There’s a moment in Oz The Great And Powerful where James Franco hurries to The Good Witch to tell her he has a plan to defeat the Wicked Witch. All along he has been lying to everyone — including himself — that he is a real magician, or wizard, and now he finds an opportunity to redeem himself. The problem is, the dialogue handed to him seems to have been stolen from The Dark Knight (“I know I’m not the wizard you were expecting, but I might just be the wizard you need”).
And now that I think about it, most of Oz is stolen from somewhere else, movies that exist outside the Land Of Oz. How the characters know these movies is a mystery, but I see references to The Matrix, to Star Wars, and to every movie out there that features a predestined hero who is actually not a hero. To say this kind of plot has been done to death might be a huge understatement. The only thing saving Oz from being a total wreck is its kaleidoscope of colour (because even its design has room for more creativity).
Once Oz (James Franco) enters the Land Of Oz, every inch of the frame is filled with some sort of colourful item, be it alive or inanimate. There’s the obligatory rollercoaster scene in which the hero must endure some physical hardship — crashing into big rocks, falling off waterfalls — before soaking in the sights of his new environment. Oz coasts along on the water in his punctured hot air balloon as gigantic flowers bloom before him in less than two seconds, and massive pitcher-like plants hang overhead, producing bell chimes. It’s like the non-edible version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory (even the Oompa Loompas make an appearance later on in the movie, performing a song and dance number). It’s all very pretty. But that’s about as deep as it gets.
The movie is directed by Sam Raimi, whom you’ll remember the most from his Spider-Man trilogy. I’d prefer to remember him for his breakthrough horror classic, The Evil Dead, which is ripe with the energy and innovation of an eager learner. Compared to that, Oz resembles a retirement home. Yes, it’s beautiful and some of its images are stunning to the eye (like a retirement home is), but all the zest from Raimi’s earlier days seems to have lost its flavour. Where’s the boldness? Where’s the filmmaker instinct to defy the norm and go for the extreme? Swirling around in a hot air balloon probably.
Oz opens at a Kansas fair, in 4:3 black and white. Is this meant to inspire a bygone era? I don’t know. But it comes across more as a gimmick than an actual device for storytelling. Maybe that fits though, because Oz itself is a gimmick, and so are all its characters. James Franco is entertaining as The Wizard, and I would love to know what happens to him between the time he becomes the wizard of Oz and the time Dorothy finds him, because all Dorothy finds is a grumpy old man. Where do all his ear-to-ear smiles go? Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Zach Braff all do their fair share of over-acting, but Kunis probably more so. Though her Wicked Witch might be spot on to some, her transformation leaves a lot to be answered, and the abrupt shift in her personality comes off as a major contrivance, to say the least. The characters become nothing but empty shells for their actors to inhabit.
I should probably give a brief synopsis right about now, but seeing as how the movie is sort of a direct prequel to The Wizard Of Oz, everyone knows that Franco will end up on the throne (or at least with his face projected onto a cloud of smoke), and quite honestly, how he gets there is barely interesting. But there is something missing from Oz that made The Wizard Of Oz just that bit cleverer. At the end of The Wizard Of Oz, after Dorothy clicks her heels and returns home to Kansas, it is revealed that all her friends were present in the Land Of Oz, as the lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow. Oz reverses this by having all the major characters present at the start, and then it makes us wonder who is who when the story shifts to the Land Of Oz. Do we know that Zach Braff’s character in Kansas is the same as the bellhop monkey? Maybe. If we’re able to identify his voice or make the subtle connection between the roles of both characters.
Oz is nevertheless an entertaining movie. It has the action. It has the occasional laughs. It has the wonderful imagery. It has the big names and the big budget. It has the references to its 1939 sequel. All its missing is a good script. The cast and crew are pumped and waiting, but what they have to work with cheats them of their time and effort. If the plot was written better, perhaps we would’ve gotten better acting. If the plot was written better, perhaps all its colours and sounds would have made bigger impacts. Instead, Raimi leaves us with Bruce Campbell getting hit over the head repeatedly by a small person.
Best Moment | Nope.
Worst Moment | “FLYYYYYYYYYY!”