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Now Playing: ‘Oz’ Neither Great nor Powerful

A more fitting title for ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’ would have been ‘Oz: The Modest and Ineffective’. I have no doubt that this prequel will make tons of money at the box office the next two weekends, but doesn’t deserve to. Even though it has an all-star cast, an amazing director and top-notch talent across the board, none of that guarantees a quality film. On the contrary, it feels like every bit of life, joy and entertainment was taken away early on, never to return. This prequel to the iconic and incredible 1939 ‘The Wizard of Oz’ might be the most miscast film ever put on-screen, and that’s only the beginning of its problems.

As a friend and colleague of mine pointed out, “How can you make a prequel to a movie that was somebody else’s dream?” If we think about it, Dorothy Gale from Kansas was hit in the head and fell into a light coma when the twister hit her farm. She then dreamed of Oz and its many creatures, as we came to see that the Wizard himself was a very old man. Here we see him as a very young man trying to get his career started. This is all moot, but I don’t necessarily see the draw or importance, other than dollar signs, of making a prequel to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in the first place, considering that all of these characters are the dream of a girl who doesn’t exist at the time of this story.

But that’s beside the point. Let’s just take a look at the film itself for what it is. What we have here is a Sam Raimi directed film with what seems like Tim Burton’s crew, with an A-List cast of actors who unfortunately have no business playing these roles. And I’d imagine that if one wanted to make a prequel, it should try to stand alone from its predecessor. However, here we’re treated to many of the same scenes that we caught in the first ‘Oz’, even starting with a twister in Kansas.

James Franco plays Oscar (or “Oz” for short) as a magician in a traveling circus, hustling people out of their money while breaking hearts and promises to every girl he meets. I’d even say that Oz is an unlikable slimeball who treats his only friend like dirt. After a magic show, a beautiful girl (Michelle Williams) confesses her love to Oz, to which he replies that he’d rather be something great than marry and love her. Suddenly, a giant twister, much like the one we saw in 1939, swallows up Oz and his hot air balloon, until he awakes in a foreign land.

Oz soon meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes that Oz is the wizard from their prophecy and will save the people of the land (also called Oz) from the Wicked Witch of the West. She persuades him to journey with her to the Emerald City. On the way, they meet a small adorable flying monkey voiced by Zach Braff, who was Oz’s assistant back in Kansas. They also come across China Girl (Joey King), an actual china doll from village of china tea pots and cups that were destroyed by the Wicked Witch, leaving her the sole survivor.

Once at the Emerald City, Theodora introduces Oz to her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), who’s also a witch and not what she seems. Much like Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion did, Oz, Glinda (Williams again), China Girl and the flying monkey set out to stop the evil plaguing the land.

Before I get serious for a minute, I want to state that I really enjoy all of these actors and own many of their films, which I love. However, everyone in the film is horribly miscast, to the point that it’s embarrassing to watch. Franco has no charm, wit nor chemistry to anything in the story. You just don’t care for the guy, or what he does or says. His performance is uninspired and dull. I don’t think anyone will buy the revelation of who turns out to be the evil Wicked Witch. Instead of being scared of her, you’ll have to laugh at her while she cackles.

Williams is decent here, but has no emotion and is completely stale. If only she was more lively and pleasant, that would have done wonders for the film. Weisz turns in an okay performance at best, but is too busy screaming or scheming the entire film to get a good read. While we see an actual live Braff for a split second on-screen, his voice work is decent enough and gets the job done, but it’s still nothing spectacular. In short, there are 50 better choices for these roles than the actors who were actually cast.

Since the acting performances are less than thrilling, I hoped for some amazing visual effects, but was let down again. We’re treated to a mix of CGI and real effects. The CGI ranges from fairly good to downright laughable. As a good chunk of the film is seeing the sights of Oz, a lot of the small animals and plants look completely fake and animated. I’ve seen better effects in films with 1/20th the budget. As for Raimi’s direction, he still has a unique way with the camera. Those who enjoy his earlier work in the ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy will smile a bit at some of the camera shots as well as the climax.

