In the Wizard of Oz, the Land of Oz was the perfect embodiment of the optimism and fear transferred over from Dorothy’s (Judy Garland) life in Kansas. Her protectors on the farm became a cowardly lion, a tin man and a scarecrow while her enemy became a wicked witch. It’s sad that in Oz the Great and Powerful Disney have chosen to pillage from the 1939 film and L. Frank Baulm’s novels to create a prequel that plays out like fan fiction written for Playboy magazine that almost completely negates the material it’s based on.
Set in 1905, Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a small-time circus magician who is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz where he gets caught in a battle between three witches for the throne of Oz.
Director Sam Raimi cleverly sets up the tale in tribute to The Wizard of Oz with a charming black and white opening using the classic Academy ratio (4:3) that’s a nice little dose of nostalgia and one of Raimi’s few directorial flourishes. There are brilliantly timed music cues, a nice use of matte painted backgrounds and the whites of Franco’s teeth give off an amiable amount of magic like the movies stars of old Hollywood.
Despite the early visual charm of Oz the Great and Powerful it’s the screenplay by Mitchell Capner with a rewrite from David Lindsay-Abarie that begins to sully the film with dismal dialogue full of innuendo and once Oscar crash lands in Oz (and the film transfers to colour, another nostaglia hit) this reviewer was waiting for him to say “I’m here to clean the pool”. Oz represents a mindset, a fantasy world where your subconscious literally comes alive and Oscar clearly has the bedroom on his mind with the way the witches Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) thrust themselves at him. Oscar is a womanizer who uses music boxes to lure women into the bedroom and most of the female characters are portrayed as whimsical morons who can’t resist. Oscar is a flawed character and a con-man for sure, but so much melodrama is pumped into his yellow brick paved path to redemption that Capner and Lindsay-Abarie practically molest the source material.
The plot is driven by the arrival of Oscar as the fulfillment of a prophecy and a lot of the drama arises out Oscar brushing off a character after what’s essentially a one night stand. The fury of a scorned lover soon becomes a scene ripe for a conversation in an episode of Sex and the City of “why didn’t he call me back?” The bottom line according to this film is that women are complete psychos while Oscar bumbles his way out of each situation as if to look at the camera, shrug his shoulders and say “women!” There is even a point where Oz tells a Glinda he is about to give her “the greatest gift of all” and proceeds to lure her behind a curtain for a little hanky-panky to which Glinda replies, “it sure is tight in here”. All the wonder and magic is lost underneath layer upon layer of sleaze.
It gets to a point where the material is so bad that Raimi resorts to pulling out a few tricks from his horror days (The Evil Dead series and Drag Me To Hell ) with gnarly witches and rabid flying baboons that provide new good spooks. Even the visuals in Oz aren’t enough to sell the dreamlike setting and at times it feels like every non-digitally created performer is in danger of being crushed to death by a green screen.
Oz the Great and the Powerful is trying to tell a new story while honouring the legacy of The Wizard of Oz. It succeeds with a little nostalgia but it’s mostly a complete abomination.
Cameron Williams – follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies