Oz The Great And Powerful (“My Take On Eagerly Anticipated Movies”)

31 Mar

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Synopsis: “A small-time magician is swept away to an enchanted land and is forced into a power struggle between three witches.” (Rated PG; 2 hours, 7 minutes)

Everything about this movie screams that I would love it:
1. Sequel/Prequel – Yes, I’m a sucker for these. I know, I know…they usually disappoint. So rare that they are as good as their predecessors, and many people leave wishing “the filmmakers had just left it alone and perfect without an unnecessary add-on just to make more money”. Or some rant like that. But I’m of the greedy, “I want more” mentality.  This means that when I see a good movie, I’m ecstatic to hear there will be sequels. Yes, there are many things that shouldn’t make a movie better – and often make it worse – but still give me a built-in-excitement before I’ve even walked into the movie theater. Oz being a prequel to the 1939 classic certainly qualifies.

2. 215 Million Dollar Budget – It also means if I find out the budget is even bigger, I’m excited by how visually stunning it might be (hoping for another Titanic, knowing I might instead be getting the next Alexander).

3. 127 Minutes – It means if it’s a movie I’m already excited to see, I’m even happier to find out it’s 140 minutes instead of the usual 90 (the Harry Potter movies are a perfect example of this).

4. Exciting Previews – It even ties into my wanting to watch previews for the movies, knowing that those very previews will undoubtedly give away too much information about the movies (as detailed in my recent rant about them here). I still watch those previews and turn to whoever’s next to me and say, “I can’t wait to see that one!”

5. Sam Raimi – This isn’t a guilty pleasure of mine, but simply a pleasure. Sam Raimi is a director I love to watch. He created a name for himself making the fun-as-hell Evil Dead movies. In fact let me explain just how much this man loves making movies. He made The Evil Dead on a shoestring budget. It looked low-budget, and was a totally absurd movie, but it was boatloads of fun watching this hilarious horror flick. Thanks to its popularity, Raimi went on to make a sequel, but basically wanted to make the movie that he never was able to do in the first place; and thus Evil Dead II was basically a semi-remake of the original, but looked better, was made better, and was now more of a comedy and less of a horror movie (comparable to the awesome The Cabin In The Woods). Finally he made a third one called Army Of Darkness, which was absolutely ridiculous and hysterical, and added such a huge glob of comedy that you could hardly even call it a horror movie anymore. If you like the idea of a horror comedy and you haven’t seen those movies – run, don’t walk. And although it may be sacrilegious to say, you can start with the second one. Raimi went on to make a very good dark indie (A Simple Plan), an exciting, record-breaking blockbuster superhero franchise (Spider-Man), and another fantastic horror comedy (Drag Me To Hell). Yes, knowing Sam Raimi was behind the helm absolutely excited me most of all.

How was the movie after all of this build-up? Cute. Enjoyable. A really good climax. But overall you wish it was better, and a great – not just cute movie. It begins with a really nice homage to the original in black & white, and I really enjoyed the way they tried to mimic the magic of going from the doldrums of Kansas to the exciting and colorful world of Oz. I need to clarify something at this point: Adi and I saw this movie in 2D, and not the intended 3D experience. From what I hear the opening was quite cool in 3D, and I’m sure we missed out at least a little bit of that. (As for my attitude towards 3D movies in general, I’ll get into that rant another time.)

There were nice winks to the original throughout the film, with characters and moments that you realized would eventually lead to the creation of the tin man, the scarecrow and the cowardly lion; and I appreciated all of those elements. And I’ll readily admit that it was great fun seeing the Munchkins make their big entrance back on the big screen. But there was just something I can’t quite put my finger on that made this movie that was all about magic a less than magical experience. For anyone who saw the Tim Burton version of Alice In Wonderland, it felt a lot like that. It was cool to see with a big budget on the big screen, but it never quite clicked as a great movie even if elements of it were visually impressive.  It was certainly enjoyable enough, just a matter of my high expectations hoping for something…better.

The casting of James Franco as (The Wizard Of) Oz was in large part to blame. I do realize that he was meant to be a charlatan, a trickster, all smoke and mirrors and thus a bit of a weasel; but it’s just no fun watching the protagonist as such a sniveling, whiny brat of a character. I wasn’t particularly rooting for him, and you kind of just wanted to slap all of the rest of the characters for treating him with such adoration and reverence. James Franco played Oz basically the same way he pretended to be an Oscar host in 2011: as a lazy, laid back, uninteresting character who mailed in his performance. It was bad enough that he did it as a host in a live ceremony, but for Sam Raimi to have months to film him, and somehow still think his performance was adequate as a character that kids should be watching and rooting for? It just didn’t make sense to me. (Editor’s note: Ironically, the movie we ended up seeing next was Spring Breakers, a film where I felt that the best thing about it WAS James Franco’s insane performance, as reviewed here.)

