Oz the Great and Powerful!
Since I had to see it as early as possible, I went and saw Oz the Great and Powerful at a late night screening on Thursday night. Just for the record, I did see the film in 3-D, just in case the viewing experience is slightly different when watching in 2-D. I saw it at a Cinemark XD theater, which has different projectors and sound systems than regular theaters. The screen was also HUGE (wall-to-wall).
I saw it again on Friday night, of course! The theater was packed, and the audience was really into it and invested in the story.
I tried my best to leave spoilers out of my review.
When small-time magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) pulls one flimflam too many, he finds himself hurled into the fantastical Land of Oz where he must somehow transform himself into the great wizard—and just maybe into a better man as well.The story, written by Mitchell Kapner and later polished up by David-Lindsay Abbaire, is much stronger than one would expect from a family-friendly fntasy film.
Oz is set up as a prequel of sorts to the original Oz books, but is largely inspired by the classic Judy Garland film. There are several nods to that film, not only in the writing but also in the look of the film.
My only concern with the writing is that some of the pacing is kind of weird at times. The earlier scenes set in Oz seemed kind of rushed over and too short. Characters literally seem to be shouting exposition at us from the moment we get there. I think some of those ideas could've been executed a little better.
Other than that, the writing was excellent. The movie has a fun sense of humor that is reminiscent of Disney's Enchanted, and has a light-hearted tone that I think really works for this movie. If it took itself too seriously and was geared more like last year's Snow White and the Huntsman, I think it would've been harder to accept some of the story twists and whatnot.
THE LOOK & THE SOUND
The film begins in Kansas, 1905. The first part of this film is presented in black-and-white, mono sound, and in 4:3 aspect ratio. The 3-D also has less depth to it than in the rest of the movie.
The cinematography, done by Peter Deming, is one of the best parts of this film!
Once we're in Oz, the screen seamlessly stretches into widescreen, surround-sound, and color simultaneously. The 3-D is very effective from the moment we enter Oz, and is worth the price of admission! There are few films that I can honestly say had really good 3-D. This one did! There were definitely a couple of 'gimmicky' moments with the 3-D where it kind of feels like they're throwing things at the screen just to excite the kiddos, but it works and is fun for the older viewers, too.
Robert Stromberg was the production designer for this film, and the sets are amazing. There is, obviously, quite a bit of CGI in this film, but the majority of the sets were actually built, which kind of grounds the movie and makes it all more believable. The costumes, designed by Gary Jones, are equally impressive and detailed. The only one that I had a bit of an issue with was the iconic Wicked Witch's costume, which I think had a little too much cleavage for this kind of movie.
The score was composed by Danny Elfman, and is very original and fun. A particular piece of music played during the opening credits and also several times later in the film is one of the highlights of the score. I'm not sure if the score makes as big of an impact on the film as it did in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, but it's still some very nice music. There is one song in this film, sung by Munchkins, that I really think was a missed opportunity. It's not really funny, nor is it catchy like the songs Elfman has written for other films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is a shame, because Oz in general is a very musical place!
Sam Raimi is a brilliant director, and did a fantastic job at bringing Oz to life for a new generation. Bravo to Sam and his team!
THE CAST & CHARACTERS
When we first meet Oz, played by James Franco, he's not exactly the character you would expect for a protagonist in a movie like this. He's a magician in a traveling circus, who basically makes a living off of trickery and deceit. I think Glinda sums up his character perfectly later in the film...
"I can also tell you're weak, selfish, slightly egotistical, and a fibber."James Franco does a fantastic job at portraying this character. He's funny and sarcastic, and really does well. I admittedly had my doubts about his performance going into it, but was pleasantly surprised here.
Theodora, played by Mila Kunis, is one of my favorite characters in the film. The moment she encounters Oz, she is convinced that he is the one who will save Oz, and that she will be his queen! I really love how she sees things and reacts to people. Her performance is very charming and emulates the spirit of the characters in the Judy Garland film.
"I knew it! The king's prophecy was true."Evanora, played by Rachel Weisz, is brilliant in this film. She reminds me of classic Disney villains like Maleficent in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. She loves the fact that she's wicked, and she loves hearing people say it. She's fearless. Well, almost. She is terrified that a wicked witch will take the throne and destroy her.
"It's nice, isn't it? How clear it all is..."Glinda, played by Michelle Williams, is such a great character here. She's not bubbly and shallow like Glinda in Wicked; instead she sees the best in Oz and everyone, and does anything to protect the people in her kingdom. In this film, Glinda is the Witch of the South, as in the original books. She channels Billie Burke's iconic performance at times, but does a great job of making her someone genuine, real, and not perfect.
Also, watch for an appearance by Michelle Williams in the Kansas sequence!
"Maybe you're capable of more than you know."The identity of the infamous green witch that will ultimately become the Wicked Witch of the West is not revealed to viewers until the end of the second act of the film. I'm not sure her transformation is executed all that well, and the reason that the film presents for the transformation is a bit cliche. Nevertheless, the character is portrayed brilliantly, and the actress playing her does a great job!
"Soon, the yellow brick road will be red with the blood of every Tinker, every farmer, and every Munchkin in your kingdom."
The sidekicks are great in this film, even if they're not the trio that audiences loved in the Judy Garland film.
Zach Braff plays two characters. In the Kansas sequence, he plays Oz's unappreciated assistant, Frank. It's a very charming performance, and Zach Braff pulls it off well. I like how his Kansas character behaves in a similar way as his character in Oz. And when the film ends, I think it's nice how it feels like a happy ending for both characters in a way.
In Oz, Zach Braff provides the voice for Finley, a talking flying monkey that Oz and Theodora encounter on their way to the Emerald City. Oz saves Finley's life, and Finley promises to serve Oz forever as a way to thank him. Finley provides a lot of laughs in the film, and is a great character. The animation is done very well with this character, and after awhile, you don't even notice that he's animated!
"Oh, I see. I'm a monkey, so I must love bananas, right? That is a vicious stereotype!"Like Zach Braff, Joey King also plays two characters in the film. In Kansas, King plays a young, paralyzed girl who believes in Oz's magic with all her heart, and asks him to make her walk. It's kind of heartbreaking to watch this scene, and even though she only has a few lines in this part of the film, Joey King is fantastic for her age!
In Oz, King provides the voice for China Girl, who is... a girl made of china. When Oz encounters her, her legs have been destroyed. Her town was destroyed by a wicked witch when they were celebrating the Wizard's arrival. This is another heartbreaking scene, and of course, it really channels King's role in the Kansas sequence. She also provides a lot of laughs, and is so adorable.
"Let's go get ourselves a witch!"
Other characters in the film include an elderly Tinker played by Bill Cobbs, a hilarious Munchkin named Knuck played by Tony Cox, and a young woman in Kansas in love with Oz named May played by Abigail Spencer. All are played charmingly, and my favorite of this bunch is Knuck. He's very sarcastic and fun.
"That's not my name. My name is Knuck!"
Oz the Great and Powerful may be a bit simplistic, but like the classic film, it delivers all around and there's something here for everyone. The second time I saw it, I went with an eight year old boy, and two fifteen year old girls. We all loved the movie for different reasons, which I think is a true testament to the fact this is solid entertainment worthy of its title.
Pack up your family, slip on your 3-D glasses (and ruby slippers), and you are off to see the Wizard!
★★★★ (4 out of 4 stars)