Monday, March 11, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Directed by: Sam Raimi
Runtime: 2hrs 10mins
Google Play, Amazon Instant
2/5*

This film is supposed to be a prequel, which we all want more of, we just don't realize it, or so Hollywood seems to think these days.

I recently heard a podcast in which the hosts compared Sam Raimi to Tim Burton. Both directors have made their share of dark films, and a few superhero films, and now with Oz the Great and Powerful, Sam Raimi is following Tim Burton's footsteps after Alice in Wonderland. They both seem to be following a similar career path. They have revisited/reimagined beloved film/book worlds, and to me Alice in Wonderland was a bit of a failure. So has Sam Raimi managed to revisit the land of Oz and done it more successfully than Burton's return to Wonderland?

I do think it's better than Alice in Wonderland, but that still doesn't necessarily say much for it. If it had been a Burton film it's safe to assume that Johnny Depp would have been Oz, Helen Bonham Carter would have been one of the wicked witches (likely Evanora) and we would have groaned at another one of his films with those two in primary roles. And yet I can't help but think they may have helped the film.

I won't say that the cast in this film is all bad, but they're certainly not good. I've never been a huge fan of James Franco or Mila Kunis. 127 Hours was perhaps the only film I think Franco was actually good in, and I have yet to see Kunis is a role that has convinced me that she is a good actress. Put the two of them together on screen and you are bound to have some awkward scenes, and sure enough much of the first portion of this film feels awkward. I understand that Franco is playing someone who is a con man playing a part to get ahead in life, but it isn't only the acting that's awkward, there are awkward moments throughout the first half of the film.

To his credit, Raimi begins the film with the old-timey look and aspect ratio before expanding to the more familiar aspect ratio of today's films. After fleeing in his hot air balloon from an angry circus strong man, Oz finds himself tossed around by a tornado. He made it to the land of Oz the same way Dorothy did, but somehow it's already been named after him. Once his dangerous crash landing has come to an end he finds himself in a scene, pulled straight from Avatar, looking around at all the foreign plant life.

This is yet another film to follow the 3D fad. While it can be very cool when done right, when it comes down to it, the vast majority of people watching this film will see it in 2D.  Whether it's in theaters, or renting and watching it at home months from now, generally we will see this film in 2D. We will watch it and remark to one another remember when we saw it in theaters in 3D and this scene looked cool? Well now it's just obvious that a number of scenes were done the way they were to make film-goers feel good about having spent more money to see the film in 3D. This is one of the few films that has gotten good word of mouth for its 3D, but the film itself needs more than that. I saw it in 2D, and was very aware of when they were trying to wow the crowd with their 3D CG.

After some time spent ooing and awing at the local plants, Oz meets Theodora (Kunis). She is supposed to be cute and innocent. Oz, being a con man, immediately starts to work his charm on her. They head back to the emerald city and Oz gets a look at the kingdom that will soon be his. The promise of this kingdom will be his, but only if he kills the wicked witch.

What we may have been expecting is true. Theodora is related to Evanora, and she is the real wicked witch. However, Theodora isn't really a bad witch, she is a bit of a mindless pawn being used and manipulated by Evanora. Eventually, Theodora turns her usual green color and adopts the laugh we recognize from the 1939 The Wizard of Oz film, which means that Evanora will eventually find herself beneath a house conveniently sticking her feet out to donate her ruby slippers to Dorothy.

Which leads me to some questions. Shouldn't Evanora be wearing magical red slippers that you can tap together and be transported home? Why is Evanora's color scheme green in this film, if she will later wear red slippers, but Theodora's color scheme is red?

Also since when did the witches have green force lightning? I'm not sure the powers and abilities of the three witches are consistent. And if Evanora has been in charge of the flying monkeys, how is it that Theodora and no one else from the Emerald City noticed them coming and going? Wasn't the Wicked Witch a reflection of one of the people that Dorothy knew? Is that why Mila Kunis' version of the wicked witch looks nothing like the one we remember?

I remember the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz being scary, ugly and, well, wicked. She looked like that the lady that rode the bike past Dorothy's window during the tornado. In this film she is a good guy, but she turns bad because her sister manipulates her, and yet still looks quite a lot like a pretty, green colored Mila Kunis with a false nose and chin and perfectly plucked eyebrows. She also still sounds like Mila Kunis with her youthful girlish voice, until she laughs and then she sounds like the angry, shrill witch she is supposed to be.

It's obvious by the end that she is angry with Oz, and wants revenge, but it isn't clear why in the original film she doesn't seem to care about Oz and wants to get Dorothy and her little dog too. I will say that I was afraid it was going to boil down to a big battle the way Alice in Wonderland did, but thankfully it didn't. Oz, of course being a con man, puts on a show to fool the wicked witches and becomes the Oz that Dorothy will meet later on.

I've been down on this film in this post, but there are some enjoyable moments in this film. Oz the Great and Powerful isn't really great, but it isn't terrible. When it comes down to it, when people want to remember L. Frank Baum's land of Oz and the memorable characters that live there it will still be for the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, not for this film.