OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a travelling circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz. At first he thinks he's hit the jackpot-fame and fortune are his for the taking. That all changes, however, when he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone's been expecting as per the prophecy. But he's all they've got standing between them and the evil witches; as their new king, he's expected to save them. He is after all, the great and powerful Oz.
Review by Louise Keller:
A second-rate magician, a monkey with wings and a porcelain doll make their way along the yellow brick road in this visually sumptuous 3D fantasy that aims to be a beguiling precursor to the evergreen classic, The Wizard of Oz. By creating a backstory for the wizard and characters created by L. Frank Baum in his books, screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire have imagined a magical and entertaining tale complete with good and bad witches, endearing characters, and startling visual effects that entice us into a world filled with waterfalls, rainbows, ruby flowers and flying baboons.
The film's prevailing theme is its battle between good and evil, with the protagonist's inner battle of self-interest versus decency. (James Franco aptly is a charming scoundrel.) In his hero's journey, the pursuit is goodness and along the way he learns that anything is possible - if you believe. If the special effects are any guide, anything is possible -the passport to visual fantasy has a seal of approval.
Spider-Man director Sam Raimi ably weaves the elements of the real and fantasy worlds with disarming sleight of hand. They echo that of its con-man protagonist, whose initial less than noble intentions cut through potential earnestness with which the film might have had to contend. At 130 minutes, the film is far too long, but length aside, Oz The Great and Powerful is a visual feast, impeccably cast and bursting at every seam with colour, humour and verve.
The film begins in 1905 Kansas and in the initial black and white exposition, we meet Oz (James Franco) performing his magic tricks and breaking hearts of every pretty girl he meets. By the time the hot air balloon whisks him through the eye of a twister and thrill-ride down a waterfall to the colour-filled world of Oz, complete with yellow brick road, enchanted poppy fields and the splendid Emerald City, Oz finds himself surrounded by the most glamorous of witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams).
Each witch has her moment and Kunis, Weisz and Williams are all good value. Williams personifies goodness with great conviction and the scene in which she and Oz glide through fluffy pinks clouds in huge separate bubbles as they descend into the Emerald City, is truly beautiful. Weisz is always good to watch and Kunis offers a few surprises.
With its storyline dovetailing with that of Dorothy and her adventures, illusion is used as a major plot point: there is an extravagant finale of smoke and mirrors in which all the characters (munchkins included) and story strands magically find their happy endings.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The land of Oz is as fantastical, magical, colourful and enchantingly beautiful as CGI can make it, a visual smorgasbord that includes giant flowers blooming to camera, an emerald city that is truly emerald green with a palace that is both beautiful and slightly gothic. Then there are the flying baboons that attack the screen with big, sharp teeth, which will probably scare the poop out of children under about 9, as will the spears that fly out at us in 3D during a crucial battle scene.
Overall, the visuals help but don't completely overcome the film's shortcomings and long running - over two hours. It has been promoted as the story of what happened before the events in MGM's eternal classic, The Wizard of Oz, but I for one would prefer to think of the two films as separated by chasms of filmmaking sensibilities. The often laboured story tells of a selfish, self confessed con man and magician being pressed into service as a great saviour of the people of Oz, saving them from ... well, an unstated but unspeakable horror at the hands of evil witches. (Political parallels not permitted.)
The three leading witches - Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams) - are from the central casting of witchery, not to demean their performances but to question the judgement of the filmmakers. James Franco plays Oz on one note - but has no option, and he deserves a medal as well as his fat fee.
The (young) target market will be more inclined to get into the fantasy spirit of the film, despite the stretch marks on the story telling.
Cinematically the film oozes with craftsmanship and dedication; the inventions flow freely, from the china doll (beautifully voiced by Joey King) and Finlay the flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) who pledges his eternal servitude to Oz, to the other-worldly landscapes with fingers of stone warning strangers that the beauty of the land is also fraught with danger. So it is with the film itself.
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OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (PG)
CAST: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Abigail Spencer, Tim Holmes, Joey King, Bill Cobbs, Lil Jon Flip, Bob Jay Mills
VOICES: Kevin Thompson, Zach Braff
PRODUCER: Joe Roth
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
SCRIPT: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire (novel by L. Frank Baum)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Deming
EDITOR: Bob Murawski
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Robert Stromberg
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Walt Disney
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 7, 2013