“Oz the Great and Powerful” offers a visual spectacle that is a feast for the eyes. The story isn’t quite as magical but it’s good enough to make it watchable.
Based on L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” novels, this new movie serves as a prequel to the classic 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s like “Wicked” without all the singing.
The film opens in the black-and-white world of 1905 Kansas, where Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is working as a magician in a traveling circus. Oscar dreams of being a great magician but he’s not there yet. He’s had more success as a ladies’ man.
A tornado whisks Oscar and his hot-air balloon to the colorful and widescreen world of Oz. Here he is greeted by Theodora (Mila Kunis), the first of three witches in this tale. Upon learning that Oscar goes by the same name as her homeland, Theodora concludes that he must be the powerful wizard that has been prophesied will come and rule the kingdom. Oscar knows he’s no powerful wizard, but is intrigued by promises of power and gold.
Theodora guides Oscar to the Emerald City, which is currently in the keeping of her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), also a witch. Evanora tells Oscar that in order to secure the crown he will have to defeat Glinda (Michelle Williams), the wicked witch.
Now, you don’t need a master’s degree in Ozmology to know that Glinda isn’t a wicked witch and that there were actually two wicked witches who happened to be sisters. Oscar eventually figures this out in time to lead Glinda and her people into a battle royale for the Emerald City.
Director Sam Raimi has put a lot of heart and creative whimsy into “Oz the Great and Powerful.” And yet I’m left with mixed feelings.
There’s no doubt the movie is visually stunning. Oz is awash in color and creative creature, costume and set designs. It’s lovely to look at. Raimi borrows from the original film’s ideas and expands on them. Not only are the Kansas scenes in black and white, but the image is boxed in (although at times elements will fly outside the box). When Oscar crosses dimensions, the screen slowly bleeds into color and from square to wide-screen. It’s an enchanting effect.
As to the story, I found myself drawn in initially but then less intrigued when the Oz sequence started. Any time a film throws in words like “prophecy” and “destiny” I lose interest. It really sucks the dramatic tension out of a story when you’re being told the hero is destined to save the day repeatedly.
However, as things reached the dramatic climax I had been brought back around and enjoyed how things played out. The characters were interesting and Franco does a nice job as the charming rogue.
Thankfully the movie avoids going into musical mode. One of my favorite moments is when the munchkins start to do a musical number and Oscar shuts them down.
The 3D is very good and enhances the experience. With its emphasis on visual flourish, this is a film that should be seen on a big screen.