I only enjoyed a couple of things in the film. At the beginning in Kansas, we’re treated to watching the picture in black and white and a 4:3 aspect ratio. I loved this little homage, and when we’re transported to Oz, we get the entire widescreen picture in glorious color. Also, since this is a Sam Raimi film, of course Bruce Campbell is in it. Campbell even gets billing with the rest of the cast in the opening credits. Unfortunately, his screen time comes to less than 30 seconds. The only other thing I enjoyed was the new evil flying monkeys, which are actually a bit scary. I’d imagine some younger viewers might have nightmares from this.

I saw this travesty in 3D, which was plain awful. Nothing seemed to have depth, and the backgrounds were very blurry. I hope this gets fixed with the Blu-ray release. We get a few cheap 3D thrills like objects flying at the screen, but overall nothing works in 3D here. I would have much rather watched this in 2D. ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’ amounts to nothing more than a film studio trying to make a quick buck. In return, we get a half-assed attempt at something that could have been amazing. I’d skip this in the theater and wait to see it on your screen at home for free. If Dorothy were to witness this, she never would have returned to Oz.

Rating: star Now Playing: Oz Neither Great nor Powerfulhalfstar Now Playing: Oz Neither Great nor Powerfulblankstar Now Playing: Oz Neither Great nor Powerfulblankstar Now Playing: Oz Neither Great nor Powerfulblankstar Now Playing: Oz Neither Great nor Powerful

45 comments

  1. Was OZ shot in 3D, or is it an upconvert?

    I was really looking forward to this, but now will probably wait until Blu-ray.

    BTW, for those “not in the know,” James Franco was actually Raimi’s third choice. Robert Downey, Jr. couldn’t do it (I’m assuming because of his commitment to IRON MAN 3) and Johnny Depp said “no.”

        • CriticalMass

          Reviews can be less biased and more valid by sticking to the viewpoint that you are reviewing YOUR EXPERIENCE with the film, rather than the film itself.

          Comments like “You just don’t care for the guy, or what he does or says. His performance is uninspired and dull” should really be written as “I just didn’t care for the guy, or what he does or says. I found his performance to be uninspired and dull”.

          See the difference? The latter is accurately representing an opinion. The former is trying to force an opinion on us.
          “The movie is amazing!” also tries to skew our opinion, while “I thought the movie was amazing” offers an opinion without trying to tell us what our own opinion should be.

          I found the movie to be quite entertaining, if not without a few personal disappointments. I enjoyed the cast, but to put that into context I found the characters to be no more or less beleivable than those found in the majority of profit-driven blockbusters.

          I was amazed by the title sequence (certainly my fave since Dragon Tattoo US) and the intro delivered some great nostalgia for me, and it was during this sequence where I felt the 3D really pop! Unlike Bryan Kluger, I found the 3D to be very immersive and used to great effect, particularly during the intro. I have always been very critical of poor 3D, with most 3D presentations leaving me unamazed and puzzled as to why it is so popular… but Oz (like 2011′s Sanctum) gave me at least a few examples of how it can enhance a movie rather than cripple it.

          In regards to the negative, I thought the story was a little routine and cliche’d, and much of the dialogue less than memorable, but functional enough to support the visuals… which, lets face it, seem to be the main priority of this production. While I agree that some CGI failed to convince, overall I was quite taken in with the beauty of this world, and enjoyed going along for the ride even if the conversation failed to stimulate me.

          7/10.

  2. BambooLounge

    From the first trailer this movie always made me think, “From the studio that brought you Alice in Wonderland, but could not secure the director of Alice in Wonderland comes the film solely designed to make you think about Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland…oh yeah…this guy also directed Spider-man.”

    Not the shortest tagline ever, but I’ll be damned if that isn’t the tagline that runs through my head every time this film is mentioned.

  3. So, the guy’s name is Oz, and the land is also called Oz? Does anyone in the movie at least comment on that?

    If this story takes place before Dorothy is even born, is this one supposed to be Auntie M’s dream?

    Everything about this movie seems half-baked.

    • Yes, it’s acknowledged. When he first gets there he’s informed by Mila Kunis that the prophecy states a wizard bearing the name of the land will come and save the people.

    • Ryan

      Is this really supposed to be a prequel to the original MOVIE or the Book? Because the book is not a dream like the movie was.