That was all on top of another fact that my friend Mark – who works for the Museum of Tolerance – pointed out to me. Franco’s character Oz encounters all of these powerful and truly magical witches in the movie. They had the power of true magic, while Oz was a faker, but yet these powerful witches reverted to their old-fashioned roles of needing a man to save the day. The more I thought about this fact the more it rang true and made me laugh. Even when these witches realized that he was all smoke & mirrors, they still wanted him to rule because of what his image could represent and do to inspire the people in the Emerald City. Really? So these witches who could basically do anything with the snap of their fingers needed a man just to be there and pretend to do things so that people could be safe again? Talk about  going back in time with gender roles!

Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are three pretty actresses who played their melodramatic roles of good and evil well enough. Zach Braff from the TV show Scrubs, was his usual cute and adorable self, as the voice of Oz’s monkey friend (and animated very well to boot). And Joey King was heartbreakingly cute as an animated China Doll. In fact her first two scenes as both a human and a China Doll (that strongly paralleled one another) were some of the most touching moments of the movie.

For all of the disappointment that James Franco brought to the role, the movie was saved by not only its visual splendor and respectful winks to the original classic, but by Danny Elfman’s fantastic score. His music created such an effortless whimsy to the movie, that it’s impossible to know just how much better the movie was as a direct result. All of that plus the fantastic final act, which pulled everything together in a very satisfying way, really gives me hope that the inevitable sequel may actually improve on this prequel. It allowed me to leave the movie on a high note, and although I won’t go so far as to call it a great movie, it certainly should provide a few nice hours in your local theater.

The movie was better than Return To Oz, a disappointing, infrequently-seen sequel to The Wizard Of Oz from 1985. Naturally, it wasn’t even close to the beauty and perfection that was the original The Wizard Of Oz.

Quality Rating: B (The visuals, creative opening and climax made for a solid but not great grade)

Boaz Rating: B+

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8 Responses to “Oz The Great And Powerful (“My Take On Eagerly Anticipated Movies”)”

  1. zralston April 3, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Interesting — never would have thought I’d like this movie more than you did, but I think I did. (Then again, I had very low expectations and yours were very high, it seems). I actually like Franco in it (as detailed in my review, though yes he is definitely better in Spring Breakers) and I think it has more to say than you’re giving it credit for.

    I agree with you about Joey King, but surprised you just sort of brushed off Williams, Weisz, and Kunis in one sentence, equating them all. To me, Williams was exceptional as always, proving herself by far the better actress than Kunis, who was kind of terrible. A lot of it wasn’t her fault, but she did not work for me (I should have criticized her in my review more harshly than I did). If this film is to blame for miscasting, it isn’t Franco, it’s Kunis.

    Like

    • boazconstrictor April 4, 2013 at 12:15 am #

      I’m going to read your review in a moment so I can see what you wrote. All I can say regarding the actors is that every moment and line that Franco delivered annoyed me. I simply didn’t like him. Kunis and the others came across in a completely neutral way, I was neither wowed by them nor impressed. I really just didn’t have anything to say about that, but it was their characters that interested me that I discussed above.
      Like I said, I definitely enjoyed it, but yes, expectations are such a hugely impactful element of enjoying movies, and it can work both ways, in this case it just went against what I was hoping for, though I still had a fun time regardless.

      Like

  2. Daria April 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    How dare you! I LOVE Return to Oz!!! Y and I caught it on TV a few months ago and I was so mesmerized…so many childhood memories attached I suppose I can’t be partial, but seriously. That movie was crazy good.

    Like

    • boazconstrictor April 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

      Ha, Daria, I also enjoyed that movie but that’s because I was a kid watching it. I can name a slew of other mediocre movies that I loved and watched dozens of times growing up, didn’t make them good. Especially if I’d watched it now for the first time.
      Though you could feel differently about the movie, and you’d have every right! 🙂

      Like

  3. frameraters April 16, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Great insights into the Evil Dead trilogy! Fantastic review of Oz as well. Excellent!

    Like

    • boazconstrictor April 16, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

      Thank you, coming from someone I’ve read great things from I’m very flattered and so glad you’ll be reading!

      Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Spring Breakers (“My Rant About Art-House Cinema”) | Boaz's Movie Obsession - April 3, 2013

    […] a white-rapper/gangster, which you can see photographed here. Adi and I had just finished enjoying Oz The Great And Powerful, and agreed that James Franco was the worst part of it all; so it was ironic when we agreed he was […]

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  2. Evil Dead (“When Horror Meets Funny”) | Boaz's Movie Obsession - June 26, 2013

    […] still had a bit of a horror theme. I actually discussed these films in a previous post you can read here, in the paragraph about Sam […]

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