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'Why, it's a man!' It's Oz: The Great and Powerful - REVIEW

Oz
The ladies love their wizard (James Franco) in Oz: The Great and Powerful

BY NATHANIEL ROGERS 

You're basically asking for a trouble with that title, you know? OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. It doesn't take a crystal ball to predict how this will turn out. If the movie is neither great nor powerful, tomatoes will be thrown. It feels weird to abbreviate the new picture as simply Oz, since it's a derivation rather than an original, so we'll call it Great and Powerful moving forward despite the misdirection. The filmmakers would approve since the movie begins with a clear and charming admission that James Franco's "Oscar Diggs" is no wizard at all but a travelling con-artist. So I come not to throw tomatoes (too easy), at least not at first, but to marvel at how red they are as they fly through the air.

The trailer brags that the movie comes from the producers of Tim Burton's Eyesore in Wonderland, a gargantuan box office success but one of the worst films of the new century, so there was cause to worry. Could any film be as simultaneously garish and muddy to look at? The happy answer is no.3D technology has come a long way and director Sam Raimi (most famous for the Spider-Man and Evil Dead trilogies) has far more taste and control of his color palette than Burton has had recently. A

fter the movie's old fashioned title sequence and Kansas-set prologue, introducing us to Franco's womanizing wizard before he's whisked off to Oz (you know how), every color of the rainbow does make an appearance. They often share the frame but rather than a muddy color assault, the rainbow here behaves like a joyous community, intermingling peacefully and taking turns in the spotlight. In some small ways it's a worthy tribute to the joys of Golden Age Technicolor. That's especially true when the eye-popping color meets a great visual idea like the Wicked Witch's fiery silhouette (shadow play being a favorite tactic of Raimi's) or a terrific climactic image like the Wizard's pompous arrival in the Emerald City via clouds of colored smoke and cinematic projection. 

Oz-silhouette

So, points for visual prowess but visual prowess ages rapidly in cinema. People don't still watch The Wizard of Oz seventy-four years later because the effects look cutting edge. They watch it for Judy Garland and those adorable Friends of Dorothy.

MORE, AFTER THE JUMP...

The character work in Great and Powerful is hit and miss. After sleepwalking through his Oscar-hosting gig and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, James Franco is suddenly awake again, an irony of sorts since Oz is a dreamland. In the absence of tin men, cowardly lions, and scarecrows we get a flying monkey and a china doll as companions to the hero and while they're cute they won't become iconic companions. The movie has the most trouble, though, with its three witches: Michelle Wiliams cuts a hypnotic figure as "Glinda the Good" but the movie doesn't give her any opportunity to flesh out the character and strangely there's not a hint of the prissy humor that defined the character in both Billie Burke and Kristin Chenoweth's takes so she doesn't always feel like Glinda per se; Rachel Weisz has the least to do as "Evanora" but she's good with a line reading; But Mila Kunis is, I'm sad to say, an absolute disaster as her sister "Theodora." Some actors understand style and the heightened qualities of genre acting but Kunis is utterly lost which handicaps the movie considerably.

But the most disappointing thing about Great and Powerful which is a bit better than it ought to be thanks to Sam Raimi's visual giddiness, is that there's just not much to talk about that isn't in some way a paraphrase of "So… how about that the immortal 1939 musical!?!"  So why fight it…

Wizofoz-itsaman

My absolute favorite soundbyte from The Wizard of Oz (and the competition is stiff) though not my favorite shot is when Dorothy Gale discovers the Tin Man, feet first. The camera pans up with Dorothy's eye from legs to crotch to torso to face.  "Why, it's a man!" 

For all of that clip's gay camp value, it's completely asexual; Dorothy is never thinking about boys. If The Wizard of Oz is an innocent child, than Great and Powerful is a horny teenager. But unlike the 1939 classic it serves the male ego despite the largely female cast.  When the claws come out (literally), it's weirdly sexist as a result.

Look I'm not above a good cat fight. There's almost nothing funnier in The Wizard of Oz than Glinda's helium-voiced Queen Bee dismissals of the Wicked Witch ("only bad witches are ugly"). In fact, the original cattiness enabled a whole modern wave of sympathy for the devil (i.e. The Wicked Witch of the West) in rethinks like "Wicked" and Great and Powerful that wondered how she got that way. But at its heart the 1939 classic was a heroine's journey that spun on the bravery and kindness of a young girl testing her strength and resolve in a frightening world.  

