Oz The Great and Powerful

14 Mar

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As something of a fledgling blog, I have found myself struggling to settle on a final score for a couple of the films I’ve reviewed. No film has exacerbated this problem more than Oz The Great and Powerful; Hopefully by the end of this review I’ll have settled on one.

The Wizard of Oz is one the of all-time classics and, for the purposes of this review, I’ll work on the assumption that you’ve seen it. Oz The Great and Powerful tells us the story of how the Wizard came to be, and the story of the witches he must fight off to claim his place as The Wizard of Oz.

Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small time magician who, happily enough, is known to everybody as ‘Oz’ is putting on one of his magic shows at the travelling circus. One night, his show goes wrong and he is forced to escape in a hot air balloon. By this time we’ve already been shown that Oz isn’t a particularly nice man; One senses a journey of self-improvement might be about commence.

Oz’s ballon crashes in the land that shares his name, where he is greeted by Theodora (Mila Kunis). She tells him that his arrival in this land has been prophesised and that he is there to save the people of Oz from The Wicked Witch. (As a side note at this point, and without wishing to sound too crass, if they had just advertised this film as “Mila Kunis wears leather pants, I’m pretty sure box office records would have been smashed. Anyway…).

What follows is a fantasy tale in which Oz faces personal conflict in deciding whether he will become “a good man, or a great one”.

First up, let’s deal with the casting. James Franco makes for a strange Wizard. During the opening 20 minutes I was strongly disliking his performance and was worried it would ruin the whole film for me. It was over-the-top and at times it wasn’t clear whether his lines, or overall role, were supposed to be comical or if he just wasn’t portraying it very well. I do feel that he grows into the role as the film progresses but I never felt he was the perfect fit for this role. I like Franco, from what I’ve seen of him he’s a good actor, and this is not a bad performance. It’s just not great or memorable for the lead role.

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Next up; The three witches. These aren’t particularly easy performances to review without giving away a few plot twists (though these may be more obvious to you then they were to me anyway).

As mentioned earlier, Mila Kunis plays a witch by the name of Theodora. Of the three, her character development is the most striking. Michelle Williams plays Glinda, and Rachel Weisz plays Evanora. All three give good performances and play their roles well, but Rachel Weisz stands out about the other two in my opinion. She plays her role perfectly – but again, I’m afraid I can’t detail my favourite parts of her performance without ruining some elements of the film. You’ll just have to trust me that she’s good.

Some of the most enjoyable elements of the film are visual, for which the credit must go to director Sam Raimi. The first stroke of genius comes in his decision to film the opening 20 minutes of the film, set in Kansas, in the aspect ratio 4:3 and in black and white. This looks tiny on a big screen. The impact of this decision is extremely striking once the film switches to colour, along with filling the screen, at the point the magician lands in Oz.

The Oz that Raimi has created is visually stunning. The colours are so vibrant they practically leap off the screen, and this is really hammered home by that change from sepia. Aside from the spectacular colours, the world looks vast in scale and is an ambitious creation.

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For all that it looks brilliant and, at times, verges on epic, Oz The Great and Powerful is a fairly standard fairytale at heart, dealing primarily with vengeance and redemption in a family-friendly way. The script is nothing to shout about and, although you’d struggle to say it’s cast badly, it certainly could have been cast better. Ultimately, it feels a little bit too much like a story that didn’t particularly need to be told.

And now I have to do the difficult part of scoring the film. My initial conflict comes from the fact that, although I think it’s a bog-standard tale, I did find myself enjoying the movie and getting lost in Raimi’s world. If I’m being completely honest, I can’t score the film above average. At risk of contradicting myself though, I will qualify my score by saying I think this is a film well worth seeing, you just don’t need to rush to the cinema to see it. Oh, and final word, DO NOT see this film in 3D. Far from enhancing the feature, I actually found at times it hindered it. The 3D gimmick cash-in continues at far too fast a pace.

6/10

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