(Published in the April edition of Sage)
Discovering the origins of L. Frank Baum‘s classic children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and a sort-of prequel to the classic 1939 film of the same name, Oz: The Great and Powerful follows a small-time magician (James Franco) who arrives in an enchanted land ruled by three witches – Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams). Directed by Sam Raimi, the film focuses on how the Wizard arrived in Oz and became the ruler. But will he be a good man or a great one?
Having read the majority of average reviews for Oz: The Great and Powerful beforehand, I wasn’t expecting a lot as I took my seat in the cinema. Consequently, I loved it.
Sam Raimi brings Oz back to life in all its magnificence as the films biggest highlights is its visuals. Sharing some of the same characteristics as the classic Oz film we all know, Oz: The Great and Powerful begins in black and white and, as Oz enters into the wonderful land of Oz, the scenery bursts into colour. With some brilliant 3D moments, these first few minutes in Oz are beautiful and show just how far cinema has come. Of course, it wasn’t ever going to live up to the original, but it sure makes a fun and magical follow-up.
It was enjoyable in itself to see how Oz came into power. Having not read the book myself, the story was competent enough to keep you engaged, even though it wasn’t excessively clever. Also using the some of the same characters in both worlds to keep the connection between Kansas and Oz vivid, we are constantly reminded of the original film, a characteristic that I really enjoyed. Some, however, felt that Raimi was trying to live up to a film that he could never better, but I found the small similarities a friendly nod to the classic rather than something that the director should be criticised for. It would be beyond ridiculous to expect anything even close to the 1939 film, so making the comparisons at all wouldn’t make for a fair review. What were people expecting, really?
The cast alone sets the film up as a strong but also campy and modern re-imagination of L. Frank Baum‘s novel. Whilst, at times, the casting felt a little bit muddled, at the same time I enjoyed how this gave the film a theatrical quality, which in the end is what I liked most about it. James Franco didn’t suit the role perfectly and his character wasn’t particularly likeable for most of the film, but he gave a decent performance nonetheless and his role held up pretty well by the end. Yet again, though, it was Michelle Williams who stood out for me, showing that she can play a glamorous, good witch just as much as she can a broken-down wife. I absolutely adore her and I think she was a huge asset to the film overall.
Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are also quite fun to watch, both giving entertaining performances as the bad witches of Oz, although they do have more similarities to the Wicked stage show than they do to the truly terrifying witches of the original. It’s Zach Braff who will have you laughing, though, and I certainly laughed a lot!
It may not be ground-breaking, but I found Oz: The Great and Powerful thoroughly entertaining. If you go in expecting a bit of fun with the classic story, then that is what you’ll get; we have to remember what we’re promised in the first place, and that was never the masterpiece people were hoping to be surprised by.