Oz The Great And Powerful

Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Zach Braff
With cameo by Bruce Campbell
In UK cinemas from March 8th, 2013

by Joanna Orland

This film is everything I had hoped it would be – an homage to the nostalgia of the original Wizard of Oz film combined beautifully with the style and tongue-in-cheek humour that director Sam Raimi is known best for (before he really messed up the Spiderman franchise).  This film may as well be called Sam Raimi’s Oz.

Even if you are not a fan of Raimi or L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories, Oz The Great And Powerful is still easily one of the most fun film spectacles you will ever see.  Filmed and presented beautifully in 3D, from the wonderfully eye-catching opening credits, the audience knows that even if the film fails to be remotely as good as the original Wizard of Oz, they are in for a visual feast.

The attention to detail is ingenious.  In proper tribute to the original Wizard of Oz film which this is a loose prequel to, the start of the film is set in Kansas, and filmed not only in black and white, but also in 4×3 ratio, giving it that proper vintage quality in spite of its 3D visuals.  It is here in Kansas that the foreshadowing of the plot and characters are laid out to perfection.  Enter Zach Braff as magician Oscar’s assistant to whom he refers to as nothing more than a monkey of a sidekick, and who we later see in Oz playing a literal monkey sidekick to James Franco’s Oz.  Follow with love interest in the form of the beautiful Michelle Williams, referencing the Gale family who we all know some famous members of (Dorthy, Uncle Henry, Auntie Em), and who later appears in Oz in the form of Glinda the Good Witch.  And then comes the twister which whisks wizard Oz (Oscar) all the way to the merry land of.

Once the wizard arrives in Oz, the scene beautifully dissolves from black and white into colour, and the 4×3 screen format opens up to full cinematic widescreen, fully engrossing the audience into the land of Oz.  The introduction sequence to Oz is almost cartoonlike, taking influence from video game Flower with its musical nature visuals and tones.  Danny Elfman’s musical score is perfection and heightens the enjoyment of this film infinitely.

It is here in Oz where in true L. Frank Baum form, we come across an array of colourful characters including Braff’s flying monkey sidekick, Glinda the Good Witch, Knuck the gatekeeper of the Emerald City, sisters Evanora and Theodora, some munchkins, and notably China Girl who proves to be almost as loveable as Braff’s adorable monkey character Finley.  And as in any Raimi film, there is a classic Bruce Campbell cameo – see if you can spot him!

James Franco is great as the charming ladies man Oscar / Oz.  So much of the dialogue is silly, fun, and tongue-in-cheek – more in the style of Sam Raimi rather than L. Frank Baum, but somehow the balance works.  The film is a cheesy Hollywood blockbuster, but it is exhilarating fun and because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it can get away with it.

There are some classic Raimi moments when the horror becomes comedy, leaving the audience laughing out loud and having a great time.  In fact, the only thing that I found weak about this film was that Raimi couldn’t go full Raimi on it.  While Franco was great as Oz, I couldn’t help but feel that the part was written with Bruce Campbell in mind, being mildly reminiscent of his Ash character in Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy.  Imagine if Raimi didn’t have bigwig studio heads to answer to and he could do as he pleased with an Oz film!  It would have way more horror comedy moments, Bruce Campbell as the Wizard, and would have possibly been the perfect film.  As it stands, he did have to answer to Disney, but considering so, he’s made good on the story of Oz and the audience’s expectations.  Even sans Judy Garland, this is one Oz film that could become a classic.

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