Friday, March 22, 2013

Oz The Great and Powerful Movie Review

As a long time fan of the 1936 film The Wizard of Oz, I was beside myself with excitement when I saw the trailer for the upcoming Oz The Great and Powerful.  After the initial euphoria wore off I then feared the movie would be little more than a CGI-fest set in popular, established setting with little plot and weak characters, similar to Tron: Legacy. I still jumped at the opportunity to see it, but braced myself for disappointment.
Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz. At first he thinks he's hit the jackpot-fame and fortune are his for the taking. That all changes, however, when he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone's been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the extensive problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it's too late. putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity, and even a bit of wizardry, Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful wizard of Oz but into a better man as well.
If you've never seen The Wizard of Oz, I have to wonder where you've been for the last 77 years. It's one of the most beloved movies ever made; you owe it to yourself to watch it and to introduce your children to it. Since Oz The Great and Powerful is a prequel to a 77-year-old classic, there will probably be some audiences (i.e. post-Harry Potter children) who don't know or care about The Wizard of Oz. They will probably be lost watching this story about a not-very-nice grownup in a magic land, but for long time watchers of The Wizard of Oz, Oz The Great and Powerful is enchanting and fun.
Oz The Great and Powerful sadly shares a kinship with George Lucas' Star Wars prequels in the way it presents a beautiful, borderline-sterile digital update of a world that was richer, purer, and a lot more fun in lower-tech form. Like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the actors in Oz The Great and Powerful look artificially superimposed against their CGI backdrops. However CGI is nothing short of gorgeous and while it does look artificial, it's nothing short of stunning to watch. It's also uses 3-D well; it shows a lot of depth, not just projection.
There are lots of subtle little things that hint at events in The Wizard of Oz which are fun to watch for. There are characters in the Kansas prologue and in Oz that are played by the same actors and have thematically similar conflicts. Before heading to Oz, one of Oscar's old flames says she's going to marry a man by the last name of Gale; suggesting she is Dorothy Gale's mother-to-be. One of Oscar's first feats in Oz is frightening off a cowardly lion with smoke and mirrors. We also meet a tinker whom it is implied builds the Tin Man. We even see that distinctive spiral beginning of the Yellow Brick Road where Dorothy starts her journey a few years later.
James Franco has worked with director Sam Raimi before in the Spider-Man Trilogy as Harry Osborn. In Oz The Great and Powerful, he plays this occasionally sincere character that is often a con man. Oscar is an illusionist and a serial liar, Franco has played this kind of role before, but here he seems more believable when Oscar is being deceitful than he is when Oscar is being sincere. It evens out to a less-than-captivating performance.
Much of Oz The Great and Powerful centers around Oscar's transformation from the me-first snake oil salesman into the Wizard of Oz, or rather "the man behind the curtain." Oscar relies on inventions of his earthly hero Thomas Edison to pull off his biggest trick ever, which will likely even have the audience convinced. Around that point, the movie breaks free of its beautiful, but artificial trappings, and becomes a story with heart in the final act.
Oz The Great and Powerful doesn't have the classic feel that The Wizard of Oz has, but it's still a fun movie. Viewers who have never seen The Wizard of Oz are not likely going to enjoy it as much. Nevertheless, Oz The Great and Powerful is very effective as its own film and as a prequel to one of the most beloved movies in history. It's not perfect; most of the live actors do an adequate or sub-par job. The story has several plot twists to keep it interesting; such as who the Wicked Witch of the West is. You know she's going to be in the movie, but you're still blown away when we find out who it is. There are a few scenes that might be a bit too scary for viewers under the age of 6, but this is an excellent family film that is worth catching in theaters. Possibly in 3-D if you enjoy 3-D; it was well implemented. I'm glad I saw it; I had low expectations for this movie, but I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't quite like it enough to get my own copy, but it was worth the ticket price.

There is an obscure third Oz movie also made by Disney. It came out in 1985 and is called Return to Oz. Freaked the heck out of me as a kid. Have you seen Return to Oz? Would you like to see more movies set in  the Land of Oz? Comment below and tell me about it!


  1. We had seen the rather dark previews for this movie and the very uninformative display at EPCOT promoting them movie. Didn't draw me to a theater, but we did dedicate a DVD night to this OZ.

    It far exceeded my expectations. One of the finest recent movies.

    The porcelain girl was the finest, most endearing, supporting character.
    All of the images that we associate with OZ were in this show; flying monkeys, robed guards, smoke and mirrors, smoking brooms,

    And plenty of opening for sequels.

    1. I was really impressed with it as well. I was expecting a special effects fest, but this was fairly well thought out and was fun to watch.