Oz the Great and Powerful

  • Title:  Oz The Great and Powerful
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Disney
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • Blu-Ray Format:  NTSC

“You want me to lead an army that can’t kill?” – Oz
“If this was easy, we wouldn’t need a Wizard, would we?” – Glinda

“So you’re not the wizard I was expecting. [pause] So you don’t have the powers I thought you’d have. But you’re here. There must be a reason. Maybe you’re capable of more than you know.” – Glinda

“Look, I know I’m not the Wizard you were expecting. But I might just be the wizard that you need.” – Oz

Oz the Great and Powerful starts in black and white in 4 x 4 ratio (it should be 3X4 but the Blu-Ray has it boxed as an exact square). Oz is a magician and con-man in a small, and shabby travelling circus, and he’s not even that good a magician. He’s actually running away from his latest conquests boyfriend, when he leaps into a hot air balloon and is whooshed away in a tornado.

He crash-lands in the land of Oz, and when he does, not only does the film change from black and white to color – but the film literally opens up to wide-screen too. The image rolls to the side and up to fill the screen. It’s both reminiscent of the famous 1939 film starring Judy Garland (which starts in black and white and becomes Technicolor in Oz), and an almost physical transportation into a new world. And what a colorful world it is. The colors are bright, and beautiful, and it really does look like technicolor. Especially in the opening, and early scenes, the scenes in Oz almost feel like animation – classic Disney animation at that and it’s truly beautiful.

Oz crash-lands in a river, and meets Theadora, a woman dressed in red and black. When Oz introduces himself, she tells him of her father’s the king’s prophecy – that one day, a great Wizard, bearing the name of “our land”, will come to save all the people, and become the new king. Oz gives Theadora one of his music boxes, as he has to many other women that he’s been interested in, telling her the made-up story that it belonged to his late grandmother. He then dances with Theadora. She’s smitten.

Theadora takes Oz to the Emerald City and introduces him to her sister, Evadora, the royal adviser. She also becomes instantly interested in Oz. She gives him a tour of the palace, shows him the royal treasury, then tells him he must save the Land of Oz by killing the Evil Witch. Oz isn’t so sure about the whole “killing” thing, but when he learns that destroying the witch’s wand will kill her, he agrees.

Oz, along with a highly amusing talking monkey in a bell-hop’s uniform head out on their quest.  Along the way, they see smoke, and wander into the destroyed China Town.  There they meet and rescue the China Girl, and Oz repairs her legs with glue.  China Girl joins their quest.

They soon enter the Dark Forest. Oz has a plan to distract the Evil Witch and steal her wand. But when he meets Glinda – he learns she is a Good Witch, and it’s Evadora who’s wicked – and who killed her father.

Meanwhile, Evadora is laying plans, and manipulating her sister, Theadora.

Glinda convinces Oz to help her. Evanora’s men and flying baboons attack. Glinda creates a ground fog for cover. Oz, China Girl, Finley, and Glinda end up on the edge of cliff, with a wind-swept tree in silhouette and a sunset behind them.  Yes, it looks like the famous scene in Gone with the Wind.  Glinda dives off the cliff, and they all travel by bubble to her castle in Quadling Country.  There, Oz meets the good people of Kansas, I mean, Oz – farmers, tinkers, seamstresses and tailors, and the Munchkins.  Oz doesn’t really know what to do, especially to turn the people into an army to defeat two wicked witches.

Theadora, turned green and evil by her sister, arrives and threatens Oz – then leaves.

Oz is unsure of himself, and doesn’t really know what to do.  But after Glinda tells him he might have more potential than he thinks he does, and after telling China Girl a bedtime story about the great wizard Thomas Edison, Oz gets an idea.

Oz puts the Quadling people to work, each to their own special ability. They work to his plan.

The next day, Oz orchestrates his plan. He even has some surprises for his own followers. The plan, which I don’t want to spoil, is perfect, makes great sense for an idea that comes from con-man/magician from Kansas, and most importantly – it works. Which isn’t really a spoiler, as this film is a pre-quel to The Wizard of Oz.

Overall, Oz the Great and Powerful, was just a beautiful film. It looks gorgeous. You really don’t see a lot of movies that look so beautiful anymore. For once, CGI, that screams, “look at me – I’m pretty CGI,” works, because it adds to the storybook feel of the film. And the colors are simply gorgeous, beautiful, incredible. At times, especially in the first few scenes in Oz, this film really looks like an animated feature. I’m assuming that was intentional. The animated look brings the Land of Oz to life – and sets it as a new world.

