“Oz the Great and Powerful” Movie Review

    I believe it could be argued that making a prequel to the “Wizard of Oz” is not unlike the task George Lucas had in front of him when he decided to make prequels to his classic “Star Wars” films.  No matter what you do, fans of the classic films will not be pleased, since their expectations are nothing less than unachievable when we are talking about continuing a story we have already seen.  When you embark on prequels and sequels of famed properties like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Star Wars”, there no longer is a sense of originality and you automatically get that feeling you’ve been there before.  This is especially the case when the film is done wrong and depends too much on what made the original great, rather than exploring new territory on its own.  Fortunately, Sam Raimi’s new film “Oz the Great and Powerful” delivers just enough to avoid some of these pitfalls.

     Raimi, the filmmaker responsible for bringing “Spiderman” back to life, tackles “Oz” with an army of digital artists who push the envelope in the production of truly awe inspiring visuals.  If “Oz succeeds anywhere, it’s with Raimi taking full advantage of the technology available today and creating an “Oz” that the filmmakers in 1938 could’ve only dreamed about.  The nice thing about today is we are well past merely dreaming, as anything can now be made a reality on screen.  For this film, 3D viewing is a must as the technology is expertly integrated within the film’s ambitious special effects.  What “Oz” has now is depth.  Many of the landmarks from the original film are there, but they are now rich in detail and the ecosystem surrounding the cities and castles are full of life and uniqueness.  You can see the obvious influences of “Avatar”, not in a way where they have copied, but rather were inspired by all that can now be done.  Clearly, Raimi took on a project of this magnitude because he had a clear vision of what “Oz” would be, and he knew he could pull it off.

     The story follows Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a circus magician in Kansas who seems to be barely getting by and dreams of doing great things.  After completing a performance one day, he finds himself trying to get away from another performer he apparently has crossed.  He jumps into a hot air balloon and escapes, but then finds himself at the mercy of a deadly tornado.  Just as Dorothy did in the first film, he falls asleep and awakens to find himself in the Land of Oz.  Almost immediately following his landing, he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a self described witch who doesn’t have the appearance he nor the audience would expect.  Theodora tells Oscar of a prophecy that says a wizard will come to Oz and save the land from evil, claiming the throne and riches that come with it.  Theodora’s sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), is the current guardian of the throne and both become skeptical of Oscar being a true wizard with any kind of magical powers.

     In order to prove his worth, Oscar is sent to defeat an evil witch by taking her wand and breaking it.  He soon discovers the witch he is sent to take on is Glinda (Michelle Williams), who is actually a good witch and has been banished from Oz by Evanora.  Glinda convinces Oscar to lead armies from several different villages to take on Evanora and her army and save the Land of Oz from evil once and for all.  From there the story enters a third act which provides a major connection and backstory that would lead us directly to the events in the “Wizard of Oz”.  The plot device used here is quite creative and timely as we really don’t know how Oscar could possibly defeat Evanora and Theodora with what he and Glinda have to work with.

     I suppose you would expect the actors in the film to ham it up a bit and they certainly do in most of their scenes.  The interactions between Evanora and Theodora aren’t believable and seem a bit forced, especially with what’s on the line.  Evanora’s transformation at the hands of being double crossed by her sister is also a bit rushed, but a film made to entertain families probably can’t spend too much time on the dramatic.  You may have heard Robert Downey Jr. was originally cast as Oscar, but had to leave the production because of scheduling issues.  After seeing “Oz”, I can tell you Downey would’ve hit this one out of the park and we could’ve been looking at a sequel/prequel worthy of the original.  Franco does a decent job filling in, but I just don’t buy him in this kind of role.  His Oscar nominated turn in “127 Hours” is exactly the type of character he was born to play, but a wannabe wizard in a fantasy film just doesn’t fit his talents.  Franco doesn’t necessarily drag down the proceedings, rather he keeps the film from really taking off and reaching the heights it could have.  GRADE: B-