By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Director Sam Raimi’s latest film, not only serves as a prequel to Victor Flemming’s 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz, but also serves as an homage to the historical and iconic motion picture which has captured the hearts of several generations of movie viewers. Raimi, cast and crew do some wonderful work that makes this movie a fitting companion piece to the fantasy musical. Though the movie won’t earn too many originality points for its similar plot, the director and his writers Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay Abaire create enough cinematic magic of their own to enchant audiences of all ages.
The eventual wizard of the magical Land of Oz starts out as a low budget magician and con man named Oscar Diggs (James Franco). After one too many underhanded tricks anger the wrong people, Diggs escapes in a hot air balloon, but is caught in a treacherous storm. Much like Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, Oscar gets whisked away to the magical world. Oscar, believed to be a poweful wizard, reluctantly gets involved in a power struggle among witches Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), and is asked by the good people of Oz to set things right.
Based on the Oz universe which originated in the books of L. Frank Baum, Oz the Great and Powerful shares a similar whimsical tone to Flemming’s adaptation and is not quite as dark and twisted as Baum portrayed his world in his stories. This should please the die hard fans of the classic film. Raimi, his writers, cast and crew hit all the right notes with their movie. From Peter Deming’s cinematography, the use of colors and the whole cartoonish look of the Land of Oz to the references and nods to its “sequel” the film works almost perfectly. With some recent films such as Jack the Giant Slayer, my biggest complaint was the poor use of 3D and I wished that filmmakers would just stop using it; however, with this movie, I marveled at the 3D images that flew off of the screen and applaud its most effective use in this movie. The 3D never takes away from the brightness of the vivid colors that grace the screen. It actually enhances them tremendously. Just when I think I have had enough of 3D in movies, an occasional film comes along and uses it wonderfully.
Amidst all the technical wonderment and beautiful images, a live action fantasy film still needs acting talent to keep it credible and grounded. This cast performs admirably. As the fast talking and smooth con-artist/magician Oscar “Oz” Diggs, James Franco gives an excellent performance. He uses his charisma and sly smile effectively. As Glinda, the lovely Michelle Williams comfortably steps into the role once portrayed by Billie Burke. As Evanora, Rachel Weisz performs superbly as a seductive and dubious witch. My favorite standout character has to be Finley, as sweet and dutiful flying monkey who befriends Oscar during his journey through Oz. Zach Braff perfectly voices this character and uses excellent comic timing. Mila Kunis offers some fine work as Theodora, a sweet and highly impressionable witch who falls for Oscar’s charms. Unfortunately, though, Kunis also has some moments where she struggles a tad when the development of her character presents her with some with some real challenges.
As for the Wicked Witch of the West character, some magazines and entertainment news websites have already spoiled this secret, but I still refuse to reveal it for those who don’t know yet. I will say this. Margaret Hamilton who portrayed the evil witch in 1939 really owns that role and anyone attempting to portray it has some huge shoes to fill. The actress who attempts to play one of the scariest villains of all time here, obviously does her best, but still cannot quite match the incredible work by Hamilton. Honestly, I do not believe there will ever be an adequate substitute.
There probably won’t ever be a substitute for the classic Wizard of Oz movie, and Sam Raimi knows this. Nowhere in this movie does it seem like he attempts to do this. Raimi obviously has a profound love and respect for the movie and knows well what the fans will enjoy. That is how he makes his prequel/homage fly. It never pretends to be anything it is not. Throughout the screening, I constantly smiled and laughed. As the credits rolled, I applauded heartily and left the theater with a warm fuzzy feeling. I highly recommend that people who love The Wizard of Oz go see this movie and if money is no object, pay the extra to see it in 3D. Oz the Great and Powerful may never become the classic that its “sequel” is, but it comes pretty darn close.