Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz. At first he thinks he's hit the jackpot-fame and fortune are his for the taking. That all changes, however, when he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone's been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity-and even a bit of wizardry-Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well. (from Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
I suppose 74 years later seems like a good enough time as any to create a prequel to a beloved classic. That's exactly what was done when Oz the Great and Powerful was developed as an imagined backstory for the title character from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Creating a new origin story for the wizard become a labor of love for Disney, and director Sam Raimi (of the original Spider-Man trilogy) was soon attached to direct it. After seeking other A-list actors to take on the titular role failed, the role of Oz eventually went to James Franco, an alum of Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, and Oz the Great and Powerful was born. Released in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D, Oz the Great and Powerful shows us how the magician became the man behind the curtain, and how the two wicked witches came into power.
Oz the Great and Powerful, while distinctly bearing a modern film feel, does seem cut from a similar cloth as the original 1939 film. But times, technology, and audiences have changed dramatically, so Oz the Great and Powerful is ultimately what you might expect from a studio like Disney if a film like The Wizard of Oz were to be imagined today. However, director Sam Raimi largely has a background in horror filmmaking (He made a name for himself with the low-budget gore-fests The Evil Dead and its sequels), and while The Wizard of Oz was distinctly more family-friendly (and felt like a play brought to the big screen), Raimi seems to have a hard time not embellishing his love for the horror genre by playing up things like the flying monkeys and wicked witches in Oz the Great and Powerful.
Granted, in its day, the 1939 film was probably considerably scarier than it is received today; the flying monkeys were costumes while, today, they're entirely CG, and the original witches may look like simple costumes, but Raimi plays up the creepiness of these evil women for today. Also, while the dark forest scene is surprisingly brief, he takes the opportunity to scare up the audience some, with the 3D effect pushing a spider walking across a web into the foreground (for those of us who aren't fans of spiders), and lunging the glowing-eyed plant monsters at the screen. Raimi also shows the viewer how these creatures see Oz and his friends from their perspective (something he used for Doc Ock's tentacles in Spider-Man 2), and it's a somewhat out-of-place effect that is clever, but odd for the cinematic world of Oz. Also, when the "Wicked Witch of the West," as we know her, makes her first appearance, her transformation is pretty intense. And there is at least one time when she suddenly pops up at the screen that is a bit of a surprise and clearly utilized just to take advantage of the film's 3D presentation. Stuff like this happens throughout the movie and I couldn't help but think that it's not really a movie for younger viewers.
And with that said, the 3D is decent for the movie, but ultimately it pulls the live action actors out of the obvious CG, green-screen background. It makes the scenes look especially fake at times (think Star Wars: Episode III type actor-versus-green-screen effects and you get the idea). The biggest problem with immersing live actors in these really imaginative worlds is that it often just looks all the more fake and unreal when the actor doesn't even look like they're physically in the scene. I'm not sure if it's as bad if you watch it in 2D, but it certainly felt that way to me in 3D. But this seems to largely be a problem with the 3D effect when humans and special effects are merging for scenes (The 3D Star Trek: Into Darkness preview before this movie also looked extremely fake while other 2D previews I've seen for it looked fantastic). Sadly, the best use of 3D for the entire film was actually in its opening credits, which were presented like an old stage or puppet show. They were a fantastic use of 3D, something that the rest of the film didn't really live up to.
As an entry into the world of The Wizard of Oz, Oz the Great and Powerful is very good, but just falls short of 'great.' The Wizard of Oz was a game-changing cinematic wonder in its day, and Oz the Great and Powerful just doesn't measure up in comparison (much like its bizarre sequel in the 80s didn't either). There's a whimsical and magical feel that Raimi brings to the movie, but even at its most outlandish, it still feels like it's missing a little something. Perhaps there's plenty of that "seen it before" feeling that present day movie goers can attest to, given the seemingly limitless places today's technology can take us. But whatever the reason, Oz the Great and Powerful just seems to be missing that certain spark. It may have a little to do with the fact that James Franco is in the lead--who does a decent job as the title character, no doubt--but it's possible that a stronger lead presence could have compensated some. However, for the most part, Oz the Great and Powerful seems to lack the necessary degree of whimsy and unforgettable charm that made the 1939 film so special. Rachel Weisx and Mila Kunis are actually great as Evanora and Theodora, respectively, while Michelle Williams does a surprisingly good job portraying a younger Glinda (I'm no Williams fan; she was far more likeable as Glinda than Annie in the beginning of the movie, though. Still, I wouldn't have minded seeing someone else in the role). Scrubs' Zach Braff is only visually in the film at the beginning, but he sounds remarkably like Billy Crystal while providing the voice for the flying monkey Finley in Oz. He proves to be one of the most likeable characters in the entire film--next to the 'China Girl', who's voiced wonderfully by Joey King (The Dark Knight Rises). You can't say there isn't a strong assembly of actors for this trip to Oz, so it makes the film's weaknesses harder to pinpoint.
