[Review] Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful posterI wasn’t entirely sure what to think when I heard they were making Oz the Great and Powerful, and never having been a fan of The Wizard of Oz, it wasn’t exactly top of my ‘must see’ list. Having said that, it looked like it might be one of those ‘spectacle’ films that’s worth seeing at the cinema. Besides, I always did like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Oz the Great and Powerful is pretty much a prequel, explaining how the Wizard comes to be in Oz, and a little bit more of the origins of the Wicked Witch. I’d forgotten that L. Frank Baum had written fourteen novels about Oz, and I can’t help wishing that they’d adapted Wicked for the big screen instead (the novel, not the musical adaptation).

James Franco plays Oscar Diggs, or Oz for short, a stage magician in a travelling carnival. His escape from a cuckolded strong man leads him into the tornado that eventually takes him to the land that bears his name. Young witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) sees him arrive, and believes him to be the powerful wizard of a prophecy that proclaims said wizard will rid Oz of its Wicked Witch and bring peace. Off they trot to the Emerald City to meet Theodora’s sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Evanora claims to have kept the Wicked Witch at bay, and to prove his wizarding abilities, sends Oz off to kill her. On his travels, Oz ends up befriending a sweet flying monkey named Finlay (Zach Braff) and a china girl named, oddly enough, China Girl, as well as Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams). Will Oz save the day? Well they made The Wizard of Oz so you work it out.

The film looks very pretty but in all honesty, it felt like I was watching a Tim Burton film – there are few traces of Sam Raimi in the visuals, and I couldn’t help but wonder what TB might have done with the material instead (though Depp would have no doubt been Oz and Bonham-Carter would have been one of the witches). Weisz in particular is rather good as Evanora (she looks fantastic in her Twenties inspired costume), and Williams manages to play Glinda as good but not insipid. Kunis isn’t bad but she seems a mite too gullible to manage the transition from Theodora to Wicked Witch (that’s not even a spoiler, she’s talked about who she plays in interviews). Her Wicked Witch is also less Wicked, and more Petulant.

The pacing is a bit odd, and the whole middle section seems to sag as though Raimi has too much he wants to cram in but ends up getting sidetracked by all the pretty colours. The “good people of Oz” become nothing more than set dressing, and Franco’s insistence on hamming up the role just make him annoying. It bugged me quite substantially that here is a land with three powerful female figures in charge, all of whom are quite capable of solving their own problems, but they feel compelled to sit around and wait for the assistance of a male con man who bears no real power of his own, merely the illusion of it. I’m not entirely sure that that’s a particularly healthy message to be projecting (though it’s no worse than the male-orientated universe of Middle Earth).

It’s certainly not a bad film by any stretch, and it is truly beautiful to look at. The credits sequence is genuinely gorgeous, and Danny Elfman’s score is predictably great, but I just felt like there was a spark missing that would have turned a decent film into a legendary one.

3.5 out of 5

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