and the Dead, For the Love of the Game and the Spiderman series with Tobey Maguire. With his new film, he takes on one of the most daunting tasks of his career, a prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. The movie is Oz the Great and Powerful.
This version of the classically tinged tale starts in glorious black-and-white and in the old ratio of film before wide-screen. We meet Oscar (James Franco) a circus magician that everyone calls Oz. We soon find that he is a bit of a charlatan and cad, able to woo simple country women with a rote patter.
During a show in Kansas, a young girl in a wheelchair asks this powerful magician to fix her. What little bit of a heart he has breaks as he realizes the folly of his deceptions. Oscar soon comprehends that he has no friends, even snapping at his assistant Frank (Zach Braff).
Before one can blink, Oscar is in an air balloon as a twister drops from the sky. His escape transports him to the Land of Oz. This is a techno-color feast of sights and sounds in full wide screen. Almost as soon as he lands, our Oscar is assumed to be the Wizard of prophesy. He also meets Theodora (Mila Kunis). She is a witch with powers who warns him about the bad witch Glinda (Michelle Williams). Theodora instantly falls for Oscar.
She takes him to the Kingdom of Oz where he meets Theodora’s sister Evandora (Rachel Weisz) who explains that the true ruler of Oz will get the treasure of the kingdom if he will only kill the bad witch Glinda. Greed fuels his decision to take on the task.
So, in one of the many parallels to the original sound film, our hero has to go down the yellow brick road to complete his adventure. Along the way, he meets the broken China Girl (voiced by the girl in the wheelchair Joey King). The path eventually leads to Glinda and our hero Oscar finding out that everything he has been told is wrong.
His switching of sides shows the true intention behind both Theodora and Evandora. The film builds to a confrontation between the forces of good and evil. It is a battle of magician’s skills versus magical skills. It becomes a giant work of smoke, pyrotechnics and mechanical skills that saves the day and saves the people of Oz.
In so many ways, this is an extraordinary film. The sets and costumes look as if they were taken out of mothballs from 70 years ago. The movie feels as if it were a part of ancient Hollywood and not a CGI feast. The effects have a definite old-style experience that gives the film a classic, not a modern, feel. One believes that the effects were created on set and not in a computer.
This version is in 3D and the effects are astounding. Not only do we get the objects being thrust at the audience but the audience also feels the depth of image. Behind the cinematography is Peter Deming and his talent is glorious, capturing every element with a magical touch.
Just like in the 1939 film where the farmhands were also the characters in Oz, Director Sam Rami uses his Kansas cast as Oz residents. People seen in the black-and-white world are also in the color scenes. This double casting of many of the majors is another way the movie is a true homage to the beloved MGM flick.
In a stand-out cast, Mila Kunis shows that she is much more than the prettiest face to grace every magazine cover on the news stand. She proves that she can deliver a performance full of vile and vigor while still keeping a vulnerable quality. This is an acting job that shows the world that Mila can play a giant evolving character. One would hope that the Academy remembers this one in a year. It is deserving of accolades.
Michelle Williams is usually the most interesting actress in every role she assumes but here she is flat. She is pretty and pretty dull. It just goes to show that it is much more fun to play bad than to play good.
James Franco does a solid job of carrying the film but he is smart enough to know that he is second banana to the special effects. He does carry a certain devil-may-care charm but with a wicked serpentine smile on his lips.
The question must be asked—why does one go to a movie? To be entertained and transported to a world different from your own would be my answer. Oz the Great and Powerful does that in spades. It is a perfectly enjoyable pre-sequel to the 1939 film, full of reverence and whimsy. There have been other Oz films and television shows and most have failed. This is the second best adaptation of the works of L. Frank Baum. It is also the first must-see film of 2013.