In this day and age of Hollywood, everything is either a remake, a sequel, or a prequel (what I like to call the “Hollywood Triple Threat”). They have scraped the bottom of the barrel so hard that they’ve now gotten to the monstrously classic films that should never have either of those three options in the same sentence as them. It was only inevitable, but they finally reached Victor Fleming’s enormously beloved The Wizard of Oz. Much like every other person in the world, it’s a film which I hold very near and dear to my heart. So the thought of a Hollywood Triple Threat was just downright revolting. I walked into Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great and Powerful with no anticipations of a good film whatsoever. Did Hollywood prove me right?
I’ll tell ya, I’ll be damned, but I actually enjoyed Sam Raimi’s new venture into the land of Oz. It was actually… gasp, a fairly darn good film. Not a GREAT one, but a good one. While Raimi doesn’t quite grasp the nature of the original film’s magic and wonder, he does a fine job of at least trying in this film. One of the best examples is the film’s opening sequence. Filmed, or at least cropped, in the original Academy Ratio of 1.37:1 and black and white, it explores the origins of Oscar Diggs (James Franco), before expanding in ratio, depth, and scale upon arriving via hot air balloon into land of Oz, where Oscar almost immediately meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) who explains to him that he is prophesied as the great Wizard who will save Oz from the evil Wicked Witch, Evanora (Rachel Weisz).
Right off the bat, once you enter Oz, you’re treated to a borderline Avatar-ian look at it’s beautiful surroundings and psychedelic wildlife. Filmed natively in 3D, the third dimension helps thrust you into the surroundings quite vividly. And with all debates about whether 3D is still a gimmick or not, it seems fitting that after The Wizard of Oz gimmicked itself out with the use of color photography, Oz: The Great and Powerful would naturally be filmed in 3D. Although I couldn’t help but think it might have been a slightly better nod to not start the 3D until Oscar arrives in Oz. But I guess then we wouldn’t have gotten that awesome 3D Tornado scene, in which I kept expecting to hear Oscar proclaim that “that was the same cow”.
As much as I’ve been applauding Oz: The Great and Powerful, that’s not to say that the film doesn’t have it’s faults, because it most certainly does. Several plot holes and failed plot devices scattered throughout the film keep it from being close to perfect, the biggest being that this story even exists in the first place despite the original Wizard of Oz being the result of a dream via a concussed Dorothy Gale.
Also, the supporting cast of characters including Zach Braff as a talking money named Finley, and Joey King as a living porcelain doll truly don’t hold a candle to Dorothy’s original posse. However, my biggest issue with Oz: The Great and Powerful was how awkwardly over the top, and at times, cringe-worthy, Mila Kunis was once her character makes it’s transformation into the Wicked Witch of the West. Through the faults, the film is actually fun enough to not let that ruin it for you, though. Especially once you arrive at the film’s finale involving Oscar finally taking the role of the Wizard in the form that we all know and love.
Oz should have sucked hard. Somehow it didn’t. I found myself having quite a lot of fun at times and it really surprised me. I think the key with Oz: The Great and Powerful is to try to ignore that it’s remotely involved with The Wizard of Oz and to view it as a new Sam Raimi film about witches, munchkins, and magic wrapped up in a Disney shell. After all, the screenplay doesn’t go out of it’s way to connect everything from the original film, choosing not to explain some half-assed point of origin for EVERYONE. And you can’t fault the film for that.
I give Oz: The Great and Powerful a 3.75 out 5.
By Richard Pepper