Though the three witches in Oz are all quite powerful, they are rendered powerless when a man enters the equation. Even a man who admits he is without power. It's not really about about who sits on the Emerald City's throne but who sits beside the man who will sit there. The plot spins not on transporting tornadoes but on the con-artist's seductive charms and HOW CRAZY WOMEN GET IF A MAN DOESN'T LOVE THEM! 'Someday their Prince/Wizard will come' being the takeaway. If you're really going to Follow the Mighty Dick Road at least have a little camp fun with your ode to the patriachy ! Great and Powerful hedges its bets here by taking it too seriously and extending an olive branch to the Wicked Witch because it's not her fault she's so crazy. James Franco, you see, is just too irresistible in Sepia or Technicolor. 

Oz-claws

P.S. If you'd rather just skip the new movie and just think about The Wizard of Oz again, here's a fun breakdown from Vulture about what the 1939 film is really about and a "best shot" party I hosted, wherein bloggers praised their personal favorite images from the film.

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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Comments

  1. Could you just review the film without working so damn hard to be cute and clever? Get the hell out of the way!

    Posted by: frank | Mar 9, 2013 2:30:17 PM


  2. I thought it was a good review, though a little more explanation of why Mila Kunis didn't work would have been nice. It's disappointing that the whole thing boils down to a "cat-fight" between three women over a man. I wondered about that after seeing the trailers.

    Posted by: Caliban | Mar 9, 2013 2:46:26 PM


  3. James Franco seems to be a talented young man, but also seems to have the bad habit of stumbling all over himself- he loses enthusiasm too quickly and becomes easily and oddly disengaged. His acting skill reflects this quality.

    Posted by: Joseph | Mar 9, 2013 3:09:32 PM


  4. I do agree that Mila Kunis is a bad choice. What irked me is that her voice is so iconic as the voice of Meg from Family Guy that you just can't help but think of her from that and even her character is that of Meg. A girl who gets obsessed over a guy and goes bipolar passive aggressive. I also did not like how Oz is a big womanizer even after he is thrown into this new world and only seconds after he is grateful for his second chance.

    That said, I did think it was a pretty good movie though I did want to see a little more connection with the original and how the people of the town made the scarecrow, tin man and we did see a lion get scared off or even how the wicked witch comes to own the ruby slippers. I have never seen Wicked, so maybe that goes further with that.

    Posted by: Richard Harney | Mar 9, 2013 3:20:25 PM


  5. Proofreading?

    Posted by: Thomas | Mar 9, 2013 3:31:01 PM


  6. "...a little more explanation of why Mila Kunis didn't work would have been nice..."

    agreed

    would have liked this bit fleshed out more in the review

    Posted by: Moz's | Mar 9, 2013 4:31:05 PM


  7. it will make a fortune............ so hate all you want ....... remember Alice in wonderland by burton............

    Posted by: steve | Mar 9, 2013 4:54:18 PM


  8. I thought the movie was boring...and flat. I agree that Mila Kunis was a poor choice. To me, her voice also reminded me very much of Meg from Family Guy...it just didn't have the menace needed for it...maybe they could have transformed her voice a bit with special effects to make it sound more evil. I think what hurt the film was trying to stay to close in tone to the original...I think that sort of "stunted" the film...

    Posted by: steve | Mar 9, 2013 4:56:22 PM


  9. awful movie. just plain awful.

    Posted by: Keith | Mar 9, 2013 4:57:08 PM


  10. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland was a beautiful film. I don't think it's deserving of the pointed jab.

    Posted by: Dave | Mar 9, 2013 5:22:29 PM


  11. Very bad movie.. visually not all that horrible, but the acting was off all around. James Franco seemed very much just like James Franco.. and there didn't seem to be any depth to his character. Biggest win was probably Rachel seeing as how her character was pretty much one dimensional and just needed to deliver good wicked lines. Michelle seemed like she tried to completely reimagine the character, which I didn't mind, but there just wasn't enough there for her to work with.. Mila was a HUGE miss (and I love her). She came across as much too immature to truly be "evil".. Her voice is too well known to work in this context, and she doesn't understand how to really revel in this type of campy character which can be tricky... her cackle was absolutely ridiculous btw, everyone started laughing when she did it.

