What happens when you farm one of the single most medium defining feats of cinema for an indulgent, passionless, CGI laden, plot less, money grabbing prequel? You get the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy…oh and it’s poor bumpkin cousin Oz The Great and Powerful.
‘Oz’ (James Franco) is a carnival magician in Kansas who is whisked away via a tornado to the wonderful land of Oz, where a prophecy has foretold of a Wizard from a distant land destined to stop the tyranny of the Wicked Witch.
I detest the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz. I can pinpoint the moment that the joy of magic in my childhood turned into acid pulsating through my veins following the line “pay no attention to man behind the curtain.” The Wizard is a con man who quashes dreams, cheats and trivialises quests and steals Dorothy’s uniquity. And now more than 60 years later he’s being celebrated for his overwhelming mediocrity.
Director Sam Raimi’s amazing resume (The Evil Dead and the Spiderman trilogy) has been blemished by a film that feels removed from his talent. With the CGI excess reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (they do share the same producers) or Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman, you’re assaulted with ‘David Attenborough BBC’ level detail of those familiar Oz landscapes. The kitsch visuals use the black and white opening and transition to colour much as the original film did; bigger in the form of hot air balloon wrestling with tornadoes, doesn’t mean better. Raimi’s flavour does get to peek through with his re-imagining of the flying monkeys as genuinely frightening winged beasts.
Franco’s stratospheric performances such as Aaron Rolsten in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours feel as far away as an arm wedged and abandoned between boulders in the desert. He’s antithetical to the boisterous personality of the Wizard established in the 1939, that makes you yearn for the original casting of the one and only Robert Downey Jr (who eventually passed on the film). Whilst the beautiful and talented Rachel Weisz (Evanora the Wicked Witch) and Michelle Williams (Glinda the Good Witch) do their best to heighten the material and as magical polar opposites they both feel anchored. The butt of the film however is Mila Kunis. Stepping into the shoes of Theodora (who eventually transitions to the iconic Wicked Witch of the West) you’re presented with a beautiful adventuress. When Franco’s ‘Oz’ seduces her with a music box (carnie roofies) and she thinks his affections wane, she’s enraged to the point of turning to the dark and acquires the familiar witchy looks. Essentially her character is reduced to a vengeful ex. We’re meant to believe that the catalyst for her iconic evil is being duped by a creepy sleaze bag from an unknown land … (stunned silence).
Watching Oz the Great and Powerful is cinematic injustice. Just like Dorothy’s technicolour journey before this trip through Oz is once again smeared by this ill deserving charlatan.