        • JM

          ‘Oz’ is a reboot of the IP. They stole from all sources. Books, films, art.

          Dumped it all in a super bass-o-matic.

          It’s the ‘Prometheus’ of L. Frank Baum, who also stole from Lewis Carroll.

          $700M+ worldwide, and the sequel after the sequel will redux 1939.

  4. Meclaudius

    My feeling is that the film is a prequel to the book The Wizard of Oz. It uses characters from Baum’s books. Just like Return to Oz was a sequel to Baum’s book.

    In the book, Oz was real. Dorothy didn’t dream it.

    Just wanted to add that.

  5. BambooLounge

    I’m not fully getting the prequel gripes.

    I think the Wizard of Oz story spin-offs, this and the play Wicked are prequels and takes on the Oz story moreso than direct prequels, in the Star Wars sense, to the film.

    I’m willing to grant these enterprises that disconnect from the classic Wizard of Oz film and take them on their premise that Oz is an actual place outside the mind of Dorothy.

    Although, every other complaint about the movie seems pretty valid.

  6. Steve

    It’s a prequel to the book, not the movie. How can it possibly be a prequel when the original is owned by another company? If I recall, I remember hearing about how a representative from Warner Brothers was on the set to make sure there WEREN’T overly-similar connections between the two. I’m also quite sure the Oz books are public domain, so no royalties.

    • Terminator 2 is a sequel to a movie owned by another studio. Terminators 3 and 4 are then owned by yet another studio altogether. It happens. Franchise rights are often based on use of the characters and other key elements that may be transferrable even if a specific title is not.

      Even from the trailers, you can see that this movie makes numerous visual references to the 1939 film. The Wicked Witch, flying monkeys, etc. are designed to look like the previous movie’s depiction of them. I’m told that the film even has a scene where it makes a joke about turning into a musical for a second. You can’t tell me that has anything to do with the books.

      • BambooLounge

        I think the massive cultural impact of the film version of The Wizard of Oz has in many ways affected every subsequent incarnation of the Oz story including Wicked.

        But, I am perfectly content to grant the people behind these endeavors the license to treat Oz as a real place as in the books even if they take visual or even narrative cues from the iconic film.

        No Oz-related film, play, or other modern media entity will ever truly escape the shadow of the 1939 film.

        I’m just saying to judge this film on a perceived attempt by it to expand upon or connect with the 1939 film is reaching and unnecessarily at that given the many non-prequel related things there are to complain about the film given most critical reactions thus far.

        I view the “but it was all in her head argument” in a similar light to any time travel “truth” related arguments about time travel films…just let it go.

        • Any fantasy film needs to establish ground rules for its fictional universe and follow those rules. Time travel may not really exist, but if you’re going to make a movie in which it does, you need to explain its rules and stick to them. Time travel may work differently in the Terminator films than it does in the Back to the Future films, but the respective rules of time travel need to be consistent from one Terminator film to another, or from one Back to the Future film to another.

          For example, if the first Terminator movie tells us that metal objects can’t be transported back in time unless they’re protected in an organic shell, you can’t suddenly have Sarah Connor hop in a Delorean to zip through time in Terminator 2. That’s a cheat, and the audience will call you out on it.

          The Wizard of Oz tells us that the entire story in Oz was Dorothy’s dream. Any sequel or prequel needs to address that.

          As to whether Oz: The Great and Powerful is really a prequel to the Wizard of Oz movie or to the books, the studio marketing hasn’t done anything to distance it from the old movie or suggest that this is a reboot or re-adaptation. Disney knows that the vast majority of the audience will only be familiar with Oz through the old movie, and is playing up that association with countless references to it. To suddenly say, “Oh, but it’s not really a prequel to The Wizard of Oz movie. We just wanted you to think that it was, but now we’re going to do something completely different without even bothering to explain why” is a cheat.

          • BambooLounge

            I don’t buy the “cheat” premise and it is what I loved most about Looper. Johnson made time travel just seem basic and had multiple characters mention to other characters that they shouldn’t think too hard about it. It acknowledged that it is bs, so let’s focus on the actual story being told and not the “rules of the universe” crap.

