It is curious how much of an impact the 1939 MGM version of The Wizard of Oz has had on L. Frank Baum’s legacy. It was, give or take, the tenth film based on his creations, yet for some reason it has informed all subsequent versions. Thus, when we get this prequel in the form of Oz the Great and Powerful in 2013, the film is determined to mimic the visual style of the 1939 film.
Sam Raimi is captain of this cinematic voyage, and his bold visual style is in full force. He’s a man who isn’t afraid to partake in the more gimmicky cinematic techniques. As a consequence of this, part of me wishes I’d seen the 3D version of the film, because he was having fun with throwing objects at the camera throughout.
The story charts the rise of Oscar Diggs, a small-time stage magician who’s whisked off to the magical land of Oz. Of course, we all know that he will eventually become the man behind the screen from the end of the 1939 film, but seeing him battle with his own prejudices and selfishness is the most interesting part of Oz the Great and Powerful. James Franco has fun with the part, playing him as a bit of a cad, but it’s the more sombre moments that really strike home.
This is, of course, a mega budget visual effects extravaganza, and I must admit that I got a little tired of the Wondrous Fantastical Vistas. Gravity defying cliffs and stony archways are all well and good, but when you simply plop an actor into a wide shot without explaining how the hell they climbed up the sheer cliff face, it ruins the illusion. There are a great deal of scenes that appear to have been shot in a greenscreen studio, but thankfully we are treated to some good old fashioned sets also.
The trio of witches are played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams. Williams is fantastic as Glinda, managing to impart a century of wisdom with a simple smile, whilst Weisz capably fills the shoes of Evanora. Kunis, however, doesn’t seem up to the pantomime challenge as Theodora, however, and her performance feels mostly awkward. Zach Braff is fantastic as Finley, the winged monkey, and I’m hoping this will enable him to get more roles in the future, because he hasn’t done all that much since ‘Scrubs’ finished.
Oz the Great and Powerful starts out strong and, whilst it doesn’t limp to a conclusion, the film certainly becomes less interesting as it goes along. Being slavish to the 1939 film stifles the end product to a certain extent, so that a potentially great film is instead simply good.Rating: