Reviews

Oz The Great and Powerful

3

James franco tackles a tricky role...

 

As far as setting yourself against Cinematic antecedents goes, lining up next to The Wizard Of Oz is akin to offering audiences More Vertigo or Citizen Kane 2.

It's true that there are plenty of stories left to tell from the L. Frank Baum books, on which the original Oz was based.

But it's also true that this isn't really one of them - more a prequel to the 1939 film than it is a return to the literary source, and as such it's created one heck of a flying monkey for its own back.

The response of director Sam Raimi is to have his film exist as a harmonious echo of its towering predecessor, rather than striking out a melody of its own (this might also be why his film is resolutely un-musical, withdrawing from a race he cannot possibly win).

The story is a rough parallel of Dorothy's whirlwind trip, this time with travelling conjurer Oscar Diggs (James Franco) tornado-ed from Kansas to Oz and, in a repeat of one of cinema's finest curtain-pullers, from monochrome academy ratio to the splendour of multi-coloured widescreen.

As the wizard, Franco finds himself with some heavy lifting to do. The ultimate revelation of the 1939 film - he's not really a wizard at all - is now a starting character flaw, so Franco's main job is to make squirming, lying and generally not being a hero until the final act enjoyable to watch.  And he struggles - Franco is good, but he is at his best when he's relaxed and smiling rather than trying to be sly and shifty.

And there's still the unanswered question of why three actually magical witches (Michelle Williams, Rachel Weiz and Mila Kunis) are intent on chasing after a non-magical hack from Hicksville (a point that grinds, especially against Baum’s proud tradition of strong female leads).

What rescues the film is an affection for the world of Oz and for the magic of cinema that it represents. It’s almost a given that Oz itself is splendid and glorious, crammed with sparkling emerald towers and suitably unreal cg vistas. 

Even more pleasurable is Raimi’s obvious interest in the curious and melancholic possibilities of the place – the dainty design of the smashed Chinatown, the lurching physical transformation of the wicked witches. Above all, via the mechanical magic that becomes the wizard’s power, the film celebrates turn-of-the-century ingenuity and the art of suspending disbelief that are the foundations of cinema itself.

The DVD comes with bloopers and a piece on Walt Disney’s interest in Oz, while the Blu-ray offers five more featurettes, including Franco warmly interviewing his collaborators.

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