Mar 12 2013
Despite Hollywood wanting to reboot anything and everything you’ve ever heard of, certain cinema classics have so far appeared to be off limits. We have no Godfather Part IV. There is no Citizen Kane: Revenge of Rosebud. We haven’t yet recast Casablanca with Justin Timberlake and Katherine Heigl.
But one of the mighty has now fallen: Oz.
The Wizard of Oz is one of the most iconic films of all time, and due to the fantastical setting , it was only a matter of time before someone devoured it with CGI and released some variant of the world as a blockbuster. We did not get a full-on remake of the original, but here with Oz the Great and Powerful, we have another popular choice: the prequel.
As odd a group as the original, I suppose.
James Franco is Oz himself, a carnival magician with more charm than sense, and absolutely no magical talent whatsoever resorting to cheap tricks and theatrics to fool his audience. After a particularly awful show, his day goes from bad to worse when his hot air balloon is swept up by one of those damnable Kansas tornados. Just like eighty years ago, the air goes still and the world changes from black and white to color. But in this case, from real life to CGI.
Like the film it’s trying to emulate, Alice in Wonderland, the land of Oz is almost an entirely CGI creation, and with its bright colors and whimsical plants and wildlife, it almost feels like a Dreamworks film that happens to star real people. It can be quite pretty, but unlike James Cameron’s Avatar where the lush jungles took a decade to render, this looks decidedly more hurried. It’s not bad, and the 3D isn’t eye-gouging like in Wonderland, but you often can’t shake the feeling you’re watching a movie filmed inside a very green warehouse.
After Oz lands, he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) a pretty young witch with a devious sister, Evanora (Rachel Weiz). They task him with destroying the “evil” witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), but as most of us have seen the sequel already, we know that something is amiss here.
Why would a bad witch be blonde? Ridiculous!
Glinda of course tells Oz he’s been fooled, and he in turn confides to her that he’s not one of those actual “magical” wizards. In other words, he’s a complete fraud. But that doesn’t matter as the two sisters rain down fire and brimstone and flying monkeys on the residents of Oz. Evanora does it because she’s just mean, and while Theodora is motivated by her broken heart which Oz shattered by running off with Glinda (who happens to look exactly like his long lost love back in Kansas).
Watching the film, it’s hard not to picture Robert Downey Jr. in the central role, which was originally who was cast in the film. But Downey left, and we’re given Franco instead. He does a decent job given the material, but there’s something distinctively goofy about his portrayal of the wizard that makes the entire film feel like a very high budget Disney Channel original show. Of course, not everything has to be an uber-gritty reboot like the super serious Snow White in the Hunstman, but it might be good to remember you are walking into a PG-rated film here so you won’t be caught off guard by the level of discourse.
The real acting issues crop up when the two main women start trying to do impressions of their characters from the original. Glinda the Good is part Williams’ Marilyn Monroe, part stoned Barbie doll, while Mila Kunis’s attempt at acting “wicked” is a lot more goofy than it is scary, and her eventual odd-looking facial prosthetics don’t help matters either. Their love triangle with Oz is impossibly thin, though I suppose that means it matches the characters it contains.
Oz is a fun film, with a halfway decent story molded from the universe, and you’ll find pleasant surprises like a flying monkey voiced by Zach Braff who could have been annoying, but is actually quite funny. I particularly liked the climax of the film that allowed Oz to use his non-magical skills to take on the very magical evil witches, and it ties into the events of the original film quite well. They do leave some stones unturned however, and with no mention of tin men or ruby slippers, there’s plenty left for a sequel which will inevitably arrive. Then it’s probably only a matter of time for that full-on Wizard of Oz remake. Natalie Portman as Dorothy, anyone?
3 out of 5 stars
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