Review: 'Oz: The Great and Powerful' is Wondrous and Impressive
by Jeremy Kirk
March 8, 2013
Sam Raimi, whether creating new and exciting worlds as in The Evil Dead series or adapting amazing icons like Spider-Man to the screen, has always found a way to effortlessly bring his own flairs to whatever story he was telling. So it comes as no surprise to hear that his take on Oz: The Great and Powerful, a semi-prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz and adaptation of a couple of L. Frank Baum's timeless novels, is as much a Raimi film as it is an Oz film. Loaded with wondrous visuals and perfectly timed humor, a staple of noted director, the film transcends prequel status to give us an adaptation worth celebrating.
Raimi's film, written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, focuses on Oz himself. Actually, at the start, he's simply Oscar Diggs, a low-level magician in a traveling sideshow currently working its way through depression-era Kansas. More suited for the stage name he's adapted, Oz likens himself for something greater than his current lot in life would have you believe. He wants to be remembered as someone who truly made a difference in the world, not for just making pigeons disappear and having plants from his audience levitating via fishing wire.
Oz gets his chance when a tornado rips through the circus, taking the magician and the hot air balloon he finds himself in through the sky and through some kind of break in the space-time continuum, apparently. When Oz awakens, he finds himself in the magical, very colorful world of Oz, and it's evident to not only the man but everyone else in the land that he is destined to be a powerful figure in this world's history. A sharing of names isn't the only connection he has here. Soon, Oz encounters witches, both good and bad, makes his way to the Emerald City, and gets launched into an epic quest that will either make him the great and powerful man he's always fashioned himself to be or simply leave him nameless on the side of the Yellow Brick Road. The film's title and what we've already seen in The Wizard of Oz should give you some indication on how the story unfolds.
But Kapner, Lindsay-Abaire, and even Raimi don't want to be satisfied with going through the motions of getting their protagonist from a point A we've never seen to the point B of a classic film everyone has seen. Knowing where Oz and the characters of this film end up shouldn't keep the entertainment and the excitement from creeping in, and the filmmakers behind Oz: The Great and Powerful never disappoint. The writing crew incorporates all the Oz favorites; Oz, Glinda, the Munchkins and flying monkeys, and the Wicked Witch of the West. Even a not-too-ferocious lion makes an appearance, but for the sake of hilarity, not just a quick reference to a beloved classic. Each of these elements and all the new ones we haven't seen before play into a light-hearted and thoroughly enjoyable tale that puts a much deeper and moralistic spin on its protagonist than even the 1939 film could do for Dorothy.
Leave it to Raimi, as well, to hearken back to the classic while still delivering his own quirky brand of visual aesthetics. The opening act of the film plays in black and white instead of the vibrant color that arrives with Oz to the magical land. It's even shown in a smaller aspect ratio, the 4:3 ratio of the classic film, so that when Oz does come into view, it's not only more colorful, it's on a much grander scale altogether. Raimi doesn't let the color and magic of this other world speak for itself, either, choosing to play with the visuals in a way only he can. The POV shots are there. The montages, too. Everything a film geek would want from a Sam Raimi film is here for the taking, all working towards an overall visual experience that never lets the eye grow lazy. It doesn't hurt that the general structure of the film is akin to Army of Darkness, surely a coincidence. Either way, Oz may be that kid-friendly remake of the third Evil Dead movie we never knew we wanted until now.
James Franco would play a fine Ash at that. The actor always plays into his characters without the slightest hint of effort, and his take on the reluctant and sometimes more than a little unbecoming hero works perfectly for the tone of the film. He's aided by some incredible supporting performances, the best of these being Mila Kunis as Theodora, a witch in Oz who believes this stranger from another world is destined to free her land from the horrors of a wicked witch. There doesn't seem to be any surprise as to where her character ends up, but, keeping it vague, the actress plays all parts here. Her sweet is just as effective as her villainous, and she truly gives new life to a characterization that has become common in the last century.
Other notable performances come from Rachel Weisz as Evanora, Theodora's sister who isn't quite sure Oz is everything he claims to be; Michelle Williams as the aforementioned Glinda; and Zach Braff, hitting his comedic beats with perfect precision as the voice of Finley, a flying monkey. Even Bruce Campbell turns in his obligatory Raimi cameo with all kinds of gusto, almost unrecognizable behind a false nose and chin. Yes, they gave Bruce Campbell a false chin, and it is hysterical.
And that seems to be the general vibe for Oz: The Great and Powerful, hysterical with a touch of epic adventure. Sam Raimi knows how to tells stories both big and small, and his directing chops have never failed a film he's taken charge of. Oz: The Great and Powerful is the latest in a long line of Sam Raimi delights. It pays tribute to the Baum novels and the 1939 film in all the best way, never pandering to its audience or simply going through the motions of what is hopes to be the first in a larger franchise. If there is to be series of films following this one, there clearly couldn't be a better team behind it led by Sam Raimi, and Oz: The Great and Powerful is an exceptional starting point down this particular Yellow Brick Road.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10