            If someone makes a Terminator film where Sarah Connors hops into a time traveling Delorean and it has a great story, is well shot, has fine acting, etc. I’m calling that a good film and not knocking it for disregarding or playing with the “rules of the universe.”

            To me worrying about the “rules” is silly. If the film breaks them in some way that does not alter the narrative of the film significantly fine. If “rules” are being broken with constant deus ex machinae(?) (machinas?), then the problem isn’t breaking the rules of the cinematic universe, it is just piss poor screenwriting.

            Making Wizard of Oz adaptations and blending elements of the ’39 film with the books, is fine. I am not about to knock a film for not having clear enough marketing as to whether it is a reboot, reimagining, prequel, sequel, adaptation from the same source, etc. Films either work or they don’t. It is akin to getting hung up on how Bond survived the fall in Skyfall or how many times he was shot. Or if movies based on true stories are accurate enough.

            It is a film, I like to judge them as such.

          • CriticalMass

            And so in Back To The Future II, when Doc Brown is explaining the alternate-universe time travel theory to Marty, does that not completely negate the threat to Marty’s existence in the climax of the first film?

  7. JM

    It isn’t a matter of money. It isn’t a matter on the part of the director of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you make a film with the cast who will sign–not the writer you might want or wish to get at a later time. You can have all the visual effects in the world on a screen and it can still be fucked up.

    - DR

  8. Wow, what an atrocious review. Really makes me wonder if you even watched it. I saw it at 9:00 pm thursday night opening in IMAX. The 3D was great, deep deep depth to the picture. The waterfall scene at the beginning was amazing. While James Franco wasn’t the best choice for Oz, he was far from terrible. Everyone else was good to great. Complain about the witch cackle if you want but its basically the same as the original so not sure how you can complain about that at all. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but it seems like your opinion was made up before you ever walked in the theater. Your first 2 paragraphs prove this. I would highly recommend this film. It has faults but its beautiful and a fun ride. Ignore this guys awful review, Oz is a good movie.

    • On the contrary Ron, I was really looking forward to this movie. And I truly enjoy everyone’s work in other films, as I am one of the biggest advocates for Raimi. However, this not a beautiful nor fun ride.

    • Just because Bryan has a different opinion than you doesn’t make it a bad review. This movie currently has a middling 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which drops to 32% when you filter for Top Critics) and 44% on Metacritic, so Bryan is in plenty of good company in not liking it.

    • I haven’t seen OZ yet, but Bryan’s review seems to reflect the majority of “notable” critics out there…including his comments about the quality of the 3D.

    • Trev

      Regarding the 3D experience, I guess it would depend if Bryan saw this in regular 3D or 3D Imax. I have seen films using both technologies and often there is a big difference between the two 3D formats due to theater and equipment differences.

  9. A review from a fan of the original books:

    http://www.toplessrobot.com/2013/03/fanboy_flick_pick_sam_raimis_oz_is_powerful_but_no.php

    Some relevant quotes regarding the issue of whether this movie is a prequel to the old film or to the books:

    “Raimi has been claiming up and down that his new movie is based on the books rather than the MGM movie version of The Wizard of Oz, which is transparent bullshit to anybody who knows what they’re talking about, and most likely a verbal dodge he has to make to avoid liability and lawsuits. The look of the Wicked Witch of the West, the Winkies being evil guards with unique outfits rather than farmers dressed in yellow, the Munchkins being little people – these are all MGM creations not found in the book, as is the amalgamation of Glinda and the Good Witch of the North into one character. From Baum we do get the China Country (here punnily called China Town) and the Quadlings, but they’re not the Quadlings of the books. Even the lions hidden in the scenery and architecture feel more like tributes to the MGM mascot than Oz’s most notable coward. Most significantly, Raimi borrows the more famous movie’s biggest innovation – the use of black and white footage for Kansas, and actors double-cast in real world and Oz roles, which makes less sense in a film that never presents itself as a possible dream.”

    “Need I also point out that the witch in the book was neither green nor pointy hat wearing? Or that the Margaret Hamilton lookalike here sports some pretty cheesy makeup? Anyone who says Oz fans will be satisfied has never read the books; mark my words. Maybe you’ll say I shouldn’t be so hung up on the books, and maybe I wouldn’t be if they hadn’t made a point of saying this would adhere to them.”

