Oz The Great And Powerful

Oz The Great And Powerful celebrates cinema’s core ethos of ‘Make Believe’ even if some viewers find that it lacks the magical impetus of the 1939 original.

Keeping in mind that 2013 has barely reached cruising speed, I might be jumping the gun in saying this: if Oz The Great And Powerful is intended as the most visually immersive, most stunningly surreal and most colourfully vivid film of the year, it has a head start in the race to grab accolades for visual effects, production design and art direction. The catch, of course, is to experience this film the way it is intended to be experienced — in 3D, no less.

To appreciate this movie in its simplest form, avoid wholly comparing this film with its proprietary 1939 classic The Wizard Of Oz. Written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, and directed by Sam Raimi, this film prudently adds a fresh new twist to the original story without trying to make the original look old or outdated. Unfortunately, pundits tend to always refer to the original when judging hereditary strands of any remake. This is why I recommend perceiving Raimi’s film as either a prequel or homage to the original. In not expecting children of the current generation to have watched, understood or appreciated Victor Fleming’s original, Disney’s powerhouse production team has evidently focused on the events leading up to L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. (Essentially, this is what makes the film a prequel with symbiotic reverence to the 1939 film.) But whichever way you choose to appreciate its making, the outcome will be the same: a thrilling journey that takes us over, under and through the rainbow. But before we get there, Raimi’s opening act is set in a monochromatic letter-box aspect ratio where we first meet the man destined to become a great and powerful wizard. Calling himself ‘Oz’, Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is anything but great. In fact, he is a womaniser and a circus magician with questionable ethics. Deemed a fraud and fleeing from his past, Oz’s escape in a hot-air balloon is thwarted when a tornado sends him crashing towards an extremely colourful Emerald City, whereupon his arrival, naive inhabitants think he is the prophesised saviour of the land. Oz plays along but lands in trouble again while charming the socks of three gorgeous women — Glinda (Michelle Williams), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Theodora (Mila Kunis); all witches who will influence Oz’s transformation from a faux wizard to one that saves the day.

As a children’s movie, Disney has outdone itself with a fantasy epic brimming with visual effects and cinematography that are both mind-blowing and out of this world. Quite literally, the Land of Oz appears to be the recent most stunning rendition of Middle-Earth and it flourishes with vibrant life. But with a running time of 130 minutes, children could wriggle around restlessly during the film’s soap opera-esque moments arising from Oz’s flirtatious shenanigans with said witches. There are also some frightening scenes that could startle younger children but these are arguably when 3D is at its immersive best. Casting and characters could be seen as a mixed bag for older viewers keen on panning between this film and previous versions. Although Franco gets by as an ostensible wizard, I still think Raimi’s original choice of Robert Downey Jr. would have been far more entertaining. Opposite Franco, Williams, Weisz and Kunis have more relevance; each with ample screen time and zappy magic that brews towards a fire-and-brimstone finale. While you won’t find the Tin Man or Lion or Scarecrow as vital characters, their personification is manifested in short references. Freshly written for the film is the somewhat humorous Finley, a flying monkey voiced by Zack Braff, and the melodramatic China Girl, a porcelain doll voiced by Joey King.

All said and done, If Avatar set about reviving the novel use of 3D and Life Of Pi literally blew it out of the water, Oz The Great And Powerful marches forward by celebrating cinema’s core ethos of ‘Make Believe’. At the short end of the stick, some viewers may find this story lacks the magical impetus of the 1939 original. Then again, Raimi being the true wizard that he is, takes us down a picturesque yellow brick road resonating the fact that it’s less about where we are going but more about how we get there.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.