OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is a Mess of a Movie

Sitting through Oz the Great and Powerful was an exercise in tedium, one of those films that almost has me questioning why I do what I do.

It is terrible. It is not great, nor is the spell it is supposed to cast over the audience powerful. The film starts out bad, and though becomes slightly better (only slightly!) by the end, it is still destined for ten worst lists come January of 2014. Trust me, I have reserved a spot on mine for the film.

Why make a prequel to one of the most iconic films in the history of the movies? Oh I know they started as books, but the film is one of the greatest and most famous movies ever made, known by generations around the globe.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) is so familiar to generations of movie goers, it seems an insult to anyone watching the film that they would even attempt to do what they have done. The talented director Sam Raimi is way out of his element here, and the actors, my God, all they do is display how truly extraordinary the actors in The Wizard of Oz (1939) truly were, and why it now seems shameful they received so little credit at the time.

The film tells the story of the wizard, Oscar (James Franco), a sort of second rate wizard who spends more time berating his assistant and seducing innocent women that working on his act. He is a cheap dime store con man, who strangely aspires to be thought of in the same breath as Houdini and Thomas Edison. When caught seducing the carnival side show strongman’s love, he is forced to flee in a hot air ballon, which runs straight into one of those Kansas twisters we know all too well when thinking about Oz.

While the film opens in black and white with a square screen, correct to resemble the 1939 version, and opens into color and a larger screen for todays audiences, it lacks the magic of the original film. That moment when Dorothy opens the door inside her home, in black and white, to reveal a beautiful color world outside, pure movie magic. In this new film, the effect seems contrived and a deliberate homage rather than one done with affection.

Oz the great and powerful
Once in Oz, Oscar passes himself off as the wizard they believe will come to save them from a pair of wicked witches. Seeing the riches that go with the job of course he agrees, before realizing that the lovely dark haired beauty he has seduced is one of the wicked witches and he is suddenly in a world of trouble. The nasty sisters send him away to retrieve the wand of the good witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams) telling him she is the bad witch. Of course he will come to realize who is who and is partly responsible for the wicked witch of the west embracing her wickedness. Left looking like the sham he is, Oscar is challenged by the gentle Glinda to show them he can be the wizard they know he can be.

The performances of the actors in The Wizard of Oz (1939) are legend. Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked witch of the west was the stuff of many a nightmare to many a child. With her green face, her eyes aglow with evil, that long nose and wart, and the manner in which she seemed to sweep around the room, she was terrifying. I remember all too well being four and seeing the film, watching that close up of the witch in the hour glass, as the sands fall out bringing Dorothy closer to death, and bolting from the room to the safety of my bed down the hall. She was frightening. She scared the living hell out of me. Mila Kunis is likely a better all round actress than Hamilton ever was , but she cannot hold a candle to Hamilton’s witch. Whereas Hamilton was scary, Kunis is loud and excessively noisy. She does not become evil, she plays the attitude of evil, the cheapest way to act. Of course the script she is given gives her so little to do, you begin to feel sorry for her in that silly make up, standing next to Rachel Weisz who has even less to do as her nasty sister. For Weisz it seems to be louder is better, from the Al Pacino School of Acting, and in this case, it fails utterly.

And James Franco.

So good – no brilliant – in 127 Hours (2010), so vapid as the Oscar host, and so, misguided here as the wizard. Is he a crook? A thief? A con artist? Or just a moron stumbling into one situation after another and not having the intelligence to truly know what to do and who to trust. He is in a magical land yet registers little surprise at meeting a witch, even less at encountering a tiny china doll that speaks. As he did on the Oscars, he looks stoned most of the time, smiles too often, and is just not on the same playing field as everyone else.

The film has one clever idea, which merges the wizard we see in the original film on his chair to the first time they ever tried that illusion. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”? This is the first time he was ever behind that curtain and it is inspired.

But that is it.

What was Disney thinking? Did they learn nothing from the debacle of John Carter (2012) last year? Do failures mean nothing to them now that they are aligned with Lucasfilm?

Oz the Great and Powerful is terrible, unwatchable at times, and will be heard from come award time. The Razzies love this sort of film.


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John Foote

John Foote