The content for Oz the Great and Powerful is mostly suitable for families, but as I mentioned before, there are still several "jump scenes" and creepy moments that will unsettle the younger viewers. And those jump scenes (i.e. scenes where something pops up and makes you jump or flinch in your seat) are only enhanced by the 3D effect. The language is next to nothing, with Oz saying "d*mn" twice in the opening scenes of the movie (very unnecessarily) and Theodora saying "Oh G-d" at one point. Otherwise, that's it for language. There are some hints that Oz is a bit of a womanizer, but they don't show any explicit evidence of this (just that he has wooed several women with his charm and lies). There's no real blood or gore in the movie, but we see some burned scars on one of the girls' faces from her watery tears burning her skin (get it??), and she yells in pain when it happens. Also, the transformation for two different witches into more hideous forms is a bit intense, as well as the flying monkeys being more monsterous than ever before. If your kids are sensitive to imagery like this, you'll want to wait to let them see this till they're a little older.
In all honesty, Oz the Great and Powerful is still a good prequel to a beloved classic and a fun trip to the cinema, even despite its shortcomings. It doesn't quite live up to The Wizard of Oz, but it makes fun winks at the original and sets things up really nicely for the events in the 1939 movie (however, Disney has already announced plans of a sequel to Oz the Great and Powerful!).- John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/8/13)
The Oz the Great and Powerful Blu-Ray actually has a wealth of extras. You can download the "Second Screen" app to delve deeper into the film and its production, but specifically on the disc are the following goodies...
Walt Disney and the Road to Oz (10:13) - The first featurette is a beautifully crafted look into Walt Disney's own fascination with Oz and the original books. Here we learn all about Walt's love for the stories and how he'd always wished to bring the story to the big screen himself. We even discover that he had at one time announced plans for adapting one of the stories into a film and then changed his mind when he realized it might not work. However, it all paved the road for Disney classic live action movies like Mary Poppins.
My Journey In Oz by James Franco (21:43) - This intimate behind-the-scenes look serves as a production diary from actor James Franco who interviews cast and crew about the film and working together. We get to hear laid back interviews with actors like Zach Braff and Mila Kunis, as well as hear from Sam Raimi about the project and why he took it on. It jumps around a lot from on-set footage to interviews and beyond, but it's thorough and quite interesting for film buffs and fans of this movie.
China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief (5:26) is dedicated to the puppetry used to bring the China Girl to life on set before CGI was used to bring her to life on screen. We also hear from actress Joey King who voiced and acted out China Girl's scenes for the film.
Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas To Oz (11:02) is especially interesting for artists and film buffs who like production design. Here we hear from Production Designer Robert Stromberg who talks about his inspirations for the design, his love for classic Disney animation (especially Snow White), and how the physical sets came together for the movie. For example, there were around 30 actual sets constructed and used in the movie, in addition to a lot of CGI backgrounds and set pieces.
Mila's Metamorphosis (7:43) shows Mila Kunis in the make-up chair as she has the green make-up and prosthetics applied to become the Wicked Witch of the West. Apparently, it took just under two hours each day to apply the look we see in the film! We see a lot of footage of her in the make-up chair and it's pretty cool to see how the movie magic is made.
Check out this clip of Mila's make-up time lapse:
Mr. Elfman's Musical Concoctions (7:13) - It seems to be rare to hear directly from Danny Elfman about his music, so this is a real nice extra feature here. Danny explains how he approached scoring Oz, and how certain scenes shaped his direction for the score.
Bloopers (5:06) - This is a collection of line flubs and assorted goofing off on set. It's not super funny, but it's still pretty amusing (1 "For God's Sake," 1 "D*mmit").- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/11/13)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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