“Oz the Great and the Powerful” Review: Even A Great Wizard Can’t Save Oz

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“Oz the Great and the Powerful” Review: Even A Great Wizard Can’t Save Oz

Wesley Emblidge

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The main compliment people have given Sam Raimi’s “Oz the Great and the Powerful” is “well, it’s better than ‘Alice in Wonderland.” It’s pretty faint praise, but the movie looked like it could have been just as bad or even worse than Tim Burton’s boring 2010 CG-fest. Both are big, fantastical adventures from Disney that rely heavily on CG worlds, and even have the same production designer and composer. And although “Oz” isn’t anywhere near the 1939 classic it prequels, it does get a leg up on “Alice” with essentially one key thing: a director who is having a lot of fun.

The movie opens, much like the original “Oz,” in a letterboxed and black and white Kansas. Oz (James Franco) is a low-rent, womanizing magician in a travelling circus, who is one day swept up in a hot air balloon by a tornado and sent off to the land of Oz. Again, like the original, the film turns to color, although here the screen also expands into full widescreen. Oz encounters a number of witches (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams), who believe him to be the wizard of local legends to come save them from the wicked witch.

Here we get into one of the first problems with the film, and that’s what is considered a spoiler. It’s pretty rare that someone will see this without having seen the original film, and the film clearly expects the audience to have seen it, going out of its way to reference scarecrows and cowardly lions. Yet at the same time, the film treats many moments either made clear by marketing, the original film or even earlier in the same movie as big reveals or surprises. Suffice it to say; it really takes the weight out of the film, not that there was much there to begin with.

There’s a lot lacking, although mostly script-wise. Character motivations are unclear and, especially with the female characters, kind of degrading. There aren’t really any stakes for Oz or anyone on his big adventure, the one attempt just falls flat and feels forced. Most of all, the film is just kind of boring, hitting all the beats you’d expect with just barely enough interesting bits to keep you awake.

Then there’s Franco, who one could argue should feel out of place since he really doesn’t belong in Oz. However, it seems like Franco just couldn’t take anything very seriously, he’s more awake than he was when hosting the Oscars but nowhere near as relatable as in “127 Hours.”

With all of those problems, the film should be pretty terrible, but Disney lucked out with one thing: hiring Sam Raimi. Raimi is a guy known for playing with the camera a lot, from his days making micro-budget horror films to even “Spider Man.” With “Oz,” it feels like Raimi was given the opportunity to do more than anything ever before, the freedom to really play in these CG environments and craft some insane visual spectacle. Raimi also takes full advantage of 3D, the kind I’d say that even rivals that of “Life of Pi” or “Hugo.”

Still, at the end of the day, there’s only so much good Raimi can do. The film is well over two hours, when it really doesn’t need to be more than maybe an hour and 40 minutes. The supporting cast is good, especially the witches, but even Mila Kunis’ gigantic eyes can’t distract the audience for all 130 minutes of “Oz the Great and the Powerful.”

 

2.5/5 Stars

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“Oz the Great and the Powerful” Review: Even A Great Wizard Can’t Save Oz