    “Talk of rebooting The Wizard of Oz after this is just silly, because it leads directly into the existing movie pretty exactly.”

  10. Drew

    Josh,

    I haven’t even seen the film yet, and thus, I can’t argue about whether or not the film is as bad as Bryan states it is, in his review. However, objectively, this is a terrible review, as is typical of almost every review Bryan has posted on this site.

    Ron wasn’t attempting to judge the review based on the fact that he disagreed with Bryan. The reasons why he felt it was an awful review were spelled out clearly. He never said or implied that he felt the review was poor in quality, because his opinion was the opposite of the one present in the review.

    This review — as well as many of Bryan’s reviews — was bad, because it was nothing more than an outline of random thoughts, along the lines of, “…and I didn’t like this, and I didn’t like this, and I didn’t like this…and THEHHHN this happened, and I didn’t like THAHHHT either…” (Think Alicia Silverstone, in ‘Clueless’, giving her oral presentation). It was more a brainstorm session, used for a rough draft, that would eventually be used to formulate a review.

    Perhaps, Bryan accidentally sent you the file that contained the raw outline of his initial impressions, rather than his finished review. Maybe this has been what has occurred with each of his reviews, so far, since beginning to post on the bonus view.

    • No, Drew, he specifically called it an “atrocious review” because Bryan had different opinions about the movie than he did. That’s the sum total of his judgment.

      Your complaint also doesn’t make much sense. What do you think a review is other than a description of what works and what doesn’t work in the movie?

      If you don’t like the review, it’s possible to leave constructive feedback without being a jerk about it, you know.

  11. Garry

    So Disney does the Sequel, and has Dorothy getting electro-shock therapy.. And someone thought it would be a great idea to let Disney do the prequel?

  12. The only comment I have about the review is that Bryan may need to see an optometrist about his depth perception issues, as the 3D in this film was quite standout. Maybe it wasn’t the gimmiky 3D he was hoping for all the way through, but the way rami used depth was quite impressive.

  13. Drew

    Yes, Josh, some of us do understanding how to not be a complete jerk. Something that you clearly haven’t yet gained the concept of. If you read through my comments again, you’ll see that I was being highly constructive, and it might teach you a thing or two about not coming off as an utter ass.

    The majority of Bryan’s reviews have been very poor in quality. There’s no disputing that. I offered constructive criticism, and suggested ways in which they could be improved.

    If you really feel that a film review is nothing more than listing off various events that occurred in the movie, and telling your reader that you either liked or didn’t like them, you have been misled. However, I know that you don’t believe that to be true. I’m quite certain that you do know how a film review should be constructed and executed. I know it’s your job to stand up for your staff.

    As I’ve said before, most of Bryan’s reviews have came across as a random Facebook post. They have a case of the, “…and then this happened, and it was awesome, and then this happened and it was awful, and then, …and then, …and then. ..” syndrome. A film review doesn’t need to explicitly outline details of occurrences. And reviews are much more than someone listing off things that transpired in the movie, and stating that said things were either bad or good. A great film review will discuss practically no particular event that occurred in the film, and will give us a clear idea of whether the reviewer enjoyed the film, or not, without ever specifically saying so.

    Writing a good film review is telling a great story, yourself. It’s not a stream of opinions that you would give to your sister, if she asked what you thought of a certain movie.

  14. William Henley

    As a friend and colleague of mine pointed out, “How can you make a prequel to a movie that was somebody else’s dream?” If we think about it, Dorothy Gale from Kansas was hit in the head and fell into a light coma when the twister hit her farm. She then dreamed of Oz and its many creatures, as we came to see that the Wizard himself was a very old man. Here we see him as a very young man trying to get his career started. This is all moot, but I don’t necessarily see the draw or importance, other than dollar signs, of making a prequel to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in the first place, considering that all of these characters are the dream of a girl who doesn’t exist at the time of this story.

    Okay, whoa, let’s back the boat up here.

    And yeah, I read the other comments as well.

    Okay, first, Oz IS a real place, according to the books. Dorthy, and her aunt and uncle, as well as several other people eventually make the Land of Oz their home. However, no one seriously believes Dorthy until they see it for themselves.