I also, really, really, really loved that this film opens in black and white.  The move from black and white to color, and from cropped 4×4 ratio to widescreen is handled very well.

James Franco does a great job playing Oz as a lovable rogue – who, at the start, in Kansas, has no moral scruples, really. But, in Oz, he comes into his own, and learns his own lessons. Oz is a fallible hero, and he learns how to be a leader, with Glinda’s help (not to mention Finley and even China Girl), which makes for a good film.

Overall, this is a wonderful, feel-good movie, that is also great for children.

Recommendation:  See it, especially good for children.
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Either The Hobbit the Desolation of Smaug or The Prestige.

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Original Reaction Oz The Great and Powerful Review

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.

Spiderman 2

  • Title:  Spider-man 2
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Columbia (Marvel)
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Tobey McGuire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Being brilliant’s not enough, young man, you have to work hard.  Intelligence is not a privilege, it’s a gift and you use it for the good of mankind.”  — Dr. Octavius

“The power of the sun in the palm of my hand.”  — Dr. Octavius

“My Rosie’s dead.  My dream is dead.  And these monstrous things should be at the bottom of  the river, along with me.” —  Doc Ock.

I preferred the title sequence to this film over the sequence for the previous one.  The sequence looks like actual comic book panels and catches the audience up on the plot from the previous film.

In Spider-man 2, Peter Parker is once again the nerdy guy with bad luck.  His commitment to being Spiderman, causes him to lose his job as a pizza delivery boy, to run into trouble at college, where he’s late or misses classes entirely, and even to be late on his rent.  He even loses the chance to impress MJ (Mary Jane Watson) by missing her performance in a play (which looks to be The Importance of Being Earnest, though it’s never mentioned by name).  To add to his troubles, Aunt May’s house is in foreclosure.

Possibly because of all this stress, Peter is beginning to have problems as Spiderman, with his web failing, and later his powers failing.  Several times in the film, Peter literally takes a fall as Spiderman.

For a college science report, Peter meets Dr. Octavius, a brilliant scientist, working on fusion power.  At the opening demo, Peter’s there to take pictures for the Bugle, but things go wrong.  The magnetic field breaks, the fusion reaction acts like a giant magnet, and chaos ensues.  Spidey arrives to try to help, but Dr. Octavius’ wife is killed by shattered glass, and his activator arms (“smart” metal arms activated by the doctor’s own brain) are fused to his spine.  Worse still, the inhibitor chip that prevents the nanotech in the arms from taking over the doctor’s brain, is damaged.  When a surgical team tries to remove the fused exoskeleton, Doc Ock attacks them, and a new supervillain is born.

Peter and Aunt May try to get a re-fi loan, but she fails due to her lack of  income.  But, while there, Doc Ock attacks the same bank, and even kidnaps May.  Peter, as Spidey, saves his Aunt, and fights Ock. The pictures from the fight make their way to the Bugle, and it’s Hoffman (Ted Raimi) who comes up with a name for the new villain – Dr. Octopus, which Jonah Jameson shortens to “Doc Ock”, blaming Spidey of course.

But Peter is still having problems balancing his life, and since his Spidey powers keep failing him at inopportune times, he gives up being Spiderman, and even throws away the suit.  A garbageman sells the suit to Jameson at the Bugle who keeps it as a trophy.  Although Peter’s life becomes simpler, crime rates skyrocket, and Peter feels guilty when he walks past crimes in progress and does nothing.

Peter tells May an edited version of the truth about the night Uncle Ben died, after May had blamed herself. At first May seems angry at Peter, but later she comes to her senses and patches things up, letting him know she loves him.

Doc Ock goes after Harry Osborn, who’s still obsessed with destroying Spiderman, whom he blames for his father’s death.  He sends Doc Ock after Peter, saying Peter will led him to Spiderman.

MJ kisses her new fiance (Jameson’s son John, an astronaut) upside down.  From the look on her face, she’s still in love with Peter or Spiderman.  Peter and MJ meet at a cafe’.  Peter tries to apologize and tell her he’s straightened out his life, but Doc Ock throws a car through the plate-glass window they are sitting near.  Peter saves MJ’s life but doesn’t get to kiss her.