    Posted by: Joey | Mar 9, 2013 6:03:08 PM


  12. Where have all the character actors gone in movies? All the parts now are filled with
    leading men and women. Character actors should have played the parts of these witches, not leading ladies. That's why they're coming off flat. If the Wizard of Oz" was made today, the scarecrow, lion, tinman, Glinda, and the WWOTW would be played by leading stars. They all want to play small parts now so they can win a best supporting Oscar.

    Posted by: Sean | Mar 9, 2013 6:03:41 PM


  13. I took my son and daughter to see it last night& and they were delighted by the witches , the colors and excitement of seeing a different version of their favorite story. I thought it was really quite good in spite of all the cat fights. Is it an instant classic? Not really. Is it an entertaining film sure. If you have kids I recommend seeing it with them. If you're going with expectations of a thrilling take on the classic stay home and rent the original.

    Posted by: rebarb | Mar 9, 2013 6:42:15 PM


  14. "I did want to see a little more connection with the original and how the people of the town made the scarecrow, tin man and we did see a lion get scared off or even how the wicked witch comes to own the ruby slippers."

    The first two might have been possible, but Disney couldn't touch the ruby slippers. MGM owns the rights to the 1939 movie, so Disney couldn't use any lines or imagery unique to the 1939 movie... they couldn't even call the new movie a "prequel" of the original. Ultimately a lot of color was out--like the ruby slippers (Dorothy has silver slippers in the book), and the shade of green used for the Wicked Witch. Perhaps ironically, since the 1939 movie was only loosely based on Baum's work, the new movie had to avoid a lot of the dialogue and imagery that we now associate with Oz.

    Posted by: Steven H | Mar 9, 2013 7:06:23 PM


  15. I watch the movie yesterday and I have to agree that, despite all the technology and visuals, it was pretty flat. I got the feeling that the three actresses (straining against a boring script) were thinking to themselves "I don't quite get this". And I have to agree about the three most powerful women in the land finding themselves helpless until a con man with zero appeal comes to them. I really liked James Franco early on, but now I get the feeling he's just showing up to have a good time and could care less that he needs to help his audience commiserate with him. I felt like the Tin Man in this movie because I could care less about the characters. The little China Girl was cute; Zach Braf, meh. The original had some gravitas amongst the humor, which Great and Powerful lacked, and I think Dorothy being the heart and soul of the movie, was what was needed here (Michelle Williams didn't quite capture that like she might have in BrokeBack).

    Posted by: woodroad34d | Mar 9, 2013 8:08:42 PM


  16. Is it no longer honorable to provide a readable review that would be useful to those considering whether to invest the time and money to see the movie? All this "meta" prattle that amounts to a review about the reviews, or the reviewer talking about himself--too clever by half, and nakedly aspiring to impress everyone with the writer's erudition. It's the literary equivalent of serving cheeseburgers with foam on top. Just give me a good cheeseburger, aight?

    Posted by: SC David | Mar 9, 2013 8:11:04 PM


  17. James Franco does these kinds of movies so he can self-finance his artsy forays into the gay underbelly. C'mon girls give the guy some slack!

    Posted by: The Inverate Lurker | Mar 9, 2013 8:25:53 PM


  18. I thought the movie was absolutely great; however, as a fair warning, I am entertained rather easily. I found the 2012 Alice in Wonderland film to be quite good as well.

    Being how much I loved the 1939 WoZ film and the books (I've read all of the canon-series of the books, this movie was spectacular! There were lots of moments of funny and it pretty much filled my nostalgia meter to full! Honestly, I think ANY Oz film, both connected with the books and the 1939 film would have made me giddy since I love the franchise so much.

    I was really happy with many of the elements in the film that took place...
    --I loved how we got to see China Town, which was mentioned in the original book and ignored in 1939.
    --I loved the opening sequence of the film, going from SD to HD, a modernized way to emulate the opening of the 1939 film.
    --I like how BOTH movies sort of direct us towards the argument whether Oz is part of a dream or the "real world" by having the actors play essentially two characters: one in Kansas and one in Oz.

    SPOILER ALERT--DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT TO POSSIBLY BE SPOILED! :-)


    Speaking of the split between "reality" and "fantasy" in the film, it was really quite interesting to see that in Kansas, there was an implied possibility that Annie (Glinda in Oz) was the mother of Dorothy being that she was going to be engaged to a man named John Gale. I got so giddy after that because the books and 1939 film never really gave much background on Dorothy's birth parents and for Glinda to possibly be Dorothy's mom is so awesome.

