Genre: Fantasy, Family
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff
Release Date: March 8th 2013
1939 is remembered as one of the greatest years in cinematic history. That year, classics like Gone with The Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Wizard of Oz graced the big screen. 2013, like so many years before it, is likely to pale in comparison. One movie this year, however, attempts to recapture one of 1939’s classics– The Wizard of Oz— and expand on that beloved story in a prequel entitled Oz the Great and Powerful.
Director Sam Raimi, in telling the story, actively works to make this story match up nicely with the original. In this one, Oscar (James Franco) is the man in Kansas who is swept away into the magical world of Oz. Oscar is a cheap magician who can delight and disappoint his audiences in a matter of minutes. When he’s nearly chased out of town, he climbs onto a hot air balloon and gets caught in a tornado. “Get me out of here and I’ll do great things,” he says before being transplanted into Oz.
Like the original, the black and white fades away in the new world and Oz is presented as a magical and wondrous place to visit. Looking at all of the intricate and amazing visuals, I was quickly reminded of the land of candy from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and, of course, the land of Oz presented in the original. Watching Raimi’s visual introduction into Oz is as enchanting and impressive as watching the original Harry Potter film for the first time. For its visual mastery alone, Oz is worth seeing in all of its 3D glory.
When Oscar lands, he befriends a beautifully naïve witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis). Soon enough, he has met her tricky sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and is sent on a path into an enchanted forest to destroy the evil wicked witch. On his pathway, he meets up the gorgeous Glinda (Michelle Williams), a comedic monkey named Finley (voiced by Zach Braff) and the innocent China Girl (voiced by Joey King).
It might seem odd to expand the story of the classic but in many ways, this version adds to the original, rather than detracts from it. The original stands on its own as a Hollywood classic and this updated story appreciates that and pays homage to its predecessor in subtle ways. Fans of the original will likely appreciate this version if they go into the theater knowing that this story doesn’t measure up to the original.
With a running time of two hours and ten minutes, the story meanders at parts (especially during the second act) and the ending should have arrived much quicker than it does. Additionally, some of the casting choices were weaker than one should expect for such a high-profile adaptation. Franco, especially during some of the early scenes, seems ill-at-ease with the character and his modern-day facial hair does stand out in a world that is supposed to be so different than our own. Kunis, who is stunning and delightful during the film’s first half of the film, disappoints in the second act when her character is supposed to be more intimidating than the actress is.
But aside from some off-putting casting choices and an overlong running time, Oz does a great job in capturing much of the visual wonder and beauty of The Wizard of Oz. It can shift tone from silly comedy to serious fantasy adeptly and viewers will likely be enticed by this trip back to this wondrous land.
Fans shouldn’t expect a film that measures up to the original but they can expect a great time at the theater when this see this delightful fantasy, which will hopefully remind viewers how enchanting such stories can be if placed in the right hands.
Review by: John Hanlon