Peter’s powers return, he takes back his Spidey suit, and there’s a huge F/X CGI fight between Doc Ock and Spiderman on a train.  Spidey manages to just barely stop the train full of people from falling off the track, but he’s now without his mask.  Normal people hand him hand-over-hand back into the car, when Ock threatens again, all the people stand between the villain and Spidey.  A kid gives Peter his mask back.

Ock brings Spidey to Harry, Harry gives Ock the Tridium (an ultra-rare element used in Octavius’ fusion reactor).  Harry’s about to kill Spidey, but when he pulls off  his mask, he’s shocked to discover it’s Peter. Spiderman must then rescue MJ and stop Doc Ock’s fusion reactor before he blows-up half of New York.

Spiderman and Doc Ock have their final confrontation.  Despite his plans to make it work, the fusion reactor again becomes a huge magnet, causing havoc. Doc Ock is electrocuted, and he and the reactor core are dropped in the river.  Spidey saves MJ during the battle, but she sees him without his mask. Peter explains to MJ that they can’t be together.

MJ plays the runaway bride at her own wedding, and goes to Peter to tell him they should make a go of  it anyway.  Meanwhile, Harry is hearing the voice of the Green Goblin.  He breaks a mirror and discovers a secret lab with the mask, glider, pumpkin bombs, and enhancing formula.  Will he take it?  Only the sequel can tell.

I found Doctor Octavius to be a strangely compelling and sympathetic villain.  His own personality breaks through the Doc Ock madness much more often than say, the Green Goblin’s (who’s just nuts, even when he tries to act sane).  Even after he’s become Doc Ock, he’s still trying to get his fusion reactor working – something to benefit “mankind” (well, OK, it should be “humanity” but that’s how Octavius puts it).  And he never seems to realize that it’s the lack of working magnetic containment that causes his experiment to fail.  He also loses everything:  his standing as a scientist, his wife, his sanity, and eventually his life.  At times, compared to what Doc Ock goes through, Peter Parker seems like a whiny teenager, which goes to show you just what a good actor as villain can due for a piece.

Recommendation:  See it, it’s better than the first one.
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Stardust

Spider-man

  • Title:  Spiderman
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  Columbia (Marvel Productions)
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Tobey MaGuire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem DaFoe, Cliff Robertson, James Franco, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Some spiders change colors to blend in with their environment, it’s a defense mechanism.” — Peter Parker
“Peter, What makes you think I would want to know that?”  — Harry Osborn
“Who wouldn’t?” — Peter Parker

“This guy, Flash Thompson, he probably deserved what happened, but just because you can beat him up, doesn’t give you the right to.  Remember — with great power, comes great responsibility.” — Uncle Ben

Peter Parker is painfully shy, and a bit of a nerd but he’s also a talented photographer and has the mind of a scientist — curious about the world and always wanting to know more.  He’s being raised by his aunt and uncle, and no mention is made of what became of his parents – I assumed they were dead.  Mary Jane, or MJ, is the proverbial girl next door, who’s harassed to the point of abuse by her father and boyfriend (MJ really doesn’t know how to stand up for herself).

One fateful day, Peter’s class, including MJ and Peter’s extremely wealthy friend, Harry, are on a field trip to a New York City genetics lab, which has been working on combining genetic traits from different spiders to create a “super spider”.  The spider gets loose and bites Peter.  Harry also starts talking to Mary Jane, at first to show Peter how easy it is — later, because he likes her.

That evening, Peter feels sick, but the next day he wakes up with extraordinary spider powers.  He and Mary Jane talk briefly (he’s bringing out the trash, she’s escaping her abusive father) only to have MJ run off when her boyfriend Flash Thompson shows up with his new car which he received as a present. Peter thinks of getting a car, and makes himself a simple costume so he can enter a wrestling match to win some money.  He wins, but the fight promoter cheats him out of the majority of his cash prize.  Just after Peter leaves the manager’s office, another man rushes in and robs the guy at gunpoint.  Peter could have stopped the thief, but he lets him get away (in part because he’s mad at the loss of the prize money).  Later that night, Peter returns to the library where his Uncle Ben is supposed to pick him up and discovers Ben dying.  Peter, in his masked outfit, tracks his uncle’s murderer — it was the same man he let go.  Peter throws the man through a window and he falls several stories to his death.

