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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

The Oz prequel opts for the same technique so effectively used all those years ago in the original film: showing us the transcendence from the dull to the exciting with color, sound, and even aspect ratio. I rather liked the simplistic opening title sequence mimicking the feel of a turn of the century play or performance using shadows and puppeteer-like props. If you watch closely, several bits of foreshadowing are readily available for the astute viewer.

Director Sam Raimi, who at times has had a vision that exceeds his grasp (see Spider-Man 3), just manages to hold things together in this rather plot simplistic film. Although, perhaps a simple plot is needed to keep things grounded and under better control (again see Spider-Man 3... sigh). Anyway, the title character Oz (which we find out is short for the rather underwhelming Oscar Diggs and played by the mostly competent James Franco) is a struggling magician/borderline con-artist in a small travelling circus. He's shown to use most of his talents to simply woo various women and dump them just as quickly (something we of course find to result in some troubles when he finally arrives to the actual world of Oz). Perhaps the most exciting scene is the subtle shift from black and white to color, something that really needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.

The main cast is rounded out by Mila Kunis (playing a mysterious woman that Franco's character first encounters after arriving in Oz), Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, and features nice voice-work by Zach Braff (known mainly for his role in the tv show Scrubs). The cast manages to remain competent throughout the film but few shine past average. Some of this can probably be blamed on a plot that at times feels rushed and a tad too simplistic. Which isn't to say the film is a total loss, the visual palette once we finally arrive in Oz is quite mesmerizing. One early scene, sees the main character floating through a jungle filled with vibrant flora and fauna that mimic a large scale orchestra. The CGI isn't perfect, but manages to fit well with the fantastical vision that The Great and Powerful is going for.

Danny Elfman, who at one point famously stated would never work with Sam Raimi again, composes but may turn some off. The longtime Tim Burton alum, was also behind the love it or hate it 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland, creates a score shines at parts and is at its most effective in the great transition from black and white to color.  Another possible issue is that Elfman has become a lot like Burton- you know when it's his work. He has a distinct sound that doesn't really ever change in tone and has really started to lack in the originality department of late.

I viewed this film in 3-D and would definitely recommend seeing it this way. It's quite the relief knowing it was actually shot with 3-D cameras and not via the usually awful 3-D conversion technique. The use of 3-D is subtle and simply enhances the experience, a lesson that many movie studios will never learn. In the end, like the title character, Oz is a competent film that can't quite find its way to greatness.

There's no place like home...
  • Incredible color palette, it's particularly impressive how well the transition from black and white to color was handled.
  • Great cinematography, Raimi continues to impress with his eye for the fantastical.
  • The lead role, as portrayed by James Franco, has a decent character arc and is one of the strongest characters in the cast.
  • Great use of the 3-D effects and CGI that legitimately enhance the film experience.
  • Effective use of the flying monkeys, they are actually scary (Raimi's horror roots are helpful with this).
I'll get you my pretty!
  • A supporting cast that comes across as merely competent with some borderline bad characters (sorry Tony Cox I'm looking at you here buddy).
  • An overly simplistic plot that feels too rushed and has some questionably awful lines.
  • Some homages to the 1939 original feel a bit forced, albeit lovingly so.
Verdict: Although you won't jump immediately at the chance to use the ruby slippers to go back home, Oz the Great and Powerful is far from a perfect film. Perhaps it does work best as a March release: A time when films often hit more than they miss but can't quite reach the heights of their summer brethren. Oz is worth your time to see and any fan of the original will be satisfied.

Check out the pretty great opening title sequence...

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