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.