But Peter, remembering Uncle Ben’s words about responsibility, decides to become the crime-fighter Spiderman.  He’s improved his costume, refined his techniques, graduated from high school, and moved to New York City with Harry.  MJ has also moved to New York, but her dreams of becoming an actress have hit the harsh reality of being a waitress, just to eat and pay rent.

Spiderman is introduced to New York by a montage of  scenes of him stopping crime, and “man-on-the-street” interviews.  Eventually always cash-poor Peter Parker sees an ad in the Daily Bugle requesting pictures of Spiderman.  Peter rigs an automatic shooting camera and sells his pics to Jameson, the Bugle’s cigar-smoking editor.  He gets a $300 freelance fee.  Well, it’s a start.

Meanwhile, Norman Osborn, Harry’s father, is having troubles.  His company is about to lose a lucrative military contract.  Seeing no other choice, Norman tests the human enhancing formula on himself.  He nearly dies and it gives him a “split” personality — turning him into the evil green goblin.  The Goblin bombs his company’s rival, Quest, destroying their Ironman-like exoskeleton (not to mention several people who work there, a pilot, and the general who wanted to take away Oscorp’s military contracts). Upon returning, as himself, to Oscorp, Norman Osborn discovers his board is ready to sell the company to his rival and oust him as CEO.  Osborn goes bananas.

During the “World Unity Festival” the Green Goblin attacks, threatening and killing innocents as well as members of the Oscorp board.  Spiderman arrives and tries to save as many people as possible (and he saves Mary Jane, who is now dating Harry Osborn).

Aunt May gets Harry, Norman, MJ, and Peter together at Harry and Peter’s New York apartment for Thanksgiving.  It’s a disaster.  Everyone nearly finds out who Peter is; Norman accuses MJ of only being interested in Harry for his money; and MJ hears Norman’s accusations and Harry’s lack of protests.  A good time is not had by all.  Shortly thereafter, the Green Goblin puts it together that Peter is Spiderman and attacks MJ and May.  Both survive but only just.

In the final conflict between Spiderman and Green Goblin, the Goblin gives Spidey a choice — save MJ or save a tramcar full of kids.  Spiderman manages to save both.  Goblin and Spidey fight.  Spidey loses half  his mask, Norman takes his off  and tries to convince Peter he’s somehow not in control.  But, it’s a trick — Peter’s Spidey-sense warns him in time and he moves out of the way and the glider’s spikes miss him.  Norman Osborn isn’t so lucky, host by his own petard, he dies.

At the funeral, Harry blames Spiderman for his father’s death, but promises to remain friends with Peter. Mary Jane also tells Peter she loves him, but he tells her he only wants to be her friend.

For some reason, the first Spiderman film seemed better the first couple of times I saw it, but in later viewings, including this one, I saw it’s faults.  Going backwards through the film — the scene between MJ and Peter at the cemetery seemed so fake that I almost expected Peter to wake-up and realize it was a dream.  Peter’s pined after MJ since he met her (at the age of  six), yet when she tells him she’s completely in love with him, he tells her “let’s just be friends”?  Uh-huh, right.  And Mary Jane’s throwing of herself at Peter also didn’t feel right.  Second, Jameson is a bit of  a cardboard/cartoony secondary villain — sure, we know he only wants to sell papers, and painting Spiderman as a villain will do that — but it makes no sense, given the evidence.  Third — I have never bought Spiderman’s origin story.  A bite from a genetically-enhanced spider would probably kill you from it’s venom.  (Or a radioactive spider would give you cancer).  I really don’t think it would transfer “spider powers” to a teenager.  But I can suspend disbelief on that, you often have to for superhero movies.

The performances, on the other hand, are good.  I liked Tobey McGuire’s Peter Parker — he made the nerdy photographer/science student seem real, as well as flawed.  Kristin Dunst did the best she could given how Mary Jane was written.  And honestly, she often lights-up the screen.  MJ often seems like a victim of everyone around her, but it’s not her fault she’s given three boyfriends, an abusive father, and a complete inability to stand up for herself or fight for the right to own her life.  I also enjoyed the bit players and cameo artists, especially Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Stan Lee, Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben, and Aunt May.

Recommendation:  See it.
Rating:  3.5 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Spider-man II