Monday, March 11, 2013

Our Wizard Has Arrived

"Oz the Great and Powerful," with James Franco and Mila Kunis, directed by Sam Raimi.
What you have here is really an insurmountable task. You have a beloved classic ("The Wizard of Oz," of course) that most people have seen anywhere from 10 to 100 times, and is a movie of which people have visceral sense memories. You have a canon of literature attached, such that "Oz" purists are ready to attack, should anything out of place be noticed. You also have a public really kind of burnt out on sequels, prequels, remakes, the constant rechurning of old classics for a quick buck that seems to be Hollywood these days.

And yet, much like the people of Oz themselves, you have many of us, who in our hearts truly believe that a wizard can come along and give us the magic that is Oz once again, complete with all the latest technologies and visions.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have such a wizard, and his name is Sam Raimi.

Other bad reviews to the contrary, I'm here to report that "Oz, the Great and Powerful," is stunning in its majesty. All the nods to the original that you expect to be there: the black and white into color, the "tornado"/dream sequence, the yellow brick road, Glinda's bubbles and, of course, Munchkins, are all there.

Added to that, we have the technology of today: 3D, where the gorgeous flowers of Oz literally pop out into bloom into your face. It is truly breathtaking. The visuals absolutely knocked my socks off.

Also, there is the challenge of story. While there are many books about what happened after Dorothy landed her house in Oz, there aren't any "before" books. What's up with those sisters anyway? How did they come to be "good" and/or "evil"? And, in laying down that story, you have to be darn sure to lay a really good path to the movie we know and love. Screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abbaire acquit themselves quite nicely. The story rocks.

Much like "Wizard of Oz," you have to have a journey, and you have to have traveling companions. We get a wonderful monkey, with callbacks to the original film with his character; and you really need a little girl. There is a whole universe (in the "Oz" books) about the villages made of China that I was unaware of, but we get the cutest little China Doll you ever have seen.

Let me say at this point that I loved, loved, loved this film and you will, too. So don't listen to anyone else, don't even read any further, just get your ticket for the 3D version. Read the rest of this later.


Cause I also want to talk a bit about the things that bugged me. While we are on the story elements, without giving anything away, there are two things. First, in "The Wizard of Oz," isn't it made clear that there is a Wicked Witch of the West, Wicked Witch of the East, Glinda is the Good Witch from the North, doesn't there also have to be a witch from the South? This really wasn't explained at all to my satisfaction in this movie. Plus you have a little sleight of hand at the beginning (no spoilers) which doesn't make sense to me. (Given the above statement.)

But for me, if you put some of the Tin Man's oil into the first twenty minutes, to ease you into the next part (once the Wizard is traveling with his companions), it's quite wonderful. From there to the end. Story is great.

Really the biggest letdown to me (and it's a big one) is the caliber of the acting. I walked into the theater with biases against the acting of James Franco, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams. That is to say, I don't think much of it at all. Don't like the way they act, don't think they are good—all of that.

Franco somewhat acquits himself. In fact, he's pretty much fun to watch throughout.

What bugged me about Michelle Williams is that Glinda is light and airy and ethereal, a portrait of pure goodness. Michelle Williams' version is dragged down a bit by the real world, but I suppose you could put it down to this being the earlier one, and once Dorothy gets there, she's had a chance to be really happy. Still, I would've preferred more pure giddy happiness and goodness from her.

I walk gingerly around the Mila Kunis bit now. Let's just say that I really would've preferred to see more heartfelt sappy love in the beginning, swoony over the top love that's palpable, to have the ending make sense. Also, she was a few rehearsals away from really owning that character. (Too bad films don't do that anymore.) She has moments, angry moments, crying moments, where she just rocks it, but overall, I felt strongly that her performance was uneven.

Rachel Weisz is easily the best actress among these, and she was fun to watch.

But as in the Star Wars movies, where really you just wanna see the Death Star blow up, in "Oz," you just wanna see the flying monkeys and the scary guards and the Munchkins dancing, and you get all of that. And so so much more.

So the quibbles I have with acting and story are really minor, in the end. You watch some real accurate Oz fun that's good for the whole family? This is it.

Some final applause/tech credits, all amazing: Peter Deming, Cinematography; Danny Elfman, Score; Robert Stromberg, Production Design; Gary Jones, Costumes. And a big sweeping final bow to all the VFX wizards who worked on making this amazing movie happen.

"Oz, the Great and Powerful," directed by Sam Raimi. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures and Roth Films.


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