Oz The Great And Powerful Movie Review
Is it better to be a good man or a great one? The question at the center of OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is deceptively simple but the theme is an important one. Sam Raimi (SPIDER-MAN, DRAG ME TO HELL) gets back in the director’s chair after a short hiatus with a return to a world I remember primarily from my childhood, the amazing world of Oz. When I was growing up, THE WIZARD OF OZ was a mainstay of the annual television calendar – once a year it was shown on network television – and it was an event I looked forward to. As such, I’ve been cautiously excited since I first heard about the world of Oz returning to the screen.
We open on the black and white world of depression-era Kansas (didn’t you know the world was black and white back then?), joining a carnival. Enter Oscar Diggs (James Franco), known to all as Oz, the Great and Powerful, a magician who spends his time traveling with the circus, taking advantage of young women, and generally operating as a con man while espousing a dream of greater things. When he narrowly escapes an angry spouse via hot air balloon, Oz finds himself at the center of a tornado, screaming that he would be a better man if just given the chance. And of course, the wind clears and Oz finds himself suddenly in a foreign and beautiful land, Oz.
The first person he meets is a young woman named Theodora (Mila Kunis), a witch who relays to Oz of the prophecy of the great wizard who will come to their land and become king. Having learned nothing from his near-death experience, Oz takes advantage of the beautiful Theodora and enlists her help to dubiously claim the throne. On the way to the Emerald City to claim his fame and fortune, Oz helps save the life of little flying monkey named Finley (voiced by Zach Braff, who also plays Oz’s assistant in the real world) who becomes indebted to Oz and becomes our first companion (in a nod to the 1939 original). Oz also encounters two other witches, played by Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, all of whom are central to his journey.
From beginning to end, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is a loud, raucous journey in filmmaking. The opening credits are easily one of the most interesting and beautiful sequences I’ve seen in any film to date, but they set the bar a little bit high on a film that never quite meets the hype. James Franco is decent but never really connects for me as Oz. His over-the-top delivery works well in the black and white opening but becomes tiresome as the movie continues. The three witches all give decent performances, though they are generally just stereotypes without any real range. This works ok but for Mila Kunis’s turn as Theodora it feels too one-note.
Additionally, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL would have done well with a little more direction. I’m not saying I don’t respect Raimi, I love much of his work. But OZ needs a filter – like watching visual white noise there is often too much happening on screen for anything to look or feel genuine. This is another movie to suffer from the 3D revolution, and sadly uses the 3D to the worst affect. It’s all showy, jump moments, instead of taking the time to use the 3D to make you feel the world in a real, organic way. Top it off with some shoddy CGI that really pulls you out of the film, and the end result is a package that just misses the mark. An entertaining rental, perhaps, unless you’ve got a real love of Oz (or Franco) I wouldn’t suggest this one.