Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Mitchell Kapner & David Lindsay-Abaire
It has been 70+ years since the most recent incarnation of the the Land of Oz, brought so brilliantly to the screen by Victor Fleming with the help of Judy Garland in 1939. I have never read the book by L. Frank Baum myself, and am no fanboy, but something happened at the screening of the film that took me aback for a moment. The film was shown in 3D (which added little to nothing to film, but my disdain for 3D belongs in a different discussion altogether), and special Oz 3D glasses were handed out to the first 50 people in line. Once everyone was in the theater, a lady stood up and asked the crowd if someone would share their special edition glasses with her friend, who had been anticipating the film for over 2 years, since it was first announced. I had not realized there was such a passionate following. Having loved the original myself, I found the idea of a reboot repulsive at first, but I guess that is just evidence of me being snobby and cynical, right?
So to bring the world back to life in the new millennium, an all-star cast has been rolled out to travel to the Emerald City and the magical land of Oz. James Franco plays Oscar, or Oz, a mediocre circus magician in Kansas. When his womanizing has him escaping the wrath of the circus’ weightlifter in a hot air balloon, Oz gets swept away into a tornado, which transports him to a strange and foreign land. He is discovered by Theodora (Mila Kunis), who think him the great wizard from the sky they have been waiting for to save them from the evil witch. In order to become king and inherit an enormous sum of gold, Oz must defeat the evil witch. But with three of them all told, Theodora, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), confusion as to which is actually the evil one quickly befall Oz and his loyal companion Finley, a winged monkey in a bellhop outfit who owes Oz a life debt.
I feel utterly and completely conflicted on this one. I don’t quite know what to do or what to think. I entered the theater with no real expectations, hoping maybe the worst case might be inspiration to revisit Fleming’s ’39 Oz. This more than likely helped the outcome. I was taken off guard at how hokey the film was, right from the beginning, though perhaps that is my own fault. Coming from the director of something as hokey as The Evil Dead, I guess I shouldn’t have been. Sam Raimi has a certain delivery, and maybe I’m not the right audience. Maybe I have been conditioned in recent years by the likes of the Bond and Batman franchises to expect all my fun to actually not be fun at all, and actually be extremely and overly serious. Certainly a trend in recent Hollywood (though I have loved Bond and Batman of late), but I don’t want to lose the whimsy that made me originally fall in love with cinema either.
The narrative took its time becoming an actual player in the picture as well, as Raimi leads us to feast on the wonderful world his special effects team has created for us, and it is truly wonderful. A pure spectacle if I have ever seen one, but its greatness in creating a world you might like to spend some time in, is also offset by performances that you would really much rather avoid. Franco is a struggle in the main role, lacking any real charisma or confidence, which only leaves an awkward leading man. Counter Mila Kunis and you have a tandem of, not really bore, but of poor. Thank God for Weisz and Williams, though after Franco and Kunis, who is to say how great they actually were. I am leaning to great because they definitely stole the show.
So you can see why I may be conflicted. Some great performances, some very poor; some great visuals and world building, some lackluster storytelling. Raimi really is not my director, making visual choices I just was quite unsure why the camera was being used quite that way. But I left the theater with a smile! I had a good, fun time by the end of the film! What the heck is going on here!? There will be haters out there who claim that this film has stolen their childhood or ruined the World of Oz, or such and such. Get over it. Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz is still the same great film, and is unaffected by anything this film does, or does not do. Taking it for what it is, and what it sets out to be (which, at the hand of Raimi, appears to be a hokey cheesefest), I think Oz: The Great and Powerful does enough to not only hold my attention, but even to entertain. Could I easily recommend the film to just anyone, probably not. But for those looking for an easy escape and who do not have expectations that no film could ever live up to, you might give this one a go.