Monday, March 11, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful Review

The Wizard of Oz (1939) is easily considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Outside 1985's typically forgotten about Return to Oz, the land of Oz has been a place that Hollywood really hasn't ventured back to. To be completely honest, this fact is actually quite a surprising one given the fact that The Wizard of Oz was based on a book by L Frank Baum and he didn't just write one book. He wrote 14 books. And in addition to that, there were 26 other Oz books written after his death by various authors that continued the cannon of Oz. So there is plenty of material that could be used to make more movies. However, after a long stretch of no Oz movies by Hollywood, the land of Oz has once again been discovered and in this uncreative  movie age (most movies are sequels, prequels, remakes, or adaptations) there must be many movie makers that are salivating with this recently rediscovered plethora of material to turn into movies. However, before an attempt to jump into other Oz books written by Baum, Sam Raimi and crew have elected to base this almost completely on the 1939 movie while almost avoiding the books. Most people know a lot about that movie, but only true L Frank Baum fans know that the classic movie actually strays a lot from the book. But that typically isn't seen as a criticism of the movie, so perhaps being truer to the movie and connecting with that is a smarter idea than being completely true to the books. Also, this movie is a prequel to the 1939 movie and is a movie about how the wizard came to Oz, which is a story that was not written on the pages of a L Frank Baum book. Bad plan? Well, no. I have no problem with the idea. I just have a problem with a good plan that is poorly executed.

Going into Oz, I will admit that I was super excited for a return journey to the land that I had grown to love as a child. However, I had two major concerns. First is Sam Raimi as a director. The man has a tendency to create these big grand worlds that, while they sound good, they usually end up going over the top too much and when it comes to adaptions, he doesn't do good at being faithful to the original material. As an example for this, I point to the original Spider-Man trilogy that started in the early 2000's. Now I actually enjoyed the first two movies in that trilogy, the second being my favorite, but the third movie was just plain awful in almost every way. And then there was the reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. That movie opened my eyes a bit and showed me that Sam Raimi's trilogy was just off in so many ways. Now the second concern I had going in was the Alice in Wonderland feel. That 2011 hit was just awful in my opinion. They spent way too much effort on creating a super beautiful movie that they forgot about almost every other part of the movie. Making worse, the CGI world they created was just too much for me. Oz the Great and Powerful is a movie that is done by the same producers as Alice in Wonderland and so I was really nervous that it was going to suffer the same death as Alice in Wonderland.

With that in mind, allow me to discuss what I actually thought of the movie after seeing it. Unfortunately my two main fears turned out to be true. But it wasn't just that, it was more. This seemingly creative idea of writing a story about Oz coming to Oz kinda crashed. It starts out with the two lead actors dropping the ball completely. I'm actually usually a James Franco fan. He was the best part of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy and I also really enjoyed him in Rise of the Planet of the Apes but his performance as Oz was just off. It almost seemed like he didn't care very much. Mila Kunis is the other lead in this movie that was just awful. Now a part of the problem with her was the writing. Her character a very shallow character and the progression from good witch to the famous Wicked Witch of the West just didn't make much sense. But despite being a very beautiful woman, Mila Kunis's acting job didn't help her case much. In general, the writing in the movie was just facepalmingly awful at times. As a quick example, there is a point in the movie where they forgot the were telling the story of Oz and instead started off an a Snow White tangent. And by that I mean there is a scene where one wicked witch gives her sister an apple to eat that would in turn harden her heart even more. Seriously? You couldn't come up with anything more clever than that? Finally, I want to complain about the Alice in Wonderland-esque CGI in the movie. Some will make the comment that it was stunning and beautiful. Not me. As you read before, I hated the movie Alice in Wonderland and was just annoyed by the over-the-top CGI. Now as you will find soon, I didn't actually hate Oz, but I was annoyed with the over-the-top CGI that plagued Alice in Wonderland because it was the exact same. Sure, Oz is supposed to look fairy tale-ish and fancy, but I actually enjoyed the 1939 visual effects more than this 2013 overly done version. It was just too fake.

If you have made it this far in my review, you will notice that I have done nothing but hate on the movie so far and I am done for now. While I didn't think it was a particularly good movie, I also didn't hate it. First off, I was very pleased with the Oz nostalgia that the movie gave me. Despite there being several spread-the-cheese moments, it was pretty true to the Oz movie that I love and ran right into that movie. For a moment in time I thought that we were going to end the movie by seeing a house land on one of our wicked witches followed by a Kansas girl named Dorothy Gale walking out. While that didn't happen, I did have a strong desire to go re-watch the original movie. Also, not all the acting was bad. In fact, Michelle Williams as the famous good witch Glinda was fantastic. Not only was she extremely gorgeous, more so than Mila Kunis I thought, but she actually did a very good job acting which was a really good sigh of relief after enduring moments where James Franco didn't seem to care about his role. Also I loved the intro to the movie in staying true to the black and white Kansas scene. Despite not being able to use some throwback moments due copyright issues, the music by Danny Elfman was really good. And there were a lot of clever, funny moments that made me laugh out loud. Finally I have to mention the two stars of the movie. First is Oz's faithful flying monkey companion Finley voiced by Zach Braff. The voice acting for him was great and he had a lot of funny moments in the movie. Second was the character that really stole the show, our unnamed china girl voiced by Joey King. She was so adorable and fun. She was also clever and had just the lovable and sometimes feisty personality of a young girl that just made everyone fall in love with her. Easily the best part of the movie.

Wrapping this up, Oz the Great and Powerful isn't epic or even great by any means, which is really disappointing. But it also isn't a complete and utter mess. I think it is worth a watch, but if you can get away with not paying full price for the movie, I would recommend that option, whether that is a dollar theater or a red box when that moment arrives. Also this is a PG movie, so is it one that you should feel comfortable taking your kids to? Well, that all depends on if you would feel comfortable showing the original Wizard of Oz movie to your kids. Personally the flying monkeys in the original really scared me and the flying baboons in this one will probably do the same to little kids, so I personally recommend keeping your really little kids away, but the choice is yours. Overall I will give this movie an average 7 out of 10.

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