    Anyway, I will make a last comment on the acting--I thought the acting was just fine and thought that Mila did a fine job despite what others are saying. As a disclaimer though, I'm not all too good at judging acting performance unless the bad acting is so blatantly obvious, in which OzGaP didn't break that threshold.

    5 Stars out of 5 - I hope this film is successful so we can see future sequels to the 1939 film. one thing that I think everyone can agree on though is that they better NOT try to remake the 1939 film.

    Posted by: Nat | Mar 9, 2013 8:31:11 PM


  19. A slight dip in the 2nd half hour (between Theodora and Glinda), and cutting 10-15 minutes might have made it tighter. But it's visually gorgeous, the actresses are all giving everything they've got, and it's fun watching all the pieces lock into place to set up "Wizard" (and not as insultingly wackadoo as "Wicked" is). We thought it was a very good, if not altogether great, effort.

    Posted by: Dback | Mar 9, 2013 8:59:43 PM


  20. Nat we need more people like you. Sometimes people get so caught up in critiquing i think they can't even remember the movie at all. Sometimes you need to just enjoy a movie, and stop the negative talk as a means to critique ALL movies. I also think it is hard for people to separate this movie from Wicked which is an epic storyline on its own. Contending with that will leave more to be desired. Alice in Wonderland left much to be desired, but this movie made up for some of that. Being a movie more focused on OZ, it would had been nice to see more character development (though there was some) of himself beyond the conman routine. There were some jarring moments, and some low dips. I think it was an enjoyable movie for what it was (a story about how OZ came to the city and established himself in the Emerald city), I felt more tie ins with the original would had been nice. Overall I felt much better than Alice.

    Posted by: Redebbm | Mar 10, 2013 9:13:42 PM


  21. I am very glad I ignored your review prior to seeing it for myself. Your critique makes no sense. I thought it was wonderful and a worthy companion to the original. And I've seen the original 2,000 times.

    I hate critics, especially movie critics. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and yours is no more valid than mine. Your review sucks.

    Posted by: Tc | Mar 10, 2013 10:43:40 PM


  22. @ Redebbm,

    Thank you for your comments--it's much appreciated! I ::try:: to live a life where I get to see the positive side of all things while ignoring the negative; however, I'm not perfect and with other topics can sometimes get carried away, but I'm trying lol.

    Here is more Oz news to be happy about:

    So far, box office performance is doing extremely well and the media is predicting that it will become a full fledged movie franchise! You can bet I thanked my stars, especially Ms. Garland! And according to Variety article, it looks like the sequel already has a green light! WOOT!

    Source: http://variety.com/2013/film/news/disney-no-place-like-another-oz-sequel-exclusive-1200005299/


    Here is what I would love to see in the next film {Possible SPOILERS BELOW!):

    Princess Ozma, who starts as Tip (though I am not sure what direction Disney will take her character as in the books she starts off as a child who was enchanted by a wicked witch to be a boy--then the spell is broken and he turns back into a girl)

    Gnome King--the greatest villain in the entire series! Really interesting to see how they portray him.


    What now concerns me is how they are going to treat the Wizard--since OZGaP is a prequel, the continuity would imply that he will have to be played by a much older actor as he was in the 1939 film. In addition, I'm wondering how they are going to treat the fact that in fairy land, everyone is (practically) immortal and the inhabitants never ever age. (According to the books, Children remain children and adults remain adults.)

    Whew, so much to look forward to!

    Posted by: Nat | Mar 10, 2013 11:04:25 PM


  23. You lost me with 'Tim Burton's Eyesore in Wonderland.' I didn't realize I was reading your Facebook wall.
    I saw 'Oz' over the weekend and really loved it.

    Posted by: JimmyD | Mar 11, 2013 7:36:05 AM


  24. I took our 6-year-old twins to see it, and although I was greatly bored and disappointed by the film, my children said they loved it. However, when asked an hour later what their favorite parts were, they couldn't remember anything about the movie -- and they'e able to recount the plots of "The Wizard of Oz," all three "Lord of the Rings" movies, and all seven "Harry Potter" films on command, so I guess that says something.

    Posted by: Timothy Hunt | Mar 11, 2013 10:50:46 AM


  25. Movies reviews now are like Rorschack tests, they tell you more about the reviewer than the movie.

    Posted by: Sean | Mar 11, 2013 6:13:35 PM


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