    The Wizard of Oz is a derivative from the books. Even still, when Dorthy wakes up, it is not stated where they found her, or how long it was before they found her.

    Oz The Great and Powerful is also a derivative work. Quite a bit is pulled from other works – ie The Wizard of Oz, the books, and Wicked. (Which brings up another question – do you hate Wicked because it is a prequel to a girl’s dream?).

    There is quite a bit of homage played to the books and the previous movies, but it very much is an original work. It didn’t break any of the rules that the universe established (well, maybe the timeframe – The Wizard of Oz came out in 1901 I believe, so this movie should have taken place in the 1880s or 1890s). But it works. It addresses Oz as a real place, as is defined by the Oz universe, properly addresses the economics, government, and geography of the area, and gives a good backstory that the only thing that is not addressed is Ozma (although that is even forgivable given Ozma’s backstory in the books).

    No, my issue with this review isn’t that it is negative – I have thick enough skin to take a negative review for a movie I liked. My issue with this review is that it’s ignorant.

    Now, I will admit there are bits of the reveiw that I will agree with. Some of the CGI is laughable (then again, so was some of the CGI in Avatar). The story is good, but not great. The movie very much feels like it could have been directed by Tim Burton. And the 3D left much to be desired – I too wish I had of caught it in 2D.

    But man, at least try to do a little research before writing a review. Your review of the movie is pretty right on, but your review of the story…..

  15. Ian

    Have to agree with Henley here. I saw the movie, liked it, but didn’t love it, thought the 3D was actually quite good (though I prefer gimmicky 3D with things flying out of the screen, because if it’s just to add “depth” I’d rather watch it in 2D), and I can understand some of the negatives, though I don’t completely agree with them. I think maybe the movie had a few too many references to the 39 movie than it should have, in order to attract the fan base. As an original story, taking into account that Oz is real, as it is in the books, I thought it worked. It’s important as a reviewer, I think, to have made more of an effort to investigate what came before this movie in all incarnations, not just one movie that also took liberties with the source.

  16. Ross Treadway: Alright, listen, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Yul Brynner wasn’t good in the role, I’m sure he was. All I’m saying is that there’s a guy by the name of Ross Treadway, and he’s pretty good, too.

  17. I often read reviews on high def, but honestly I never read the top section about the movie, only the quality of the video and audio. Reason is, I don’t think you can get such a thing as a movie or music critic, it’s too subjective. Do you ever think a fan of Metallica will find anything good with Britney Spears or vice versa. Too often, I’ve read reviews of critics praising a movie only to watch it and think it’s a load of rubbish.

    I don’t watch movies at the cinema because I have a big screen at home, but I’ll probably pick this up on blu-ray purely because it will be eye candy.

    • If you don’t ever go to theaters, do you blind-buy every movie you have even vague interest in, no matter how badly reviewed they were? How often does that work out for you?

  18. Book aside the original film left it as ambiguous, it may or not have been a dream, so it’s the former or the latter. Certainly this ‘prequel’ suggests it wasn’t a dream. No big deal it’s fantasy.

  19. wedwood

    Watched it today, really terrific movie, dont let the moaners put you off going to see it.

    A throwback to the fantasy movies of old with none of the ‘angst’ of many of the more modern fantasy movies.

    This will become another classic, see it in the cinema while you can.

  20. Multiwizard

    I saw this yesterday with my wife and eight-year-old. I wasn’t expecting too much but figured it would be somewhat entertaining. It was much better than I thought it would be. Yes, maybe the casting could have been better but I don’t think any of the actors were terrible. I saw the film in IMAX 3D and I thought it looked great. There were only a couple of spots where it was cheap looking but plenty of scenes were awesome in 3D. It seems like a lot of the negative reviews I’ve been reading have to do with how it relates or doesn’t relate to the 1939 film. I liked the little nods to the other film and the books, but it wasn’t like Lucas did with the Star Wars prequels. You know what I mean: it was kind of like ” Oh, here’s Chewbacca! See! See what we did here? wink wink” The nods to the other OZ film were subtle and didn’t conflict with the storyline. I took it as a great film that could have done very well in the summer but luckily was released now to break up the February-March crappy film stretch.