Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful is not the first film derived from the books of L. Frank Bulm since the immortal 1939 MGM classic, but it is the first one to star James Franco--which pretty much makes it the worst. Not that Franco is the weakest aspect of this movie; he just exemplifies everything wrong with it. Director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead series and the Spider-Man trilogy) and the Disney Company have taken the timeless, classic story and made an expensive, overblown kiddie movie that will be forgotten within a year. By “kiddie movie” I don’t mean the kind of charming children’s adventure that appeals to people of all ages. I mean the kind of tedious children’s time-killer that is so insipidly plotted, with such dull humor and labored direction that I can’t see how anyone over the age of 9 could derive any pleasure from it. And at over two hours length, I don’t see how anyone under the age of 9 could sit through it.

The film opens with a wonderful title sequence that beautifully employs both its black and white palette and its 3D presentation. But once the credits ended, so did any enjoyment I got from picture.  Like the classic Victor Fleming film, this Oz movie begins with a monochrome sequence set in Kansas and switches to color when the main character reaches the Land of Oz. For additional effect, Raimi also begins his film with a mono sound mix and presents it in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio (although for some reason the film is always in 3D and switching from 2D to 3D seems like the more appropriate change that should happen along with the color transition).  The dialogue in this opening sequence is so flat it seems to be written by a 13 year-old screenwriter who had only seen about four films in his lifetime.  Franco and all of his costars perform with the kind of overt and condescending acting style of bad teachers appearing with preschoolers in school productions. 

Nothing gets better when Franco arrives in the digital land of Oz, which looks exactly the same as all the other “wonderful words” imagined by Hollywood in the current age of CGI, 3D blockbusters--think Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland or any trailer you have seen before any other big 3D movie. Franco is not an actor who can convey much wonder or enchantment to start out with, but his character is so blasé it actually seems written to be played as a guy standing in room full of green screens rather than a guy who has been dropped into a magical land. We are given no reason to care about this unlikable protagonist and therefore cannot understand why any of the other characters do.  As the three witches, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams all embarrass themselves by attempting to make their abysmal characters credible. Weisz is especially bad at selling the atrocious dialogue, but Kunis gets crushed the worst under the weight of having to play the Wicked Witch of the West.  Zach Braff and Bill Cobbs damage their screen personas with their subservient roles--I actually felt a little pain in my stomach every time Cobbs was on screen.  

The film is so slow and plodding that I could easily imagine virtual children running around the theater isles and talking to each other through long stretches of the picture--even though I saw the movie in a totally empty cinema.  Thought Oz the Great and Powerful is not quite as unforgivably awful as the Star Wars prequels, the film certainly has the same effect of making one appreciate how much better fantasy films were when their creators had to be inventive within the limits of the photochemical process. 

Directed by Sam Raimi
Produced by Joe Roth

Screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire
Story by Mitchell Kapner
Based on the "Oz" books by L. Frank Baum

With: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox, Stephen R. Hart, Abigail Spencer, Bruce Campbell, and Ted Raimi

Cinematography: Peter Deming
Editing: Bob Murawski
Music: Danny Elfman

Runtime: 130 min
Release Date: 08 March 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1