By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
Review: Oz The Great & Powerful
I kept waiting for this movie to hook me. There were things that offered promise… but one after the other, they blended into the blandness of the storytelling.
Let’s just look at it. What was The Wizard of Oz about? A girl who fantasizes an exciting, surprising, dangerous world has her adventure and in the end, realizes that “there’s no place like home.” What is Oz The Great & Powerful about? A fake-it-’til-you-make-it sideshow magician who goes to a fantasy world where the big lesson will be, “Try to be less of an asshole, would ya?” The difference in emotional ambition is kinda breathtaking.
Thing is, Sam Raimi is just the smart-ass to make a dark, weird, disrespectful Oz movie. (And I tip a cap to the sexism issue… which was low on my list of issues with the film.) But it’s not that either. Why do you hire James Franco to play this character? Because he’s a little (gloriously) off, in spite of the matinee idol looks. He can’t help but add kink. But sure enough, Franco’s natural attributes are on display and completely muted by the movie (and sometimes, bubbles) around him. (I only wish that Raimi & Franco’s homage to Daffy Duck (mine. Mine! MINE!) was fully realized… that is the movie that would have been fun.)
Honestly, I saw this thing a couple of weeks ago and can barely remember it. I can recall specifics as I think about the film with intense focus, but there is not a single truly memorable element of the film for me, except, perhaps, for the beautiful living china doll and the shape of Mia Kunis’ face as The Wicked Witch. (Do you think that was a spoiler? I don’t. Not only has Disney marketed it, but I still can’t really explain why her transition is particularly significant… she scares her sister and she is mean… zzzzzz.)
Some people are loving the visual look of the film. Did nothing for me. Like the overall tone of the film, it is neither fish nor fowl. It’s an homage not only to The Wizard of Oz (to which Disney doesn’t have rights to recreate imagery), but to the era of film. It’s meant to look like backdrops and on-stage reality. But it doesn’t feel like 1939 OR like some bravely daring take on same. It just feels like a bunch of pretty. Not enough for me.
Speaking of a big bunch of pretty, I adore Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, and James Franco. But here… meh. There was no depth to any of their characters. The film is not a battle of good vs evil. It’s a blonde who seems nicer vs two brunettes who seem less nice, maybe hiding something… but who cares?!?!?!
I hear myself thinking about this film in my head and I know that it’s counter-intuitive to complain about the lack of interesting stuff here and then call for a clearer, simpler focus… but that is what it needs. That is what defines fairy tales… and much of Shakespeare, for that matter. There is a simple, iconic, easily discussed surface story… and then a million levels of subtext created, mostly, but the audience. Great movies of an iconic nature are, in great part, a mirror into our souls.
For me, the character of Finley (a nice flying monkey) defines most of what is wrong with this movie. He is a marvel of CG technology… though he is meant, it seems, to look a little ragged. But he is a major character who talks a lot and is fully digital. But he is BORING as hell. He doesn’t have a major arc. He isn’t loveable enough to make you care even if his story is boring.
There are a half-dozen things each in John Carter and Battleship that I will look at again as they turn up on my TV in years to come. The only thing in Oz that I want to see again is when they find China Girl. It’s probably the only moment in the entire film when my instinctual interest was peaked. Didn’t last long, though I did like watching the CG of the CG (China Girl) each time she appeared on screen… actually interested in the movement choices the artists who brought her to life made.
Aside from that, you’re better off watching The Wiz. At least it is truly ambitious, even if it also represents a great filmmaker failing in all too many ways.