I got to see Oz after a decadent meal at The Lucky Monk with Mom and Dad. Quick plug, for those of you who live in the area and haven’t been it is well worth a visit, or two, or five 😉 Anyway, afterwards we all headed over to the theater to take in the seemingly Oz the Great and Powerful. Not a total let down, but it definitely was not what I hoped it would be.
Oz the Great and Powerful is the bridge between the story of Wicked and The Wizard of Oz. Wicked is the story of how The Wicked Witch of the West came to be. Though Oz the Great and Powerful disregards the Wicked story as it paints a different back story for The Wicked Witch of the West it offers a new perspective on how The Wizard of Oz came to be. And finally, in the classic The Wizard of Oz we are given the story of how true balance is restored in the land of Oz by the heroics of a young woman and her band of unlikely friends.
The story of Oz the Great and Powerful starts in Kansas with Oscar Diggs (James Franco) wooing a young maiden. He is a traveling magician for the Baum Bros Circus. Just as in The Wizard of Oz we are taken through the beginning of the story with black and white film in a square format and are thoroughly introduced to key characters and moments immediately. In the short time we are in Kansas with Oscar we are introduced to his major character flaws of womanizing, dishonesty, and selfishness; his blatant abuse and under-appreciation of his assistant Frank; and a key exchange with a crippled girl.
Right after Oscar’s magical performance he is sucked into the heart of a tornado by air balloon. Soon enough the film slowly transitions from black and white to very colorful and from a square format to the traditional wide-screen of today. He immediately meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) and hears of a prophecy foretelling a wizard would fall out of the sky to save the land of Oz. Remaining true to his deceitful character Oscar claims to be this foretold wizard upon hearing he would inherit a throne and a room full of gold. The remainder of the story unfolds from here.
Oz the Great and Powerful is one of those movies that doesn’t really know what it is. Overall, it generally felt like it was thrown together with cheesy humor attempting to be the glue. Everything about this movie screamed of underdone to me: the acting was poor, the plot shallow, a character arc was mostly nonexistent, the cinematography was generic, and the dialogue juvenile.
I hate to criticize acting because it’s almost impossible to tell if poor acting is a result of the actor or if it is because of the directing or screenwriting. Regardless, the performances put on by all the leads, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams, felt more like poor debuts of Hollywood wanna-bes. In this case I think it was a combination of choosing the wrong actors to fill these cheesy comedic roles and poor screenwriting. The only actress who pulls it off convincingly is Michelle Williams, everyone else felt very forced and awkward.
Other than the plot described above the story doesn’t go much farther. All throughout the movie the plot casually and uneventfully walks through Oz collecting characters. There are mild encounters with the other main character shortly after but the only major event in the movie happens at the very end and that even feels lack luster.
Based on the introduction of the self-seeking and lying Oscar I assumed I was in for some character development. Instead, I am left with an itty bitty character arc – in the end, Oscar saves the day but I felt no real victory for his character because it was all without humility and honesty.
Though the film work was impressive, especially in the tornado scene, I found there to be little artistry in it. Unlike my recent experience with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters the use of cinematography in Oz the Great and Powerful stuck to all the basics.
And my final disappointment was with the dialogue – it all fell into cheesy, chatty talk that was of no interest, nor real importance. Because of this none of the characters held any real substance nor could they pull at my heartstrings. However, the exception to this statement is a little China doll. Her character is the only one with a strong personality and her back story combined with her cute wit make her undoubtedly endearing.
When I watched the trailer for Oz the Great and Powerful I knew the movie could go one of two ways: one, the whole movie would be as exciting and solid as the trailer or, two, the trailer gave away all the best parts of the movie. My opinion is that this movie did the latter, much to my dismay.
Theater-worthy movies to me are movies oozing with big action and overwhelming cinematography; Oz the Great and Powerful possessed neither. Props to the trailer creator though because they had me fooled enough to get me into the theater. It’s an entertaining movie, but I recommend waiting for it to come out on video before putting in the time to watch it.