Oz The Great and Powerful | Film reviews, news & interviews
Oz The Great and Powerful
Spider-Man's Sam Raimi takes us back over the rainbow with a star-studded, CGI-heavy prequel
It’s no exaggeration to say that The Wizard of Oz has a special place in the hearts of millions. For many, their last trip over the rainbow will have been watching its 1985 sequel Return to Oz, a commercial flop berated at the time for a too tenebrous tone. Yet Return to Oz was the stuff of numerous childhood nightmares, and so it's gone on to achieve cult status. That film's mixed fortunes proved what anyone could have guessed - that following in the colossal footsteps of Victor Fleming's 1939 MGM musical was never going to be easy.
In Sam Raimi's prequel Oz The Great and Powerful, he attempts to replicate the original's magic by laying on the CGI, a strategy that risks provoking the ire of fans. Furthermore, gone are the songs and in are an indie cast, a third dimension and an irreverent tone. And yet, taken as insubstantial popcorn fodder alone, it just about works.
Opening in a reverentially monochromic, reduced-ratio format, we're introduced to a young Oz, an employee of the Baum Brothers’ Circus (a nod to L. Frank Baum, the author of the Oz series). As played by a louche but likable James Franco, he's a smirking magician, a charlatan and womaniser, a serial giver of music boxes (bestowed along with a bullshit story about a grandmother killed in battle). After getting into a scrape with the husband of a recent conquest, he escapes by balloon only to get whipped up into a twister. When he descends he's in the magical land that is Oz and the film has bloomed into colourful widescreen.
There Oz meets - and variously charms and enrages - three beautiful witches: the doe-eyed, credulous Theodora (Mila Kunis, pictured above right with Rachel Weisz), her sharp, cynical sibling Evanora (Weisz) and the luminous, seemingly benign Glinda (Michelle Williams channelling Monroe) who bears an uncanny resemblance to his true love Annie. But dark forces are amassing and, in a half-arsed twist you will see coming, at least one of these women will turn out to be wicked.
Assisting Oz in his battle against evil are the alter-ego of his assistant Frank, Finley the monkey (Zach Braff - recipient of the film's best lines) and a girl he failed to heal back in Kansas (Joey King) becomes China Girl, whom he can put back together. Fans of Raimi's early work will enjoy an all-too-brief cameo from the great Bruce Campbell, the ever sporting star of the Evil Dead trilogy and Bad Santa's Tony Cox brings a bit of ill-tempered (and much appreciated) sass to proceedings as Knuck.
Raimi doesn't bring the edge many might have hoped for but just about papers over a bodge-job of a plot with humour, 3D spectacle and enough adherence to Fleming’s film. Yet this prequel entirely lacks the original’s soulfulness and it's difficult to imagine this stubbornly middling effort one day attaining the same classic status. And it might seem churlish to bash a film for poor characterisation when it's so clearly all about the CGI "money shots", but it rankles throughout to see a trio of supposedly powerful women reduced to depressing stereotypes: they're bitter, coquettish or helpless.
So, contrary to the film's conclusion, smoke and mirrors don't quite cut it - you might "ooh" and "ahh" at Oz’s razzle-dazzle but you'll still spot that you're being sold short.
Watch the trailer for Oz The Great and Powerful
We at The Arts Desk hope that you have been enjoying our coverage of the arts. If you like what you’re reading, do please consider making a donation. A contribution from you will help us to continue providing the high-quality arts writing that won us the Best Specialist Journalism Website award at the 2012 Online Media Awards. To make a one-off contribution click Donate or to set up a regular standing order click Subscribe.
With thanks and best wishes from all at The Arts Desk
BFI reissue of the mother of all vérité docs
Brit crime caper hits new lows, despite strong cast
Robert Siodmak's brooding film noir shockingly subverted gender stereotypes
Nihilism stared down in Alexei Balabanov's bleak look-back to Russia in the Nineties
Baz Luhrmann's Fitzgerald-spawned epic is busy and brash and big - but great? No, except for Leo
Not quite the perfect classic, Visconti's movie is a halting monument to Sicilian decadence
Fine filmmaking and decent performances work hard to redeem an infantile musical
Documentary paints the legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker as an irresponsible genius
Some subtleties lost in adaptation of Mohsin Hamid's bestselling plea for understanding
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now
Bruno Dumont’s oblique meditation on salvation and punishment
Lightning doesn't quite strike twice as JJ Abrams returns to the Enterprise