Saturday, March 16, 2013

Finally I See the Emerald City! “Oz the Great and Powerful”



Movie Review by Jack Silbert
With Great and Powerful comes great responsibility. Spider-man trilogy pals Sam Raimi and James Franco team up again for the daunting task of making a Wizard of Oz prequel. And of course you’re not going to match one of the Greatest Screen Achievements of All Time—you’re not only competing with the actual film itself, but with people’s nostalgic attachment to it. And a great and powerful nostalgia it is! Luckily, your kids won’t be carrying too much of that baggage as they follow the yellow-brick road. So I think they’ll have a lot of fun on this trip.


Raimi certainly tips his hat repeatedly to the original Wizard, starting the story in Kansas in black-and-white and my oh my there’s a twister on the way. But first we meet Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a traveling-circus charlatan who, down deep, really has a heart of gold. Come on, it’s the ever-charming James Franco; you can’t not like him! “I’ll see you in my dreams,” he tells left-behind good girl Michelle Williams, and we get the feeling that he probably will.

Mila Kunis and James Franco
Just like that, Diggs is whisked away to a Technicolor (and CGI-enhanced, and 3-D too if you pay the surcharge) dream world that—imagine that!—is also called Oz. As his crashed hot-air balloon rushes down some rapids, I wondered if Franco might be spending 127 hours here. But soon enough he’s meeting kooky characters and is off on an adventure-filled quest. Mila Kunis doesn’t fare too well as an old-timey screen siren type; it’s as if she’s dressed up for the school play. (Suffice to say she later gets her chance to truly soar after… well, no spoilers, but there may be an apple involved.) Better at summoning the Golden Age of Film are Rachel Weisz as a very bad witch and—hey it’s Michelle Williams again!—all soft focus, soothing smiles, and understanding eyes as Glinda the Good. Then there’s Zach Braff as a CGI donkey, no, wait, monkey—a flying one in a bellhop suit.

Braff is actually pretty funny, but there is a Shrek-lite quality in the early going here; the movie is pleasantly entertaining but doesn’t really take off. I was also reminded of the recent Alice in Wonderland remake (which this is “from the producers of”) and couldn’t help wonder what the more inventive Tim Burton might’ve done with THIS fantasy world.

Franco and Braff
But don’t count out Raimi just yet! As he continues to build up the tension and things get darker, the movie gets more and more compelling. Does it get too scary? Maybe for the littlest kids, but let’s not forget that the original movie gets pretty dark and scary too, with the flying monkeys and “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too.” Here it’s generally a fun scariness that I think kids will enjoy.

Raimi, meanwhile, certainly revels in the history of film. (Will kids, or even adults, really notice that the movie’s aspect ratio widens as we go from black-and-white to color?) As Diggs the would-be-wizard starts expounding on the marvels of Thomas Edison, I began to worry, “Oh no, here comes another Hugo cinema-studies lecture.” But the movie wisely focuses on showing the magic more than talking about it.

Franco and Michelle Williams
Indeed, as Diggs and his ragtag band of helpers use magic to save the day, I became a believer too. It’s a thrilling climax and conclusion that left me feeling very satisfied with this movie. And even though there’s a lot of cool stuff to look at, there are also positive messages of teamwork and pursuing your dreams but still remembering your friends. Diggs is definitely of the “some have greatness thrust upon them” school, and it’s real sweet to see him discover the goodness within.

All photos ©Disney. Not for reuse.



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