I would’ve just added this to my scheduled posts, but I’m at least trying to write this in a time frame that allows it to pretend it’s still relevant. Some important notes to get out of the way, first. Yes, I caved and saw “Oz The Great and Powerful” (and every time I type that I want to add a comma in after Oz; you know, so it could be read without all being forced into one breath). I considered trying to do a spoiler-free review, but it’s honestly not worth bothering. Instead, most of it will be hidden within a cut. If you’re really set on not having this “cinematic masterpiece” (those air quotes are the only thing bigger than Disney’s special effects budget for this film, by the way), you’ll want to skip this post completely. Oh, and I do get a bit winded with my ranting, so you’ve also been warned of that much as well.
One other thing to keep in mind before I dive into this: I tried very, very hard to take this as its own installment in the Wizard of Oz universe. This means I had to put “Wicked”, both in book and musical form, in a box in my brain and lock them up tightly because, frankly, there’s no way James Franco could have been attached to something better than those. There. I said it. Doing so was very difficult, because “Wicked” is, as far as I’m concerned, the definitive origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West. All the same, I took it as its own movie and still ended up finding it a huge disappointment.
James Franco plays some con-man/circus performer with thirteen names nobody can remember, so everyone calls him Oz. He spends his days performing cheap illusions, and his free time wooing some of the most gullible women on the planet (or, at the very least, the most gullible women in Kansas) with sob stories and music boxes. Zach Braff plays his assistant and, later, a talking, flying monkey. I’d like to say this is some huge step up from his role as water in the PUR water commercials, but by the end of the movie you, too, might find his portrayal of water as a more likeable character than his roles in Oz.
Oz doesn’t want to be a good man, though. He wants to be a great man. Presumably by conning his way into the wallets and panties of millions, instead of just dozens, but we don’t really get much insight into the character’s vision of what being great entails. His desire to be a great man did, however, at least parallel my desire for this movie to stop being in black and white for no real reason other than to mirror the beginnings of “The Wizard of Oz”).
Then, of course, Oz is whisked away from Kansas, via the aid of tornado that doesn’t mercifully spare the audience another hour and a half or so by killing him then and there, and he finds himself in the mysterious land of Oz. Where he has conveniently been prophesied to save everyone from the Wicked Witch (of the East, incidentally, though this is not directly stated) by being a great and powerful wizard. Unfortunately for the people of Oz, their would-be savior is a colossal jackass. Along the way, he meets Theodora the Good, Evanora the Sneaky As Hell, and Glinda. Thankfully, from this point forward, the movie is in color and takes up the entire screen.
From the very first scene she’s featured in, the movie makes it painfully clear Evanora is actually the Wicked Witch. Theodora’s well-intentioned, if not dumber than a bag of rocks, and Glinda…well, come on. If you’ve not seen “The Wizard of Oz” but you saw this, I feel immense pity for you. So Evanora spends the duration of the movie scheming how she can get the throne of the Emerald City (and, to be fair, I will admit I’m on board with this scheme because the pros of being leader of the Emerald City include vast wealth and a castle with an emerald exterior). In order to do this, she decides to manipulate Theodora and, later, trick her into eating an apple that withers her heart, makes her wicked, and, of course, turns her green and hideous.
This movie had some points I did enjoy, so I’ll bring those to light before I get back to my one man torch-and-pitchfork mob routine. The soundtrack, save for the Munchkin song (I still don’t know what that was, but the word “awful” springs to mind with such force I fear it gave my brain whiplash), was fantastic. The music box song, the various orchestral pieces…All beautiful.
Also beautiful in this movie were the many, many well-rendered pieces of Oz. The Emerald City? Visually striking. The vast mountains and fields of Oz? Gorgeous. I have a lot more negative to say about the visual effects in this movie than positive, though, but I promise those will wait.
Honestly, even some of the characterization wasn’t too horrible. Evanora is a conniving, manipulative individual who goes so far as to rob her sister (Theodora) of her goodness, turning her into the iconic Wicked Witch of the West. However, as Theodora’s wickedness grows the audience sees some level of regret, perhaps even fear, in Evanora. She’s created one hell of a monster.
One of the biggest issues I had with this movie is the origin of the Wicked Witch of the West, and her overall treatment by the film in general. No one, alive or dead, can play the Wicked Witch of the West like Margaret Hamilton. Maybe that’s my view clouded by rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and having watched “The Wizard of Oz” so many times throughout my childhood, but for me she is the Wicked Witch. Also, if you say her laugh didn’t send chills up your spine I feel obligated to say you’re a liar, because that was absolutely terrifying stuff.
For no real reason whatsoever, Theodora’s skin burns when she cries. I would’ve loved at least a half-explanation as to why water equals burning for her, because just making her that way for the sake of tying it in with “Augh, I’m melting. What a world, what a world.” feels lazy.
The eventual transformation to, and remainder of the movie with, the green-skinned crone we all have know and love/hate/fear was…well, it was. On one hand, I was very excited to see an updated version of the Wicked Witch of the West. On the other hand, there was something forced about how the effects team tried making the greenified version of Mila Kunis too angular and pointy. It’s almost as though the creative team pointed at pictures of the original and said, “Let’s try making her look as much as this as possible, except with computer generated effects that have the same aesthetic as Play-Doh left on a hot sidewalk in ninety-degree weather. Mila Kunis’, and the sound editing team’s, go at the witchy, piercing laughter Margaret Hamilton probably used to scare small children in her down-time, was an absolute train wreck to the ears. Some bonus points for introducing why she rides a broom, though.
Glinda does get some more depth than just being the good witch who wants to do nothing but good. She has deeper motives, serving herself as well as her people, and she makes use of the denizens of Oz believing Oz is the wizard they were waiting for. And then she and Oz share a kiss shoe-horned so tightly into the movie I’m surprised the film reels didn’t catch fire from the friction.
I will say this much for Oz. I didn’t hate it like I thought I would. I wasn’t expecting to be overwhelmed, but I wasn’t as badly underwhelmed as I had feared either. Ignoring James Franco in another spectacular role as Some Guy Inexplicably In a Weird Situation He Just Sort of Goes With, this movie was what most people expected: a high-budget imitation of something great. It’s true to the title character in the sense that there was a lot of flash and misdirection, with little real substance. It could’ve maybe salvaged itself a little by, say, giving an origin story to the ruby slippers, or going into more detail as to why Evanora wanted the throne so badly, but perhaps I’m just hoping for far more than this movie could’ve hoped to offer.
That being said, imdb informs me a “Wizard of Oz” film is in the works for production in 2014? Barring the low possibility this is some sort of cruel, very early April Fool’s joke, I feel like Hollywood might be working hard on bringing ruination to many people’s cherished memories (childhood or otherwise) to a theater near you.