Movie Review: “Oz the Great and Powerful” – Neither…Nor

Written by Travis Pulchinski March 13, 2013

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“Oz the Great and Powerful” was obviously meant to be a Tim Burton directed fantasy adventure movie starring Johnny Depp as The Wizard and Helena Bonham Carter as the Wicked Witch of the West.  As it turned out, Disney had to settle for director Sam Raimi and James Franco in the lead role, although they did still manage to persuade Danny Elfman to stay on board.  In the most recent bastardization of the classic novel, its lone reputable film adaptation “The Wizard of Oz”, James Franco bands together a group of actors in motion capture suits to save the world of GreenScreenia from the Wicked Witch of forced character development.  The result is a movie that will lead your head a-scratchin’, wondering what Disney would be hatchin’, if they only had a brain.

Kansas Is Going Bye-Bye

James Franco plays Oscar (Oz), a lowly carnival magician and con man who uses his charm and slight of hand to wile women and trick the simple Kansas folk out of their coin.  When a raging tornado strikes his travelling circus and whisks him away in his hot-air balloon, Oscar finds himself in the glorious widescreen land of Oz.  After landing, he meets Theodora, a witch who instantly falls for Oz’s charm and sleazy tricks.  She shows him the glorious Emerald City, where wealth and worship await him- if he can only kill the wicked witch that has been terrorizing their fair land.  In his quest to find and destroy the witch, Oscar encounters a motley crew of Ozzian natives, who help him to uncover the identity of the true tyrant who is threatening the land’s colourful citizens.

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Mo-Cap And Masking And Mattes, Oh My!

In keeping with the recent fad, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is an adaptation of a classic work of fantastical literature, which means that it is awash with visual effects.  These are obviously a necessity, as people just aren’t as forgiving of puppets and models anymore as they were in the ’80s, but this film continues an alarming trend in these recent effect-driven films, wherein the characters feel completely detached from their environments.  As James Franco was whisking gently along a river, seeing the wonders of Oz for the first time, you can simply sense that he isn’t actually seeing any of it. The butterfly that alighted on his finger was simply a cue from the director; “Okay James, there’s a butterfly on your finger now…”  Perhaps it’s a shortcoming of either the direction or the acting, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling of superficiality to everything.  As he flies in a giant bubble, as he holds a tiny china girl in his hands, the sensation of separation is perpetual.  Raimi, a reputed aficionado of practical effects, does throw a few in from time to time, but never enough to create the immersion that a film like this needs.  You want the audience to feel like they are actually in Oz, and in this regard the film fails completely.

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And Meg Griffin Was There, And The Guy From “Scrubs” Was There!

From a character standpoint, I can’t quite figure out whether I hated James Franco or only moderately disliked James Franco.  He certainly doesn’t come off as a believable Kansas-native from 1905, but he has his distinctive charm that suits the character adequately.  Secondary characters, however, are a mess of confused and forced character arcs and motivations.  Mila Kunis is a strong performer as the (SPOILER ALERT) Wicked Witch of the West but her transformation is so abrupt and her character is so undefined beforehand that it has no emotional impact. Her sister, played by Rachel Weisz, becomes irrelevant as soon as Kunis emerges as the main villain, resigning her to the role of the slightly-less-evil witch.  The good witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), is then shoehorned into a romantic role with Oscar because she’s the latest chick he hits on, and also, you gotta have a love story, right?

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“Oz the Great and Powerful” plays out in according to the familiar, tried and true Hollywood conventions and while it certainly won’t surprise you, the story probably won’t let you down.  Your enjoyment of it will therefore most likely hinge on the presentation and your tolerance of superficial visual effects.  Personally, I found it extremely ironic that the central theme of the film is illusion and the art of visual trickery, and yet everything looked so incredibly fake.  While technology has enabled us to create imaginary dream worlds on screen, “Oz the Great and Powerful” had me desperately clicking my heels together, wishing to go home.

My Rating: 5/10

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