Note: This Review was originally written after I had just seen the film in the theater in 2013. I’m fixing typos and that’s about it.
- Title: Oz The Great and Powerful
- Based on the Oz novels by L. Frank Baum
- Director: Sam Raimi
- Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bruce Campbell
- Studio: Disney
- Date: 2013
- Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi
- Director: Sam Raimi
I really enjoyed this film, it’s awesome! The film opens in 4×3 ratio and in black and white, but when The Wizard arrives in Oz, everything turns to bright, hyper-reality colors. The film’s opening is in 1905, establishing Oscar, or “Oz”, as carnival magician – who isn’t even that good at his stage magic. He can perform some acts of distraction and prestidigitation, but he isn’t that good at it, which is why he’s with a traveling circus in Kansas, not working in New York or some other major venue. He’s also a bit of a coward. When a local girl he’s fond of tells him she’s received a marriage proposal and she told the young man “I’ll have to think about it”, he’s afraid to let her know his true feelings. When the circus strong man chases after him, he runs… eventually reaching a hot air balloon, which is caught up in a tornado.
Oz wakes, well, in Oz. As his balloon crashes into a river, a waterfall, and then a pond and river (again) the format opens up to the widescreen 16×1 we are used to, and bright, bright color. The first thing that Oz sees are flowers – huge, colorful, gorgeous flowers. He’s getting his bearings and soon meets a young woman, who (a) claims she’s a good witch, (b) asks for his help, and (c) informs him he’s the answer to the old king’s prophecy. He and this young woman, Theodora, head off to the Emerald City. Theodora tells Oz that the prophecy of the previous king was that a “Great and Powerful” Wizard bearing the name of our land, would come to bring order and peace to the land and rescue the good people from Wickedness. She also tells him of an Evil Witch who killed the previous king, and that this evil witch was her sister, the king’s own daughter.
They arrive in the Emerald City and meet Evanora, Theadora’s sister. Evanora is immediately attracted to Oz, and jealous of his interest in her sister. Evanora send him off to “kill the evil witch” by destroying her wand.
So, off Oz goes. He meets the China Girl, a winged monkey in a bellhop uniform, and eventually Glinda. Glinda convinces Oz she’s the good witch. She takes him and his friends to her castle and introduces him to the Quadlings, Tinkers, and Munchkins. Soon it becomes apparent they must form a plan to re-take the Emerald City and oust the two Evil Witches who control it — without actually killing anyone since the “good people” of Oz cannot kill.
Anyway, the rest of the film is the Wizard’s plan, with Glinda’s help and the organization of the various groups under Glinda’s control. But the film is awesome! The colors pop and are bright and gorgeous with a very story-book quality to them. At times the film feels almost animated rather than naturalistic. Especially the first scene in Oz, with the waterfall and rushing river, then the flowers — it’s incredible. There are even rainbows that appear in the spray of the water then quickly disappear as the water moves on. The characters feel very much like the characters in L. Frank Baum’s books.
Oz himself gets a great story, of the charlatan who makes a road to redemption — he may not be the hero Oz deserves, but he’s the hero Oz needs, because he’s the only one they got. I also liked how well this film handled the point that anyone who’s seen “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1939) with Judy Garland actually knows how this film will end, it’s really a prequel to that film (and it is The Wizard’s story; whereas The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is Dorothy’s story). Yet, until some other films that are actually prequels (Star Wars I, II, III – I’m looking at you) — this film gets the process right, it becomes, in part, about knowing how certain things will happen. It’s a well-told film, despite the somewhat familiar structure. It’s also a visually stunning film, that doesn’t scream “what great effects” since the effects support the story. The young, largely unknown cast did an excellent job as well, especially the young man playing Oz. Here’s hoping Disney will produce additional books from Baum’s Oz series. Oz the Great and Powerful is highly, highly recommended.